|2012 COVINGTON LADY BUCCS...
With increased numbers and talent returning from a year ago, expectations are once again very high for the Covington softball team.
Last year the Covington Lady Buccs found their identity as a softball team. And it led to a season for the ages as Covington advanced to the state final four for just the second time in school history.
But gone from that team are two premier players pitcher Chloe Shell and first baseman Aubrye Cain, both who are playing at the collegiate level - Shell at Bluffton and Cain at Cedarville.
"We definitely lost two leaders with Chloe and Aubrye," said Covington coach Dean Denlinger. "That's always hard to fill, but with the team we have I think we'll be fine. We need to find our identity."
Finding an identity is a challenge, but one that determines the success of a season.
"You can bring back the same team from one year to the next, but it's still a totally different team because you have to start over," Denlinger explained. "You have to get a feel for each other, develop that continuity and chemistry - become one. We've yet to do that."
To facilitate that process Denlinger is counting on his two senior leaders, Hannah Pond and Shainna Grilliot.
"Hannah is a four-year starter and this is Shainna's second year," Delinger said. "Their leadership will vital to our success - lead by example. They've done a nice job of that so far."
The void left by Shell on the mound seems insurmountable, but Cassie Yingst has all of the tools to fit the bill.
And it was Yingst to came into her own during a tournament run a year ago.
"Chloe was our workhorse, we don't go to state without both of them," Denlinger stated. "Cassie came into her own in some big tournament games last year and she's even better now. Now she's the work horse."
And Denlinger has two more capable arms with freshman Morgan Arbogast and junior Heidi Snipes.
"It's nice having three kids who can throw," said Denlinger. "And we'll use them."
As important as the pitcher is, it's just as important to have an all-around solid catcher behind the plate. And Covington has one of the best in Connor Shaeffer. She has a rocket arm and has a knack of helping her pitcher out behind the plate.
"It's nice to have Connor back," Denlinger said. "In my opinion she is the best catcher in our league."
The Lady Buccs will be solid in the infield once again with the return of Heidi Snipes at third, freshman Cassidy Cain at short, Jessie Shilt and Jessica Dammeyer at second and the flexibility of having Brittany Flora or Morgan Arbogast at first.
The outfield will be just as dependable with Shainna Grilliot, Hannah Pond, Haley Adams and Jessie Shilt all seeing action in the green.
Plus, sophomore Morgan McReynolds returns from a season-ending injury from a year ago.
"We have a lot of talent coming back and some new girls coming into the program," commented Denlinger. "With 18 girls compared to the 12 or 13 we have available last year, we have more depth this year."
And Covington has more speed, which will be beneficial considering Denlinger's aggressive style of coaching.
"We like to be aggressive, so the speed will help," he said. "Unfortunately we lost one of our fast girls in Heidi Cron, but we still have more speed than we had last year. That's something you can't teach. Either you have it or you don't."
With the talent and experience on what is still a relatively young roster, the expectations remain high once again - even in a stacked Cross County Conference.
"Our league is as tough as they come," said Denlinger. "You have Newton, Miami East, Twin Valley South, Bradford, National Trail, us - that's a tough league. You can't forget about Arcanum either. Anybody can beat anybody on any given day and that's what makes it so much fun to play the teams we play."
It's also why finding an identity will be the key to the success of the 2012 Lady Buccs.