|2009 COVINGTON LADY BUCCS...
Despite low numbers (14 kids), the expectations are high once again as the Covington Lady Buccs embark on a new season.
The Covington Lady Buccs are accustom to challenging for conference championships and putting together impressive tournament runs in softball.
So, despite having just 14 players on the roster, Covington coach Dean Denlinger is optimistic about his team's potential in 2009.
"I think when it's all said in done, we'll have a strong team this year," he said. "There are five or six teams that could win the conference championship and I think we are one of those teams. It all comes down to who can play consistent throughout the season."
There are some uncertainties heading into the season due to injuries and filling spots left by graduation losses.
"Losing Erin Christian hurts," Denlinger said of the graduation losses. "You don't replace an Erin Christian. You hope to develop another player to take her place, but you can't replace a player of that caliber."
Christian was Covington's "Big Stick" last season, belting four home runs. But more importantly, she was one of the top all-around players to come through Covington in a long time as she played several positions in her four-year career - shortstop, third, catcher and outfield.
"We've been working with kids at third, short and catcher, but I'm confident we'll be pretty strong defensively," said Denlinger. "We have kids who can play."
The potential replacements behind the plate are Shelby Hoblit and Carol Bayse, but they have been slowed due to injury.
"We're not sure if either one of them will be able to catch for us," Denlinger said. "Hoblit caught a little bit last year and did an outstanding job. Carol (Bayse) has the ability to be a catcher, but we're not sure about her injury. Regardless, we have options."
Covington strength may be pitching, which will also benefit the Lady Buccs defensively.
"We have Kristen Boggs and Chloe Shell back," explained Denlinger. "Either of them could be our number one pitcher. We also have Halley Roberts and Sarah Westfall who have experience. I think our pitching is as strong as anyone in the conference."
Covington also has the ability to swing the bats - and with power.
"We had 17 home runs last year and four of those were Erin's (Christain)," Denlinger said. "That means 13 home runs return this year. Carole (Bayse), Kristen (Boggs) and Shelby (Hoblit) can hit the ball hard."
Plus with Katie Dickey, Michelle Leistner, Brittany Arnett and Kristen Swabb, the Buccs have solid all-around players.
"Katie is a strong outfielder and an excellent senior leader," Denlinger said. "Michelle's a senior who is a great second baseman and she has some speed. Brittany is another senior where looking to be able to use in several different ways. Swabby (Kristen Swabb) is just a great kid who will do anything you ask and gives you 100% all the time. The kids are flexible as to where they can play, so I'm excited about the group we have."
As expected with 14 kids on the roster, some of the younger players will have to step in and contribute as well.
"We have a nice mixture of experience and youth," said Denlinger. "Shelby Kihm, Hannah Pond, Haley Smith and Aubyre Cain are new to the program, but we're confident they can step in and contribute a lot this year."
Denlinger will need everyone to contribute as the Cross County Conference is stacked this year.
"It's a tough conference in softball," he said. "Newton has almost everyone back and they are well coached. Ansonia's going to be tough again. There are a number of teams that will be battling out in our league."
And Denlinger is hoping Covington is right there with them.