BELLEVILLE — Althoff High baseball coach Brett Isaacs said it's too early to tell how it will translate on the field, but he believes this might be one of the most athletic clubs he's ever had.
"We may be a bit inexperienced, but we've got a lot of athleticism and that's the most impressive part of our team," said Isaacs, whose team is scheduled to open the season at home Friday against Marissa. "It's probably the most athletic team I've had in four or five years, so we certainly welcome that stuff."
Althoff finished 15-15 overall and 6-4 in the South Seven Conference last season, losing to eventual state tourney qualifier Wesclin in the regional.
Althoff lost several of its top run producers and pitcher Sam Lidisky is now at McKendree University. But Isaacs hopes a good returning nucleus led by four returning starters can catch fire quickly.
Leading the way are seniors Bryce Richter (.239, six doubles, 17 RBIs, Cole Reichert (.313, four RBIs and Atlee Champion (.286, seven doubles, 10 RBIs) and junior Grant Strieker (.296, seven doubles, eight RBIs).
Richter (3-2, 2.07 ERA) and Strieker (0-2, 5.89 ERA) also will be counted on for quality innings on the pitching staff.
"They come back with the most experience and quality innings from the last year or two, so they have to be our leaders going in," Isaacs said. "But I feel pretty good about the other kids we've got around them."
Senior Ryan Marcum and Champion also are slated for mound duty along with sophomores Austin Keen and left-hander Ben Hankammer and juniors Josh Davinroy and Tyler Schmid.
Champion will see time at third and as a pitcher while Strieker will pitch and play shortstop. Richter is moving from the outfield to first base when he's not pitching with Reichert returning in the outfield.
The catchers are junior Eric Mertens and sophomore Bret Silvestri with junior Luke Frazier being used at second, third and short. Senior Mark Pfeiffer may see time in the outfield or as a pitcher.
Frazier missed the last two baseball seasons with injuries.
"We're going to move him around depending on who is pitching," Isaacs said.
Also at second base is junior Dennis Jackson, who sat out last season after transferring from O'Fallon. Seniors Jack Weilmuenster and Zach Donaldson and Hankammer are also vying for time in the infield.
The outfield will consist of Reichert, senior Nick Hawthorne, sophomore Sam Haudrich and junior Elijah Beal.
"Our strength is our speed and if we can get on first base, I think we can really cause some teams some problems because we can run," Isaacs said. "We don't have just two kids that are fast, but we've got speed throughout our lineup. I think we'll be pretty good offensively."
Isaacs has added several new assistant coaches, including former Althoff players Erik Huber and Josh Schaefer and former Grizzlies and Detroit Tigers minor-league pitcher Mark Brachman.
Huber was a standout at Eastern Illinois who played several years in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. His younger brother, former Althoff pitcher Brett Huber, recently broke the career saves record at Mississippi with Isaacs in attendance.
"I had a blast, my boys and I had to a great time," Isaacs said. "It was special to be there when he did it. There were 8,000 people in there. It was 40 degrees and there were still 8,000 people."
The younger Huber is 1-0 with six saves and a 1.35 ERA in seven appearances for the Rebels (16-1), who are ranked sixth in the country.