O'FALLON — With Kate Walsh out on maternity leave, pitching coach Kelly Paproth will handle the head coaching duties for the O'Fallon Panthers this season.
Walsh gave birth to a baby boy early Monday morning.
"She prepared me very well through her mentorship and organization and it's been a smooth transition,'' said Paproth, whose squad is 4-2 overall after going 3-2 this past weekend in the Gordonsville High School Tournament in Cookesville, Tenn.
"I've worked a lot with the pitchers and the catchers in the program, and now I'm learning how to balance being a head coach and not always being able to be with my pitchers and catchers. But, it's working out well.''
Paproth is a graduate of Edwardsville High School and McKendree University. Her father, Mark Paproth, who has been an assistant coach with the Panthers for the past four years, will continue to serve as an assistant coach.
"He has been coaching for 35 years,'' Paproth said of her dad. "He has a lot of wisdom.''
Reenee Ryterski will serve as a varsity assistant coach, Michelle Powell will be the head junior varsity coach and and Jerry Nikolauzyk will be a junior varsity assistant coach.
The Panthers have a lot of experience coming back from a squad that posted a 23-9 record last season. They have 16 returning players in their softball program to go along with 12 incoming freshman.
The Panthers bring back sophomore pitcher Addison Barnouski, who had a 10-6 record with a 1.85 ERA last season as a freshman sharing time with senior Taylor Bowlby.
Senior Maggie Moore and sophomore Alex Lloyd make up the rest of the Panthers' pitching staff.
They'll be throwing to senior catcher Becca Proper, who batted .374 with six homers and 33 RBIs last season.
"She gives that senior leadership to a young pitching staff,'' Paproth said.
The Panthers will have senior Taylor Underwood's powerful bat in the lineup once again. Underwood led the Panthers in batting average (.539), home runs (8) and RBIs (44) last season.
Senior Molly Dumstorff, who hit .298 last season, and senior Sam Busekrus, who hit .289 last season, also are back.
Rounding out the Panthers' eight seniors are Taylor Dichsen, Marissa Hines and Nikki McConnell.
Junior Sami Stats, who hit. 324 last year, also returns.
Juniors Allison Spihlman and Hannah Siegler as well as sophomores Cassie Brown, Jordan Marquis and Allison Underwood, Taylor's younger sister, all are vying for playing time.
Freshmen Jordan DeRemer, Jordan VanPelt, Caitlin Kayser and twins Abbey and Alley Johnson are up on the varsity squad.
Paproth said she has some injuries that leave a lot of positions currently in a state of flux.
"We not only have a lot of depth on the squad, we have a lot of people who can play multiple positions,'' Paproth said. "They not only can play in the infield several places, but also in the infield and the outfield.''
The Panthers have clubbed 140 homers over the past four seasons, including 26 homers last season.
Paproth feels like her squad is capable of producing a lot of runs this season, but maybe not in the same manner.
"In the past, we've kind of had a reputation for getting lots of home runs,'' Paproth said. "That's wonderful, but we're wanting to emphasize teamwork. Sacrifice bunts and getting somebody over and scoring that way is just as good for me.''
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.