O'Fallon Progress

Lady Panthers open new chapter

O'Fallon's Courtney Keller reaches for a fly ball during a game against Belleville West.
O'Fallon's Courtney Keller reaches for a fly ball during a game against Belleville West. znizami@bnd.com

Opening with a new coach at the helm and a new venue as their home field, the 2017 OTHS girls softball team is eagerly anticipating the start of their spring campaign. First-year head coach Lauren Muniz has taken over the reins of the Lady Panther softball program and is enthusiastically awaiting the official unveiling of her squad.

Although this will be Muniz’s first season directing a high school softball program, she has been involved with the sport as player in the Collinsville school system, a three-year letter-winner at the collegiate level at Wartburg College and a coach for several years with select teams.

“This is an exciting time for me personally as well as our players as we prepare for the start of the season,” Muniz said. “The girls who make up our squad have been hard-working and enthusiastic. They have all been ready and willing to learn and compete, so I am confident that we will be a formidable opponent no matter who we are playing.”

A former Kahok player, Muniz is well aware of the challenges that her charges will face in the rugged Southwestern Conference but has seen enough of the personnel on her OTHS squad to know that the Lady Panthers will field a solid line-up capable of competing on equal terms with teams in the area.

“We have over ten players returning this spring with a lot of varsity experience,” Muniz said. “Offensively, we will have plenty of firepower, and we have depth in the field and in the pitcher’s circle.”

With the graduation loss of Addie Barnouski, the Lady Panthers will rely on junior Katie Moore to take over the No. 1 pitching slot. Moore produced a solid season last spring spelling Barnouski on the pitching rubber and will be backed up by fellow junior Maeve Rost, a left-hander who pitched on the JV level last year, and freshman Hayleigh Juenger, a right-hander whom Muniz characterizes as a “strong arm.”

“We are fortunate to have three pitchers who are capable of shutting down opposing batters,” Muniz said. “Moore is our No. 1 starting the season, but I expect our other two pitchers to make valuable contributions as the season progresses.”

The OTHS pitchers will be throwing to a trio of catchers — Taylor VanAusdale, Ashley Schloer and Jade Williams. VanAusdale and Schloer will also be counted on to provide some offensive pop for the Panthers. Senior Nikole Patterson is another key to the Lady Panthers’ hitting arsenal.

“In pre-season practices the competition for starting spots has been intense,” Muniz said. “It has made it difficult to determine just who will be starting from game to game. We will be strong offensively throughout the line-up, and I expect that, at least early in the season, we will be rotating players into various spots both in the field and in the batting order.”

Infield positions will be filled by Jordan DeRemer, Abby Johnson, Ginger Huskey, Caroline Keller and Grace Dumstorff. The perimeter defensive spots will be covered by a quartet of athletic fielders anchored by Nicole Patterson and complemented by Alley Johnson, Courtney Keller and Morgan Wyrostek.

“DeRemer and Patterson give us outstanding leadership in the infield and outfield respectively with a strong cast backing them up,” Muniz said. “We will have multiple options for all our defensive positions without any drop off in execution.

“I know the caliber of competition our girls will face in the Southwestern Conference, having played at Collinsville. At the same time, I have really been impressed with the way our girls have approached the pre-season and the determination that they have demonstrated in preparing for our challenging schedule.”