Belleville East softball coach Natalie Peters has traded in her senior-laden 2014 model with a high-octane leader on the mound for a 2015 Lancer team with far fewer miles and an unfired potential to generate as much fire power.
Now in her 10th year at East, Peters has kicked the tires on her young squad and come away with 1-3 record to start. Experience is the only fuel that will drive improvement, she said.
“We are super young,” Peters said moments after the Lancers dropped a 7-0 decision at Waterloo. “This is definitely a starting-over year for us. We have a few carryovers with varsity experience from last year, otherwise it’s a brand-new team out there. Our expectations are still that we want to be good and that we want to fight for the conference.
“It’s probably going to take a lot longer than last year to figure out our lineup.”
East graduated nine seniors from a team that won 28 games a year ago and advanced to the Class 4A sectional final, a loss to Edwardsville.
The deepest void to fill is that of departed pitcher Alison Mitts, a BND All-Area first team selection last year. It will be up to juniors Angela Vanderpluym and Tori Lonsdale to fill Mitts’ innings.
“For three years, Allison carried the load and she loved it and, obviously, it was a good thing for our team,” Peters said. “(Vanderpluym and Lonsdale) have experience and have pitched for a long time. It’s just a matter of getting those first few varsity innings out.
“We’ll be mixing it up more in games and not having one pitcher go a full game, so that will be something different for us this year.”
Freshman Kristina Bettis threw her hat into contention for pitching innings Monday with one and a third perfect innings at Waterloo after playing the junior varsity game at third base.
“Kristina got her first varsity experience and she definitely has an upside as a freshman, but we’ll want to work her in slowly,” Peter said.
Such is not the case for freshman Alex Boze who will share the catching and third base positions with sophomore Jessica Belzer, both strong all-around players who will be expected to make significant contributions in their first seasons at the varsity level.
“We have a lot of young players I think are ready to step up, Boze and Belzer included,” Peter said. “Those two can catch or play third and they are really good at both positions so they’ll see time in both of those spots.
“We also don’t want those kids to come in and put too much pressure on themselves. Everybody has a part to play and they have to realize that to make the team better.”
Peters will lean on three returning starters — two seniors and a junior — for leadership.
Junior Lindsey Mossman returns to anchor the infield at shortstop and senior Annie Eversman will take back her spot at first base. Senior Tawnee Kramer is the center fielder.
“It’s super important that we have at least those three players with experience to bring back because making that transition from junior varsity to varsity is a big jump,” Peters said. “We need those three back to lead our team and show what the varsity level is all about.”
Balancing out the starting lineup are junior second baseman Brooke Laidley and junior outfielders Becca Dahm and Courtney Butler.
Also competing for playing time will be senior Emily Green and juniors Lauren Westerfield and Quiozha Alexander.
“This group has been successful,” said Peters. “They won 25 games at J.V. last year, so they know how to win. They just have to make the transition to varsity and we have to keep them confidence in the process. There will be days when we just get beat. We have to be able to turn around from that and be stronger without letting it bring us down constantly.”