Hillsboro softball coach Stephanie Sinclair welcomes a core group of nine seniors and returning letter-winners from her 3-18 team in 2017.
Now entering her 13th season, the Trojan head coach (195-84) is looking to four players who received all-league recognition from the Central Kansas League coaches a year ago.
Junior Samantha Moss was named to the first team as a utility player. She played mostly at catcher last season, but put in time in the infield and outfield as well.
Senior Taylor Helmer was a second-team pick as a pitcher. Senior Sarah Jost was named to the second team for her play in the outfield and Ava Weisbeck received honorable mention for her contributions in the outfield as a freshman.
This season, Sinclair is expanding her pitching corps this spring to take some of the game-to-game burden off of Helmer, who started every game in 2017.
“There are five girls working on pitching,” Sinclair said. “Taylor doesn’t want to throw all the time, which some pitchers do.”
Joining Helmer as pitching options are senior Sarah Jost, juniors Cheyenne Bernhardt and Trinity Marler, and freshman Dani Klein.
“I don’t know for sure who’s going to start,” Sinclair said. “They’re actually all doing a good job. I think it’s going to be who can handle that pressure of being (in the pitching circle). In reality, it might be Dani, who can handle the pressure because she’s played a lot of softball.
“Cheyenne’s not pitching bad either, and Sarah has speed changes that are obvious, and she’s willing to mix it up,” Sinclair said. “She has different motion on her pitches.
“Trinity is still a little bit weaker in the pitching area, so I don’t know if I’ll use her there—but we’ll keep building her for a different time.”
Away from the pitching circle, Samantha Moss and occasionally Bernhardt will serve as the back-up catcher.
First-base duties will be covered primarily by senior Elli Weisbeck, who at 6-foot-1 will provide a good target for the infielders.
Sinclair said two or three players are likely to see time at second base, depending on who’s pitching. The leading candidates at second are Helmer and Jost.
“Third base right now, and getting better every day, is Trinity Marler,” Sinclair said.
Klein is the leading candidate for shortstop, both for her fielding skills and her batting.
“Dani’s probably, stat-wise, at the top of our hitting,” Sinclair said. “She’s clearly hitting over .500 in practice. Her goals are completely different from somebody else’s. She’s talking home runs and we’re talking about other things.
“I don’t mind a kid being confident like that,” Sinclair added. “She’s got good speed and a lot of practice. Maybe that will push a few other people.”
If they’re not pitching, Bernhardt, Ava Weisbeck and Jost are “for-sure starters” in the outfield, Sinclair said. Also in the mix for an outfield spot are sophomore Kylee Martin and junior Maria Nieto.
Sinclair said freshman Tuesday Weisbeck could make an impact this season with her bat.
“Tuesday may be one of our hitters,” the coach said. “She’s coming along defensively, but her hitting looks to be a little bit ahead of her fielding right now.”
Sinclair said she already sees improvement on this year’s team.
“I feel like it looks good at times,” she said. “I have a lot more confidence in what we’re doing right now than maybe we had last year. Hitting has been pretty good.”
This season, Sinclair will be giving directions to her players using codes rather than traditional hand signals.
“I don’t have to give signs anymore,” she said. “I’ll just give them codes, and then they’ll know where we are on our charts. That will be for pitching, too.”
Sinclair believes the top teams in the Central Kansas League this spring will be familiar for those who follow softball.
“I think you’re still going to have Kingman, Haven and Pratt being those top teams,” she said. “If somebody else is, I’ll be surprised.
“I don’t know how good Larned will be, but maybe we could be right behind them. I don’t think we’re going to be at the bottom.”
Sinclair will be working alongside a new assistant coach this season.
“Kalee Cross has helped a ton already,” she said. “She can be there from the beginning of practice to the end of every practice, so there’s two of me now rather than one and a half, maybe.”
Hillsboro was scheduled to open the season March 27 with a doubleheader at home against Nickerson. Larned will be coming to town Friday for a 4 p.m. doubleheader at the Sports Complex.