A year after falling in the state-title game, the Warriors softball team looks to find its identity.
It’s a word that West Orange High’s Todd LaNeave throws around a lot before every softball season.
The pivotal concept of knowing who you are as team — and as a player — is common in every sport, but at the high-school level, it just feels different.
Every year players come and go, and every year there’s no true telling how a team with old and new players will jell and react to different situations. It’s why, despite having a good chunk of his starting lineup from last year’s state runner-up squad back, LaNeave is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“We’ve got a lot of those girls back this year, so they’ve gotten a taste of what it’s like to be in the final four and have an opportunity to win a state championship, so I’m hoping there’s a little bit of that hunger in them to want to get back or do what they need to do to get back,” LaNeave said. “We’re still trying to figure out who we are this year, despite having a large group of those girls coming back.”
Last season, before they went on their strong postseason run to the state title game, the Warriors spent much of the season simply trying to figure out who they were as they got off to a shaky start.
After going 12-7 through their first 19 games, but following a loss to Lake Brantley in early April, something seemed to change. All of a sudden the Warriors just started winning in dominate fashion.
“You could just tell their confidence just went through the roof, and if they could just repeat that every night out, we would have a pretty good shot at where we wanted to go,” LaNeave said.
The Warriors won 12 consecutive games (which included a district title) before falling in the state-title game to Western to finish the season at 24-8.
It was an impressive accomplishment for LaNeave’s program, but that was then, and this is now.
This year’s Warriors team will be without its top three hitters from last season — Julia Sniffen (.364 AVG, 31 RBI on 36 hits), Lexie Blair (.459 AVG, 36 RBI on 34 hits) and Cerynn Siemer (.337 AVG, 11 RBI on 33 hits) — and pitching go-to Landry Newgent (13-6 record, 2.48 ERA, four saves).
However, this year’s team still brings back six starters from last year’s squad, as well as seven seniors overall.
“We’re a more mature group, for lack of a better word, but we will see how mature they are when it’s their turn to step up and get it done,” LaNeave said. “I like this group; I’m excited about seeing what they can do. We will get out there and see what happens.”
In the circle, LaNeave will lean on the talented junior Riley Fromberg, who last year played 1B to Newgent’s 1A.
The righty dished fire through her 26 appearances as she racked up an 11-2 record and solid 1.99 ERA. Throw in her two complete games and team-leading five saves, and the Warriors have a pitcher who can do just about anything.
Fromberg will be joined by other vital players, including senior third baseman Amanda Denis, sophomore shortstop Lexi Scalzo, senior catcher Cailyn Salickram and senior outfielder Cassie Rivard.
Denis’ numbers last season were modest, but it’s her attitude and approach to the game that will be an asset for a team looking for leaders, LaNeave said.
“She’s actually been my third baseman since her sophomore year, so this will be year three for her on that corner,” LaNeave said. “She has already demonstrated those leadership qualities that you need.”
Everything is in place for the Warriors to do big things and continue the success of last year, but as the season quickly approaches — the first regular-season game is on Feb. 19 — LaNeave still is looking for that all-important identity. Until then, all the Warriors can do is what they do best: compete.
“If they can go out there and compete, and work hard, then I think the results will be what they want them to be,” LaNeave said. “But we don’t talk about winning and losing or the actual results — we focus heavily on process and those things it takes to be winners. If they can do that, I don’t see any reason why we can’t be successful.”
2018 record: 5-12-1
Coach: Larry Oldham
Key returners: Reece Gustafson, Jared Furtado, Smith Elize, Eric Rodriguez
Quick hits: A tough season saw CFCA pick up just five wins, but head coach Larry Oldham hopes to get his Eagles back to .500. Led by players such as Reece Gustafson and Smith Elize, the Eagles will kick off the new season on Friday, March 1, against Geneva.
2018 record: 10-12-1
(4-7-1 in district)
Coach: Derreck Santiago
Key returners: Elias Cabral, Dewon Brazelton, Henry Austad
Key losses: N/A
Quick hits: Foundation returns a lion’s share of the talent from last season’s team, especially in the form of senior Elias Cabral — who led the Lions last season with a .314 batting average, with 12 RBI and one home run. Cabral will get help from other talented hitters such as freshman Dewon Brazelton (.312 average) and Henry Austad (.308 batting average).
2018 record: 3-8
Coach: Lisa Eaves
Key returners: CeCe Fulmer, Victoria Cortese, Vivian Longino, Sophia Smith
Quick hits: After a tough 3-8 season last year, the Foundation Lions softball team looks to bounce back under the tutelage of head coach Lisa Eaves.
2018 record: 16-11
(6-6 in district)
Coach: Jack Chambless
Key returners: Gabriel Chambless, Justin LaGasse, Andrew Birko
Key losses: Gehrig Chambless, Dalton Cantrell
Quick hits: Despite losing leading offensive threat Gehrig Chambless and his .512 batting average, Jack Chambless still returns a solid chunk of last year’s team. Chambless’ brother, Gabriel, will lead the way for the returners at the plate, after finishing the 2018 season with a .338 batting average and 19 RBI.
2018 record: 4-14
(2-5 in district)
Coach: Katherine Barnard
Key returners: Zoie Pistel, Alyssa Tillman
Key losses: Story Phillips, Kali Guthrie, Aimee Pritchard
Quick hits: The Eagles look to rebound after a difficult season with much of the team coming back — including sophomore Zoie Pistel (.469 average) and junior Alyssa Tillman (.435 average) to help fuel a decent offense.
2018 record: 14-12
(2-5 in district)
Coach: Chad Hall
Key losses: Caleb Andreaus
Quick hits: Ocoee started off last season 6-0, before going through an up-and-down season. The Knights’ season ended in the district tournament. The Knights will look to further last season’s decent success under new head coach Chad Hall — who is taking over for Bobby Brewer.
2018 record: 8-14
(1-8 in district)
Coach: Brian Vail
Key returners: Kayleigh Curtis, Chloe Vrhovac, Cydney Greenwood
Key losses: Jada Cruz, Abigail Spitulski, Brittany Estrella
Quick hits: After ending the season with a 10-0 loss to Buchholz in the district tournament, head coach Brian Vail and his girls look to rebound in the upcoming season. Leading the way for the Knights at the plate is Kayleigh Curtis (.424 average, 28 hits, five RBI), while Vail will look to team co-captain Cydney Greenwood ( 5-8 record, 6.54 ERA, one save).
2018 record: 12-15
(3-4 in district)
Coach: Graig Smith
Key returners: Anthony Garcia, Jonathan Russell
Key losses: Noah Hughes, Ryan Jean, Hunter Cole
Quick hits: Although it was a tough postseason for the Warriors, the end of the regular season came with a big walk-off win against the Wildcats. This year, under first year head coach Graig Smith, the Warriors will look to build on the previous successes of last season.
2018 record: 24-8
(5-3 in district)
Coach: Todd LaNeave
Key returners: Riley Fromberg, Lexi Scalzo, Cassie Rivard
Key losses: Lexie Blair, Julia Sniffen, Cerynn Siemer, Landry Newgent
Quick hits: Riley Fromberg (11-2, 1.99 ERA) will lead the way in the circle, while players such as Lexi Scalzo (.392 average, 13 RBI) and Cassie Rivard (.291 average, six RBI).