If the preseason is any indication, then 2014 will be a good year for the Alpena Community College softball team.
The Lumberjacks haven't been able to get outside much to practice, but they have been able to get a few preaseason games in for the first time in several years. Two weeks ago, ACC played two games against Lakeland Community College inside Cleveland State University's domed Krenzler Field.
The Lumberjacks split a pair of games with Lakeland and ACC head coach Erin Riopelle liked what she saw.
News Photo by James Andersen
The 2014 Alpena Community College softball team is pictured left to right: front: Katie Wilder, Sarah Kolb, Brynnae Butts, Kayla Shephard, Tiffany Haren and Ashley Nowland; back: Paige Lewandowski, Katie Cox, Laura Lewis, Alex Chmura, Kelli Stevens, Cassandra Shaw and Ashleigh Monticello. Missing is Sara Mairose.
"If how we played in those two games is an indication of how we'll play this season, we're going to do very well," Riopelle said. "They surprised me from being in the gym for so long and only being able to work on certain things; they came out on to the field and did amazing."
ACC is hoping to keep those good vibes going as it opens the season today at Oakland. The Lumberjacks are looking for a better start than last season when they started 0-11 on the way to a 7-17 finish.
The trip to Ohio proved to be a worthwhile experience and gave ACC some much needed time on the field for players to develop chemistry.
"Overall it was a good experience. We got a feel for the new girls and our new positions," sophomore pitcher/utility player Alex Chmura said. "It was a good warmup and we didn't have that last year."
Looking at ACC's 14-player roster this season, two things are immediately apparent: experience and local talent. Eight of ACC's players this season are sophomores and half of the roster lives within 40 miles of Alpena.
On the mound, ACC will use a trio of sophomores-Chmura, Laura Lewis and Sara Mairose-a mix Riopelle hopes will cause problems for hitters.
"It's a good combination. Laura has less speed than the other two, but sometimes more movement, so when you're trying to mix it up with batters, they're going to have a hard time gauging what's coming at them," Riopelle said.
Chmura, a former all-state pitcher in high school will see time on the mound, but she'll be a valuable asset for the Lumerjacks this season because of her versatility. She played on both sides of the plate last season and this year she'll likely see a lot of time at third base when she's not pitching.
"I'm really enjoying playing third base. It's a little more challenging, but I love the challenge," Chmura said.
Sophomore Ashleigh Monticello will start for ACC at shortstop and freshmen Sarah Kolb and Ashley Nowland will vie for time at second base. Mairose, Lewis, sophomore Kayla Shephard and freshman Tiffany Harren are all in the mix at first base. Mairose and sophomore Cassandra Shaw could also spell Chmura at third base.
In the outfield, Shaw will patrol left field and will be joined by sophomores Paige Lewandowski and Katie Cox in center field and right field respectively. Freshman Katie Wilder could also see time in the outfield.
Behind the plate, former Alpena High catcher Kelli Stevens will start for the Lumberjacks and Brynnae Butts will be her backup.
Riopelle is returning for her second season, but this year she's got a supporting staff around her. Jeremy Stepaniak has joined the Lumberjacks as assistant coach and Craig Stepaniak, Andy Seguin and Julie Marsico are all volunteers, helping to run practices and allowing Riopelle to focus a bit more on recruiting.
Aside from today's doubleheader at Oakland, the Lumberjacks will be road warriors for the first 14 games of the year before they come home on April 18 for their last eight games. Riopelle is expecting some challenges from ACC's rivals in the Eastern Conference, but said the Lumberjacks should do well.
"We always know that Oakland and Macomb and Mott will be a challenge. Henry Ford we should be able to do well against as well as St. Clair," Riopelle said. "Delta is the interesting one because they had to do some late recruiting and I'm not sure what they're going to bring."
James Andersen can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.