Ask Riverside-Brookfield softball coach John Vermillion about team goals for the upcoming season and his reply is as orderly as it is ambitious: win regional, sectional, super-sectional and state championships.
Considering Vermillion holds a 167-38 career record at RB coaching on various levels, clearly winning has never been an issue for the highly successful coach. Claiming a sectional title and beyond, however, has been an annual bugaboo for the Bulldogs. Aside from their own motivation, RB need look no further than their own Metro Suburban Conference archrival, Glenbard South, which won the Class 3A state championship last spring.
“Anytime you have a defending state champion [Glenbard South] in conference, they are the heavy favorite to repeat,” Vermillion said. “It will be a challenge to dethrone them this season.”
The Bulldogs are well-equipped to challenge the Raiders for several reasons, namely RB’s prolific offense, solid defense, improved team speed and a talented pitching ace.
Last year, RB batted .399 as a team and scored 271 runs en route to a 26-8 (9-3 Metro Suburban) record and regional title.
“I think we’ll still be able to pound the ball with our returning players,” Vermillion said. “With new starters Kendall Hastings, Lana Herrmann and Grace Cody, we will be able to incorporate much more speed into the lineup.”
Despite the loss of all-state performers Becky Mantel and Kiley Rusen, who are playing college softball at Radford and Valdosta State respectively, the Bulldogs still possess plenty of thunder in their batting order. Senior catcher Emily Hastings, a two-time All-Metro Suburban Conference selection, batted .465 with four homers, 42 RBIs and a .509 OBP last season. She has signed with SIU-Edwardsville.
Senior first baseman Ashlee Haugh (.323, 3 HR, 31 RBIs) and senior Emma Schander (.447, 34 hits, .468 OBP) also return as key cogs in the Bulldogs’ explosive offense.
Versatile senior infielder/outfielder Jasmin Castaneda opened the season at shortstop, filling in for Kelly Ely (.348, 23 hits) who is recovering from ACL knee surgery. The aforementioned Kendall Hastings, Herrmann and Cody are all relative newcomers blessed with a ton of promise.
“Kendall will start at second base,” Vermillion said. “Her range is the best I’ve seen in years.”
Sisters Annabelle and Natalie Gardinier along with Eleanor Ahlberg, Samantha Cook, Hayden Claire and Allie Parcel add depth for RB.
Sophomore Katie O’Connell takes over for her sister, Kylie (graduated), as the Bulldogs’ top pitcher. Last season, Kylie went 7-0 with a 2.05 ERA and posted impressive victories over Lyons Township, York and Crystal Lake South.