Nazareth Academy head softball coach Emily Matthews has done a remarkable job in a short period of time. Last season, Matthews guided the Roadrunners to a 31-8-1 record, East Suburban Catholic Conference championship, and fourth-place finish in the Class 3A state playoffs in her second year at the helm.
Despite the loss of five all-conference senior players, optimism is high as ever around the program.
“We will be young, starting as many as seven underclassmen,” Matthews said. “Team speed and defense up the middle will be the key to our season. We have returning experienced players up the middle defensively. We will need big contributions from underclassmen to reach our program’s lofty goals of winning conference and returning to state.”
While the Roadrunners will feature a wave of promising new players, a handful of upperclassmen return this spring.
Junior catcher/infielder Jordan Barnes batted .409 with a .511 on-base percentage, three home runs, 11 doubles and 36 RBIs last season.
“Jordan has started since her freshman season and will be leaned on for leadership,” Matthews said. “She has huge power and a huge arm behind the plate.”
Regarded as one of the better shortstops in the area, junior Jeannine Mantooth hit .241 with a .353 OBP and 23 RBIs in 2017. Seniors Julia Dallmann (.336 avg., 3 HR, 29 RBIs) and Emily Zalewski (.336 avg., .411 OBP, 22 RBIs) are other key returners.
Sophomore outfielder Leah Cavanaugh emerged as a starter late last season.
“Leah worked hard in the offseason,” Matthews said. “She’s become a dangerous leadoff hitter with speed and the ability to get on base.”
Freshmen Emily Monahan (infielder/outfielder), Ally Layne (pitcher) and Toni Rodriguez (infielder/pitcher) are welcomed additions to the varsity.
Fresh off winning their first-ever conference championship, the Roadrunners will be tested by perennial powers Marist, Joliet Catholic and Marian Catholic.
In addition to ESCC play, Nazareth has a difficult non-conference schedule including games against Fenwick, Trinity, Oak Park and River Forest, Downers North, Glenbard South and Mother McAuley.
Despite stiff competition all season, Nazareth has established a clear and consistent agenda for every spring.
“We want to win the East Suburban Catholic Conference, then advance and win the state championship,” Matthews said. “Embracing the program’s philosophies of hard work, family, caring for your teammates and giving 100 percent on the field and in the classroom also are staples.”