By Marty Farmer
The Riverside-Brookfield High School softball team will face some new opponents in the Metro Suburban Conference this spring. Newcomers Bishop McNamara, St. Francis, Rosary and Ridgewood join RBHS, Aurora Central Catholic, Immaculate Conception in a newly configured division.
"We have added some amazing softball programs to our conference," RBHS coach Doug Schultz said. "Bishop Mac is returning a large amount of starters from an outstanding team last season, so we feel that they are the team to beat."
Of course, the scouting report Schultz is most familiar with is RBHS. Although the Bulldogs lost Tori Blood, Nora Dachota, Amy Kulaga and Bailey Hastings to graduation in 2018, five starters returns from last season's 17-12 squad.
Mental toughness will be a point of emphasis this spring.
"We need to improve our mental approach," Schultz said. "We felt last year's team came to a few games defeated. They didn't believe they had a chance to win. We have seen failures like striking out or defensive errors in the field mentally cripple players.
"The goal for this team is to have the typical failures of a regular softball game serve as fuel to improve," Schultz said. "This team needs to understand that we have the talent to beat any team we play. I'm not saying we should be undefeated this year, but we should have a positive mental approach every game."
Seniors Lauren Lambros and Kailyn Ngo (both four-year varsity players), along with juniors Nadia Ranieri, Emily Noel and Abby Favela are the most experienced returners.
"Team chemistry is definitely one of our strengths on and off the field," Favela said. "We're also very strong on defense. We have a lot of potential this season, but we need to stay focused as a team."
Noel added: "Even though the season just started, we are already working towards out goals. I believe we can compete for a sectional championship and hopefully anything after that."
Lambros, Ngo and Noel earned all-conference recognition last season.
Noel hit .454 with three home runs, 40 RBIs and a .753 slugging percentage, while Ngo batted .449 with 31 hits and a .500 on-base percentage. Lambros (.425, 34 hits, .531 OBP), Ranieri (.390, 2 HR, 23 RBIs, .442 OBP) and Favela (3 HR, 21 RBIs) also produced good numbers at the plate.
"I'm so excited for the season because we have a great group of girls," Ngo said. "We have practically a whole new lineup with a stronger mentality. Last season didn't end as we had hoped, but that makes us even hungrier this year."
Senior Ashley Lynch, a transfer from Montini, is a nice addition to the roster, along with juniors Olivia Blood and Aliana Chiquito. Sophomore Bella Garcia and freshman Hannah Organ will contribute as well.
"We all have a great connection with each other," Blood said. "That will help us perform well on the field. It's very crucial for everybody on the team to get in the right mindset."
In addition to conference play, the Bulldogs will take on several top teams in the area including Oak Park and River Forest, Lyons Township, York, Fenwick and Morton. Potential sectional opponents like Sandburg, Hinsdale South, Hinsdale Central, Richards, Argo and Shepard are on the schedule as well.
"We have built another tough schedule which will provide challenges all season long," Schultz said.
Entering sixth season as the Bulldogs' coach, Schultz guided the team to a Class 4A regional championship in 2017. This spring, he's hoping for a similar or even better result.
"We feel like we are ready to compete at a high level," he said. "We have another fun bunch of players that have really gotten down to work and become better players."