Perhaps no softball team last season better epitomized the old adage "It's not how you start, it's how you finish," better than a very young Lyons Township softball team.
The Lions finished last season at 20-18, and were below .500 entering last year's Class AA postseason.
But that record didn't stop LT from making it all the way to a supersectional game before being stopped by softball superpower Sandburg.
So should the Lions falter when they open their season in April, after other teams have as many as a half-dozen games under their belt, they're not worried about it. That's not their style.
"The way we've always done it is we've worried about peaking at the right time," LT coach Dawn Schawbacker said. "And for us, the right time is in the playoffs. We might lose some early because other people have been playing a little, but we'd rather drop them early than drop them late."
But with the returning cast of players the Lions have in the fold this year, a slow start might not be a problem.
"This is a great year to have a lot of kids coming back," Schawbacker said. "We're still trying to fill a couple positions, but it's nice to have the whole pitching staff and catcher back."
Jacqueline Vitale, who has already earned a full scholarship to Bradley University, will be back behind the plate and is the cornerstone of this year's LT squad. The senior caught every game last season while batting .285 with a .393 slugging average. Despite catching every inning, she had only four errors.
At shortstop LT has a four-year varsity starter in Erica Kuschel. She's also committed to a college program (Aurora University) after batting .315 and slugging .379.
Nicole Capone, another four-year varsity player, will lead the pitching staff after posting a 1.50 ERA last spring, and she'll be followed by sophomore Allison Gage, who pitched as a freshman on the varsity last year, and senior Laura Wronski.
Danielle Valenta is the returning starter at first base, and Amy Horn keeps her job as the starting third baseman. Sam Johnson, Mary Fran Gill and Rhiannon Rincon are among the reserves from last year's team that might step into bigger roles this season.
"I think defensively we're going to put a strong team on the field, and that's been key for us to limit our errors," Schawbacker said. "We'll have some diversity in our hitting, too. We've got long-ball hitters and we've got short hitters. We'll be able to do different things."
The biggest difference maker for the Lions this season will be experience.
"We were young last year, and when you put a sophomore on the varsity level, the first time they see a ball it's totally different," Schawbacker said. "We had players last year that were just getting used to that at the end of the season. They should be ready to get a hold of the ball this year."
LT opens its season Tuesday, April 5, against Glenbard West at home to kick off a stretch of six games in eight days. The Lions will play their first conference game April 18 against Oak Park.
"We jump right into it," Schawbacker said. "We're coming off a successful season and want to repeat that. We know it will be tough, but we're going in a positive direction and hope we can get to a place where we can keep it going."