Warm weather — comparatively speaking — has arrived. So did two days of rain over the weekend. So whether the Wyoming Valley Conference softball season begins today as scheduled depends on whether the fields can be repaired in time.
Considering how cold it’s been, rain was better than more snow.
“We were out about 45 minutes on Monday and we were numb and gave up,” Holy Redeemer coach Jerry Pauliukonis said.
Redeemer, though, got lucky later last week and played an exhibition game at Wyoming Area. Most teams haven’t been as fortunate.
“We got out a couple days,” Lake-Lehman coach Wayne Oplinger said. “We didn’t get on our field, we got on the (football stadium) turf.”
Good news is no matter how cold it gets the first few weeks, just like last season, it will warm up for good.
The year has changed, but the divisional favorites haven’t. Here is a brief look at the three divisions, with last year’s records in parentheses.
Division 1: Hazleton Area (14-1) is loaded once again. The Cougars lost their battery – pitcher Becky Demko and catcher Justine Rossi, both of whom are playing in college – but have enough talent to fill the gaps. Plus, the team is young and should continue make noise in 2015.
Nanticoke (11-4) will be the Cougars’ toughest divisional opponent. The Trojanettes lost two key players to their success – pitcher Allie Matulewski and shortstop Kayley Schinski. Like Hazleton Area, Nanticoke will be young overall but talented.
Crestwood (7-8) figures to fall next in line with pitcher Alyssa Davies, who recorded a WVC-high 101 strikeouts, being a big factor. Coughlin (5-10) and Wyoming Valley West (6-9) could make things interesting. Coughlin has a premier power hitter in outfielder Marissa Ross, but will need more production throughout the lineup. Valley West lost three consecutive games by one run in 2013, spoiling what could have been a winning season.
Pittston Area (2-13) started five freshmen last season and took its lumps at times. The Patriots, though, should be improved with a year under their belts.
Division 2: This should be the most competitive division in the WVC.
Berwick (11-3) lost just one starter, but she was a big part of its success – divisional MVP and pitcher Margaret Bridge. The Dawgs’ overall experience will ease the loss.
Tunkhannock (9-5) and Wyoming Area (9-5) return enough talent to put significant pressure on Berwick throughout the season. No team had tougher luck than Dallas (5-9) last year. The Mountaineers lost five games by a run. If the offense clicks, they could reverse that.
Lake-Lehman (1-13) might have been the best one-win softball team in the state last year. The Black Knights lost three games by a run, three more by two runs and had powerful Hazleton Area on the ropes only to stumble late.
So top to bottom, the division will be strong.
Division 3: Holy Redeemer (14-0) swept through the division and the District 2 Class 2A playoffs and was a win away from playing for the state title. Divisional MVP Chelsea Skrepenak and pitcher Kaya Swanek, the WVC’s top hurler, return as the Royals have their sights set on another deep playoff run.
All three losses Hanover Area (10-2) suffered in WVC and the D2-2A playoffs were to Redeemer. Everyone is back for the Hawkeyes, so they will once again be in the thick of the race. Northwest (8-4) will be right there as well. The Rangers need to solve Redeemer and Hanover Area, which combined to hand them their WVC losses.
Wyoming Seminary (5-7), GAR (3-9), MMI Prep (3-9) and Meyers (1-11) will likely battle it out for fourth place on down.
The WVC graduated plenty of talented seniors, but there is a solid group of returning standouts. Ten of the 15 players selected to The Times Leader All-WVC team return this year.
Here are four of those top returning players.
Marissa Ross, Coughlin: Ross enters her senior season coming off a terrific junior year. She paced Coughlin with a .558 average, five home runs, eight doubles and 22 RBI. She was also solid on defense as an outfielder and showed some wheels with seven stolen bases.
Chelsea Skrepenak, Holy Redeemer: Skrepenak dispelled the notion that catchers are slow. One of the fastest – if not the fastest – players in the WVC, Skrepenak used her speed to hit a WVC-leading eight homers as a sophomore. Anything hit in the gap, and she was around the bases. She also had three triples on the way to Division 3 MVP honors.
Kaya Swanek, Holy Redeemer: Now that Berwick’s Margaret Bridge and Hazleton Area’s Becky Demko have graduated, there’s little doubt Swanek is the premier pitcher in the WVC. Her WVC numbers as a sophomore were eye-popping – a 9-0 record, a 0.66 ERA, 62 strikeouts and just six walks in 52.2 innings. And she showed she could hit by recording four homers, two triples and two doubles.
Maria Trivelpiece, Hazleton Area: Trivelpiece racked up the honors last year as a sophomore. The middle infielder was named all-state, co-MVP of Division 1 and All-WVC for a second consecutive season. She hit .600 with two triples, four doubles and 15 RBI. She also pitched a little, finishing 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA.
Other Times Leader All-WVC players returning this year are: Moriah Lynn, Berwick; Mackenzie Yori, Hazleton Area; Ryleigh Fitch and Erin Smith, Tunkhannock; Adrienne Przybyla and Nicole Turner, Wyoming Area.
There aren’t too many.
• Jerry Pauliukonis takes over at Holy Redeemer for Mark Senchak, who will skip the season while recovering from back surgery. Pauliukonis was the junior high head coach last year. He and varsity assistant John Bryan will run the Royals.
• John McNeil is now in charge at Wyoming Area. He will be the team’s third head coach in three years. McNeil was an assistant at Dallas and has been a coaching fixture on the high school level mainly as an assistant football coach.
• Wyoming Seminary won’t be playing at Plains Municipal Park. The Blue Knights will be using Nesbitt Field, which has artificial turf. That should make for some interesting games.
• Looking to the PIAA’s next two-year cycle – the 2015 and 2016 seasons – only two WVC teams will be changing classifications. Nanticoke will move from 2A to 3A. Northwest moves up a class to 2A.
• District 2 has the WVC softball schedules on its website, but there have been several changes. The biggest is the Hazleton Area at Nanticoke contest. It’s now 1 p.m. Saturday, April 19. Hazleton Area won both matchups last year by 2-1 scores, so the first meeting this year should be entertaining.