NEWCOMERSTOWN -- There are a lot of question marks for the Newcomerstown High softball team as the beginning of the 2017 season arrives.
With seven players graduated from last year's squad, first-year head coach Raymond Moore does not know for sure what to expect this season from a young group of Lady Trojans.
"We definitely have a lot of talent this year," offered Moore, who succeeded Chuck peach as the NHS softball boss, "but we also lost a lot of talent to graduation and we are very young. We only have two seniors to be our team leaders and we only have three returning letterwinners. I know we have a couple of freshmen who are going to be great players, but right now everything is open.
"There is going to be a lot of competition from the girls as they fight for the varsity spots," added Moore.
Graduating from last year's team was Newcomerstown's ace of the pitching staff, Jayde Bricker, as well as six other starters including Riley Kellish, Jorden Moore, Karlee Peach, Mackenzie Moner, Miranda Thornton and Mereda Moorehead.
Peach and Kellish both earned a large number of honors in 2016 including first team all-East District and first team all-IVC and were both participants in the East District All-Star Game. Peach also earned all-Ohio DivisionIII honorable mention accolades.
Bricker and Moner were both awarded second team all-East District last season, with Bricker also earning second team all-IVC honors while Moore was awarded honorable mention all-IVC.
"Those are seven starters gone from last year," noted Moore. "They were all very talented and helped the team out a lot, but I am very confident that we have a some talented girls who will fill their shoes. Some of the younger girls are going to have to step up and play some positions they have never played before."
Three returning two-year letterwinners - senior Rachel Hinton (first baseman) and juniors Kayla Gibson (third baseman) and Caitlin Durr (center fielder) - will try to lead Newcomerstown to a much more successful season compared to last year's 10-16 overall record which included a fifth-place mark of 7-9 in the IVC.
"Our returning letterwinners are going to lead us," noted Moore. "We will have Rachel and Kayla holding things down in the infield and then Caitlin will be our starting center fielder."
Other upperclassmen who will be fighting for a spot on the varsity team will be senior outfielder Ziaa Harris; junior infielders Breana Bryant and Erica Maldorado; and junior outfielders Cheyenne McMullen, Cheyenne Tanksley, Jaimie Wright and Melissa Cosner.
Representing the sophomore class for the Lady Trojans will be utility player Gabby McPeek; infielder Deserae Harbold and outfielders Cassandra Fries and Sierra McMullen.
A trio of freshmen will also be competing for an open varsity spot including catcher Maddie Fish, pitcher Raegan Smith and utility player Leah Kellish.
Splitting time on the mound for Newcomerstown will be Smith, McPeek and Maldorado.
"I think pitching will be one of our strong points," said Moore. "Raegan is just a freshman, but she is going to be key for us to be successful this season."
Despite losing most of their power hitters to graduation, Moore does not believe that the Lady Trojans will struggle to get runs across the plate.
"Unfortunately, we lost a lot of our big hitters from last year," added Moore. "but this team is really fast and I think we will be able to string together some base hits and steal some bases to be productive offensively.
"Overall, I am excited for this season and excited to see what some of these younger players can do," continued the NHS coach. "Our goal for the year is to go .500 or better, and I think that is possible with this team."
Coach Moore expects three teams to be at or near the top in the Inter-Valley Conference title chase.
"The IVC is always tough," admitted the NHS mentor. "Garaway, Strasburg and Sandy Valley will probably be our biggest tests this year."