Steve Ebner has been coaching softball now for more than three decades.|
Yet, in 31 seasons, Rock Island's Hall-of-Fame coach is hard-pressed to remember a more challenging spring than this March.
"I wouldn't want to be an athletic director," Ebner joked derisively. "Every day there's been multiple cancellations to postpone games, reschedule officials and cancel buses."
Not that coaching has been easy.
To date, only four metro softball games have been played, thanks to Geneseo doubling Alleman's game total Thursday during the opening day of the Leafs' annual spring trip.
Defending Western Big 6 champ Moline and arch-rivals United Township and Rock Island hope to dodge raindrops and begin play this weekend — a week before opening the Western Big 6 Conference season.
It's been that sort of spring, though, with snow on the ground until late this week, thanks to a couple of late-March storms.
"We look pretty good in the gym right now," joked UT coach John Alonzo.
"The trouble is, none of us will really know what we have until we get outside and start getting some games in consistently. Instead of knowing that as usual when conference play starts, we'll have to feel our way there until maybe midseason for the conference."
Like Rock Island, UT has been able to work outside only three times this month.
Twice Rocky has practiced on the football field's synthetic turf, once with snow flurries flying.
"We found a dry enough patch in the outfield one day just so we could see a fly ball higher than 25 feet," Alonzo said.
That's better than Moline, which got outside for the first time Thursday to scrimmage its sophomore squad.
"We get a lot done in the gym," Moline coach Mark Gerlach said. "But there's just no way to get your outfield and infield working together until you get outside. There's no way to get flyballs or work on cutoffs or game situations."
Besides two games last weekend at the Quincy Notre Dame Tournament, Alleman (1-1) has been outside only two other times, once using Augustana College's sythetic football turf.
"We finally got to work on cuts off (Thursday)," said Ebner's brother Mike, the Alleman coach. "So the tough adjustment will be defensively. Thankfully, we have nine starters back, so these kids know what we want."
Some other teams? They'll be forced to make adjustments on the fly. This season's delays also promise a wild late April and early May, with schools scrambling to find makeup games.
"We usually go on a spring trip to St. Louis and Carbondale but had to cancel this year because it was 37 degrees the weekend we were going there," Steve Ebner said.
"We also were supposed to play at Chatham Glenwood (in the Springfield area), but they got 17 inches of snow that week. So it's been crazy. This is easily the worst March I can ever remember."
Metro softball capsules
Coach: Mike Ebner, seventh season (112-78).
Last year: 21-12 (6-4 Western Big 6). Lost to fourth-place state finisher Sherrard in a Class 2A regional final.
Returners (*-2012 starters): Srs.: *Chasney Jenkins (CF), *Abbey Johnson (1B/2B), *Maddie McGuire (C), *Avery Nelson (P/1B), *Lexy VandeMoortel (RF); Jrs.: *Mackenzie Sanchez (SS), *Anna Wetherell (LF); Sophs.: *Isabel Anderson (3B/SS), *Lexi Ferrari (2B/P), Julia Thomer (C/OF).
Newcomers: Jr.: Marissa Terronez (3B/OF); Sophs.: Molly Ethington (P/1B), Dakota Stout (P), Abby Thompson (3B/DH).
Ebner says: "This is the most experience we've had return in a long time. Maddie is starting for the fourth year on the varsity, four others are three-year starters, and we have all nine starters back from last season. Last year, we thought we'd be pretty good, but we had to prove it. This year, there's no flying under the radar. The expectation is we're going to be good and compete for the conference and regional titles."
Geneseo Maple Leafs
Coach: Bob Pettit, 13th season (362-85).
Last year: 28-11 (7-3 Northern Illinois Big 12 West). Lost to third-place state finisher New Lenox Providence in a 3A super-sectional.
Returners: Srs.: Sierra Anast (3B), Dalee Medley (C/OF), *Jessica Murray (SS); Jrs.: *Darian Gillette (1B/P), Hannah Johnson (2B/OF), Taylor Price (OF), *Jena Reddig (P/1B), Sierra Ricketts (OF/P); Sophs.: Hannah Kain (C), Megan Shoemaker (C/IF/OF), Jen Yager (P/1B).
Newcomers: Jrs.: Natalia Mangieri (C), Rori Westerlund (OF), Alexis Woodruff (OF); Sophs.: Daryn Brants (1B/3B), Carley Rusk (2B), Angie Schaumburg (OF); Fr.: Maddy Shoemaker (SS), Rachael Varland (P/IF), Andrea Wagoner (P/IF), McKinsey Walters (IF/OF).
Pettit says: "We lost nine players to graduation, plus a three-year varsity starter, senior shortstop Jessica Murray, is lost for the season after shoulder surgery. So we will be young and inexperienced, but we are working hard and eager to improve rapidly. We play a difficult schedule, with no 'built-in' wins. Our conference has become a powerhouse, with three of the six rated in the top nine in the 3A preseason rankings."
Coach: Mark Gerlach, 14th season (372-102).
Last year: 31-11 (9-1 Big 6 champ). Beat Elk Grove to finish third at the 4A state finals.
Returners: Srs.: *Jordan de los Reyes (C/IF), Becky Lankford (OF), *Miranda Marion (2B), Lecy Waldbusser (3B/C); Jrs.: *Allison Archer (SS), *Alaina Hofmann (P).
Newcomers: Jrs.: Michaela Guthrie (C/OF), Alexis Jenkins (OF), Selena Larson (3B), Morgan Murphy (1B), Courtney Richter (C/OF); Sophs.: Stephanie Hay (INF), Cassie Shaw (P/1B), Kellie Smet (OF).
Gerlach says: "The (Illinois Coaches Association) poll has us ranked third in the preseason, and another poll has us third. How they can say that with us graduating eight seniors from last year, I don't know. What I do know is we should hit the ball. We also should be strong up the middle, even though we have an all new infield with Archer moving from second to short, and Marion moving from third to second. We also have the smallest group of pitchers I can remember, but the two we do have (Hoffmann and Shaw) should be pretty good."
Rock Island Rocks
Coach: Steve Ebner, 22nd season at Rocky (428-294) and 31st overall (568-399).
Last year: 18-17 (5-5 Big 6). Lost in the 3A regional semifinals to Geneseo.
Returners: Srs.: *Summer Cook (OF), *Kylee Villarreal (1B); Jrs.: *Ashley Ayala (OF), *Hailey Feldhahn (SS), Hannah Hart (P), *Ashlyn Mumma (3B), *Kyrstin Plohr (C/OF), *Jasmine Ragusi (C), *De'Aysha Walker (OF), Jacklyn Young (1B/C); Soph.: *Courtney Pearson (OF/1B).
Newcomers: Jrs.: Morgan McCready (P), Alyssa Pool (C); Sophs.: Kaelan Bradley (P), Morgan Twing (2B); Fr.: Bri Hart (Fr.), Brooke Hart (SS/3B), Sierra Hurt (P).
Ebner says: "We only have two seniors, but we're very experienced, with a number of these kids playing varsity now for three years. Hitting is a strength, and we play good defense, too, but the question will be our inexperienced pitching. All four of our pitchers have had their good days and their bad days so far indoors. But if we get some consistency there like I think we will, we have the ability to have a really good season."
United Township Panthers
Coach: John Alonzo, 17th season (380-172).
Last year: 29-7 (8-2 Big 6). Lost to Geneseo in a 3A regional championship.
Returners: Srs.: *Natalie Brown (IF), *Brooke Prior (P/SS), Sydnee Vallejo (IF/C); Jrs.: Megan Ballegeer (SS/OF/P), *Mackenzie Gustafson (1B/C), *Courtney Markin (2B/C); Sophs.: *Heather Johnson (P/OF/IF), Hailey Lenth (CF/C).
Newcomers: Jrs.: Brooke Collins (LF), Emily Luken (P), Onnie Mejia (OF); Soph.: Mariah McLean (C/IF); Fr.: Aubrieanna Venegas (OF).
Alonzo says: "With the seniors we graduated, plus Jen VanWatermeulen out because of her knee (surgery), and (her twin) Jamie deciding not to play, we have to replace six starters. But we do return both of our primary pitchers from last season, so that should keep us in games. The question right now is who catches? We've got a lot of pieces, and a good group that does everything we ask, but we won't know until we get outside for a couple of weeks how this all fits together."