BY ED WRIGHT
April 9, 2010, 7:45 p.m.
Every spring, it seems, Plymouth's girls softball team loses a significant number of key players to graduation, only to reload with a batch of highly-skilled youngsters.
This spring appears to be no different.
Gone are a trio of graduated stars -- Erin Rodes, who is playing at Alma College; Jill Brennan, who's playing at Concordia; and Beth Heldmeyer, who's running cross country at Siena Heights -- but the Wildcats' roster looks as strong as ever thanks to the return of experienced standouts Stacey Klonowski, Amy Burnard, Tessa Heldmeyer and ace pitcher Lauren Smith, along with the infusion of a trio of freshmen who, in time, are likely to earn the same level of respect this year's seniors have garnered.
"Our strength this year is our returning players," said Plymouth coach Val Canfield, whose team compiled a 30-10 record last year and has won six titles -- three District championships and three Division crowns -- in the past seven seasons. "Our returning players provide a strong bridge for the new-comers. They know what it takes to win and they pass it along to the younger girls."
Plymouth's roster couldn't be more balanced as it includes three seniors, three juniors, three sophomores and three freshmen.
Burnard, who will hold down the hot corner, and Klonowski, a do-it-all shortstop, give the Wildcats one of the most talented left-sided infields in the area, if not the state.
"They both bring a lot of power to the plate and stability to the defense," Canfield said.
Heldmeyer, who is entering her third year on the varsity, also brings a ton of power to the batter's box, Canfield said.
As of Thursday, the Wildcats had hotly contested battles for starting roles at practically every position, Canfield said.
One position that is pretty much locked up is the team's No. 1 pitcher slot, which has been earned by Smith, who chalked up an impressive 25-5 mark last season.
"We're really expecting Lauren to take charge on the mound this season," said Canfield. "She's one of the main reasons we've had so much success the past three years. We wouldn't have won nearly as many games without her. She has a lot of movement on her ball."
Plymouth's two other juniors are Marissa Blassic, an infielder/outfielder, and Christy Pattison, an outfielder.
"Marissa is a big-time power hitter who has quick hands and is fast," Canfield said. "Christy is an excellent outfielder who can cover a lot of ground. She's just a great heads-up player."
The trio of sophomores are outfielder Jessica Bondy -- the third Bondy to wear the Wildcats' silver-and-black uniforms -- Allison Raylean and Karen Rebain, who starred on the Wildcats' junior varsity last spring.
"Jessica is a stellar performer who is quick from the left side of the plate," said Canfield. "She's very good with the short game at the plate.
"We pulled Allison up from the junior varsity late last season and she was a standout in both the District and Regional tournaments. We're expecting big things from her this year.
"Karen is one of our hardest workers and she has a great arm -- a gun."
The Wildcats' three freshmen -- Kayla Rebain, Brea Giordano and Elaine Gerou -- are so talented, they won't be intimidated by playing against girls three years older than they are, Canfield assured.
"Kayla can play any position we ask her to," said Canfield. "She has a very strong arm and carries a lot of confidence with her. She has so much power, she's fast...she's going to be a standout in the future.
"Brea can play the infield and pitch. She's definitely our hardest throws.
"When Elaine isn't pitching, she'll play some outfield. She's fast and she can really read the ball off the bat when she's playing outfield. Pitching-wise, she has a very strong arm and she has phenomenal movement on her pitches."
The Wildcats open their 2010 season Monday at South Lyon.
Ed Wright can be
reached at (734) 453-1980 or firstname.lastname@example.org.