With the return of 14 players, nine of them seniors, from last year’s sectionals squad, the Lady Leaf softball team’s experience will be a valuable asset that Geneseo hopes will take them deep into the postseason.

With the return of 14 players, nine of them seniors, from last year’s sectionals squad, the Lady Leaf softball team’s experience will be a valuable asset that Geneseo hopes will take them deep into the postseason.

“When you have 14 returning players from last year’s roster out of 18, experience and depth are going to be strengths,” said head coach Bob Pettit. “We have nine seniors with experience so this is a good time to find out where that experience pays off.”

Coach Pettit said it has become a tradition with Geneseo softball to have high expectations and this year is no different.

“This is the biggest senior class I have ever had,” he said. “They are on a mission. They have a lot of determination and motivation to come together and get the job done.”

Like every year, coach Pettit said he schedules the best competition he can find to prepare his team to reach their final goal in the postseason.

This season, the Lady Leafs want to win a conference title, continue their tradition of regional titles and extend their run past sectionals.

“The big goal is to be playing better at the end of the season than in the beginning,” said Pettit.

The seniors looking to lead the Lady Leafs to success are: Emily?Zaderaka, Olivia Goethals, Taylor Wise, Kassi Anderson, Haley Cathcart, Bailee Kain, Karissa Herrman, Ana Norville and Paige Dwyer.

“We are asking the seniors to use their experience in a lot of different ways this year,” said Pettit. “Some are playing new positions that they didn’t play last year, and they are being very open-minded to doing what ever the team needs. I told them their top personal goal needs to be what ever this team needs them to be, and they are responding to the challenge.

“I knew this was a very athletic class when they were freshmen, and I was excited to watch them go through. I look forward to a strong finish.?They are a great group of girls. For the first three years, I have been happy with how they have responded, and I know they will step up to the best of their ability.”

The Lady Leafs graduated four seniors last year, all of whom had big roles on and off the field, which is not easy to fill, said Pettit. However, Pettit is confident he has girls who understand and can do that.

The juniors vying for a spot in the lineup this season are: Jessica Murray, Dalee Medley and Sierra Anast.

“All three juniors on our roster were on the roster last year as sophomores,”?said Pettit. “Jessica Murray played a major role for us on the field, while Dalee and Sierra were on the tournament team and got a feel for what it is all about. We will have to see where they fit into the team concept.”

The sophomores joining the juniors and seniors include: Jena Reddig, Sierra Ricketts and newcomer Darian Gillette.

“We have experience with all three of our sophomores, Jena and Sierra have a good feeling for what playing at the varsity level is all about,” said Pettit. “Darian is new to the school, but played varsity at Davenport Assumption last year so, she has a feel.”

The freshmen who are hoping to help the squad include: Jennifer Yager, Hannah Kain and Megan Shoemaker.

“We are a very experienced team and with that you always hope in the heat of a game your team’s experience will take over,” said Pettit. “You hope when the pace of the game accelerates the people who have been there before should be able to handle it and remain calm.”

Coach Pettit stated it is too early to tell what challenges the Lady Leafs might face this year, but one they will have to overcome early in the season is with the players who are stepping into different roles from last year.

“It will be a challenge, but I am very confident these players are up to it,” he said.

As far as the outlook of the conference this season, it is going to be another year filled with tough competition from the NIB?12 teams.

“Everybody is going to be good,” said Pettit. “LaSalle-Peru is No. 1 in the state in their class. Sterling always is a conference favorite, along with us. However, I can never count Streator out. Ottawa is improving steadily, and I expect Dixon to be improved. There are going to be some very competitive games and if anyone goes undefeated in the conference, it will be a miracle.”

In the field this season, the Lady Leafs will have a new catcher behind the plate in Cathcart, and Pettit said, even though she hasn’t had a lot of varsity time, he believe she can handle the position.

“We have a lot of good pitching with seven quality pitchers, so we have no concerns,”?he said. “If one is not on, we will find another.

“I am really hoping this is our best hitting team,” said Pettit. “Every year, we seem to keep getting better. We are hitting the ball harder, and I expect to set some more offensive records this year.”

Last season, Geneseo fell 2-1 to Sycamore in the eight innings in sectionals to end the girls’ season. In regionals, the Lady Leafs beat Sterling, 6-1 for the title and shut out Rock Island, 8-0 in the first round. Geneseo ended the year with an overall record of 29-9 and a conference mark of 7-3.

The Lady Leafs open the 2012 season at 11 a.m. March 17 against Rockridge.

“It is always a good contest with Rockridge,” said Pettit. “I know the girls will be anxious to compete and do what they are capable of. They will be ready.”