This year’s Geneseo softball team will have one major thing to battle this season — something the Lady Leafs really never had to worry about before — inexperience.

This year’s Geneseo softball team will have one major thing to battle this season — something the Lady Leafs really never had to worry about before — inexperience.

“We know it is going to be a little bit of a challenge this year. We are really light on the senior class, but we knew that coming in,” said head coach Bob Pettit. “We knew we were really inexperienced, but the girls are going to work hard. The girls have good attitudes and are going to try to uphold the tradition.

“This team has the least amount of experience coming in of any team I have coached here. They are good players and people who are up to the task.”

Not only are the Lady Leafs replacing most of their lineup with the lost of nine seniors, the girls will have to find a replacement for three-year varsity player, senior Jessica Murray, who is out for the season with an injury.

“The players have a lot of shoes to fill, and I appreciate the attitudes of the players who are there,” said Pettit. “They understand they have a heavy task ahead of them and are just starting to battle.”

The seniors looking to lead the Lady Leafs this season are: Sierra Anast, Dalee Medley and Murray.

“There is an intangible that only returning players can bring — the knowledge of what it takes and the commitment it takes to be part of a winning program,” said Pettit. “I hope these seniors can bring that to the rest of the group.”

Geneseo’s junior class includes: Darian Gillette, Hannah Johnson, Natalia Mangieri, Taylor Price, Jena Reddig, Sierra Ricketts, Rori Westerlund and Alexis Woodruff.

“The juniors are in the same boat as the seniors (as there are five returners out of the eight juniors),” said Pettit. “They were on the tournament team last year and three were in the starting line up. I hope that experience comes through and we can count on them to be quick learners. They have to have junior leadership.”

The Lady Leafs also have five sophomores joining the varsity ranks, three of them are returners from last year. Hannah Kain, Megan Shoemaker and Jennifer Yager return to the varsity squad, while Carley Rusk and Angie Schaumburg are new to the varsity squad.

The team also will be joined by four freshmen who look to make an impact: Maddy Shoemaker, Rachael Varland, Andrea Wagoner and McKinsey Walters.

“(The sophomores and freshmen) have to learn the level (of varsity play), but some have that pressurized experience from the summer,” said Pettit. “The freshmen/sophomores have to be quick learners and I have faith they can do that.”

As the Lady Leafs prepare to start their season, the coaches and girls know with their lack of experience and their powerhouse schedule they have a tough hill to climb as they look to continue the team’s success.

“We do have a tougher hill to climb this year, but we have a lot of climbers,” said Pettit. “I put faith into their abilities to do what ever it takes to be successful. If we can be a better team than we always can stand a chance.

“We can’t question the fact we are young. I don’t remember having to rely on freshmen and sophomores for a lineup. That is the exciting part, but they don’t have experience. It will be exciting to watch them develop, and I expect them to progress.”

Coach Pettit said it is too early in the season to tell what the strengths of this year’s squad will be, but he hopes the Lady Leafs will be a good offensive team, while the team’s defense could pose a challenge for the squad.

“Our defense (is a challenge) because of our inexperience. They have to learn how to handle the pressure,” said Pettit. “How we handle the pressure will define our success. Offensively, we will be OK and able to score runs.

“We have a lot of pitching depth, but the game is different now and pitchers don’t overpower teams.”

The main goal the Lady Leafs set in front of them this year is just to get better everyday.

“We have to keep getting better everyday,” said Pettit. “That is the exciting part because I think it will be a good, exciting season to watch the progress, and I think we will be a much better team at the end than at the beginning.”

With the Lady Leafs replacing the majority of their lineup, it is spurring good, healthy competition for spots in the lineup between teammates.

“They are pushing each other, pushing each other for spots and to get better,” said Pettit. “We have not defined who gets positions yet, but there are some gaping holes to fill and it will be interesting to see who steps in and fills them.

“Finding where everyone fits is key this year. We have a lot of fine young ladies in the program who are hardworking and we have to see how the pieces fit. It might take a while to get a clear picture. There is a good potential we could have a new person on the field at every position except pitcher.”

As far as the outlook of the conference this season, LaSalle-Peru, ranked in the Top 10, will be very good again this year, said Pettit. Sterling is ranked No. 1 in the state in 3A, and Geneseo is at No. 9. The Lady Leafs can always expect a battle from Streator and Ottawa, and Dixon has shown improvement.

“No doubt about it our division has become a powerhouse the last few years,” said Pettit.

Like every year, the Lady Leafs again this year have a grueling schedule that coach Pettit hopes will prepare the girls for tournament time.

“We have developed as tough of schedule as we can possibly find,” said Pettit. “I hope after a 35-game schedule we will be ready for the tournament. There are not going to be any easy wins in there and no guarantees. We will have to battle and earn them.”

The Lady Leafs will open the 2013 season at 11 a.m. March 16 on the road against Rockridge in a doubleheader.