MONROE — Monroe High School softball coach Tim Kellis made himself laugh at one point Saturday.
The veteran coach caught himself referencing his all-star pitcher Alyssa Wagner as a senior before quickly catching himself, “She is only a junior. We have her two more years.”
While Wagner’s presence is definitely good news for the Hornets, it is bad news for the rest of the Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern Division as they chase two-time defending champion Monroe.
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Wagner, who posted an 18-2 record with 188 strikeouts and 1.30 ERA last season, was the SWBL Southwestern Pitcher of the Year and Kellis was Coach of the Year as the Hornets went 18-3, losing to Springfield Kenton Ridge in the Division II district finals.
“Last year was a process that began four or five years ago,” said Kellis, entering his seventh season at the helm. “Our expectations have become win the league and advance past districts. We have set the culture and tone, and the girls know exactly what is expected.”
The Hornets graduated four-year stalwart Faith Hensley, a three-time SWBL Southwestern Player of the Year who’s now playing for Ball State University. But they return a ton of experience.
Junior catcher Samantha Schwab, a first-team SWBL player, and sophomore right fielder Erin Dyke, a second-team performer, lead the position players. Schwab topped the league with 11 home runs last year, while Dyke hit .418 with 23 RBIs.
Senior Sam Ross, a four year varsity starter, resides behind the plate, and sophomore Madelyn Grace will patrol center field. Senior Makenzi Moore will play first base, and and sophomore Chloe Adkins will play short.
“(Adkins) is probably our best athlete,” Kellis said, noting the Hornets were stung with the loss of Shelby York, who chose to focus on cheerleading this year.
“It is hard to replace (Hensley),” Kellis said. “Teams had to pitch around her, and she covered so much ground in the outfield. This team needs to develop their own identity.”
Kellis said freshmen Bri Rose and Hazel Moon will have an impact, as well as junior Emily Mullins. Sophomore Honour Stevens will be the backup catcher.
Kellis said Brookville, Eaton and Bellbrook should all be challengers in the SWBL Southwestern, but feels his team is the one to beat.
Monroe has only lost one game the past two years in league play, and Kellis said if his defense jells, the Hornets will be tough to beat.
“Yeah, just because of (Wagner),” Kellis said. “I think we can hit the ball well. If we can defend, we will be fine. With (Wagner), we feel if we can score three of four runs, we should win.”
Monroe opens the season March 27 at Dixie.
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