After sharing the conference title with rival Independence the past two years, Cuyahoga Heights’ softball team plans to be a bit stingy this spring.
The Red Wolves, who return eight starters from the squad that finished 11-9 overall and 5-1 in the Chagrin Valley Conference Metro Division, hope to win the league title outright this season.
“We are looking for another league title,” said Heights coach Kyle Manfredonia. “That is goal one for us. We have been blessed with being able to capture it the past two times with Independence but want it all to ourselves this year. Moving up to Division III, we are really excited to face new teams when it comes to playoff time. We are ready and focused on what we need to do this year.”
With so many talented and experienced players returning, Manfredonia knows his squad’s success hinges on its ability to play as a team and how much pressure it can put on opposing teams.
“We have a lot of experience returning,” he said. “We have multiple girls who are going to be able to contribute to our success in many ways. As a team, we have many different options when it comes to our defensive and offensive strategies. As long as we accept our roles and what we bring to the team, that will be a huge factor in how successful we are this season. I expect a strong presence at the plate for our girls and to put a lot of pressure on the opposing defense.”
The Red Wolves also have to win the mental game.
“We have a lot of girls who put a lot of pressure on themselves,” Manfredonia said. “The thing that has made us strong is our calmness when playing. Regardless of what is happening on the field, we need to remain collected because we all know anything can change in an instant in softball.”
The Red Wolves will lean heavily on a strong group of seniors led by catcher Kayla Vallee.
Vallee, a Cleveland State University signee, was the conference MVP last season.
“I expect her to continue to be the leader of the team,” Manfredonia said. “Her work ethic and approach speak for themselves, but I want her to continue to strengthen it. She has been incredible these past years and wants her to finish her senior season strong.”
Alize Reyes, a first-team all-conference selection at second base, and Tessa Studniarz, an all-conference first-teamer at shortstop, provide the Red Wolves with a formidable duo in the middle infield.
“(Reyes) has had an incredible career here at Heights. She does things defensively that not many others can do. She has natural leadership abilities and we want her to continue that–to be always confident in herself and understand how important that is to us,” Manfredonia said. “Stud has come so far in what she is able to accomplish. I expect Stud to continue to use the momentum she has created for herself to be dominant on both sides of the plate. There is nothing she is not able to do, and I am excited to see what she is able to do her senior year.”
Seniors Natalie Mischak, an honorable mention All-CVC performer last season in left field, Sierra Wise, a first-team All-CVC honoree in center field, and Tess Conroy, who will serve as the team’s designated player, are Cuyahoga Heights’ other seniors projected to start.
“Tess is coming back after a year off due to medical reasons and I cannot be more excited to have her back,” Manfredonia sai. “Tess is going to be a strong utility player for us getting time at third, shortstop, and second.”
Maddie Hepburn will battle with junior Riley Casey for playing time in right field.
Junior Maddie Dopson rounds out the projected starting lineup as she is slotted to play first base.
“Natalie Mischak, Sierra Wise, Riley Casey, and Maddie Hepburn, these four girls are expected to control the outfield,” Manfredonia said. “Sierra and Natalie were awesome last year, making incredible plays, and I expect Riley and Maddie to step right in and do the same. Maddie is ready to step up this year and have a strong season for us. She has great range at first and is strong at the plate. Her consistency is key for us and will make us even stronger.”
Junior Shai Moore, a second-team All-CVC honoree last spring, returns at third base. She’ll be backed up by senior Gianna Grattino.
“Shai has continued to show what she is capable of each practice,” Manfredonia. “She is one of the most committed players that I have had come through this program. She has high expectations for herself, and I know that she is going to reach them. Offensively, she brings an incredibly strong bat and defensively she has been working hard at perfecting third base. (Grattino) will be a utility player and when in the game is expected to keep that high-level intensity. Gianna is very quick at third and has a strong arm. Stepping up to the varsity level is a different game but I am confident she will be able to handle it when called upon.”
Senior Bella Williams and junior Georgia Kattler will split time in the circle for the Red Wolves.
“I really expect these girls to have an incredible season,” Manfredonia said. “They will share the load when it comes to pitching, but I am really confident in both of their abilities. They both were a huge reason we were able to share the conference title last year and I know they will perform at a high level again.”
Cuyahoga Heights has a loaded lineup filled with talent and experience, and if the Red Wolves focus on the fundamentals and face adversity with confidence, their goals will be well within their reach.
“We want to continue to do the little things correctly, o learn and grow each game and not to compound errors, to be strong and confident on both sides of the plate,” Manfredonia said. “We need to continue to support our pitchers and allow them to pitch with complete confidence of what is happening behind them.”