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Michael Osipoff’s top 10 softball teams and 25 players to watch in Northwest Indiana for the 2024 season

Michael Gard/Chicago Tribune/TNS

Lake Central begins another season at the top with grand ambitions. But it’s not the only team with high expectations.

TOP 10 TEAMS

1. Lake Central (29-5-1): The Indians have visions of a state championship after losing only one starter from the team that went undefeated in the Duneland Athletic Conference and reached a semistate final. Their lineup is loaded with Division I recruits and prospects and includes senior outfielder Jolie Adams (Auburn), junior shortstop Taylor Schafer (Ohio State), sophomore second baseman MaKayla Van Vossen, junior catcher Izzy Calinski (Dayton) and junior third baseman Kate Renschen (Northwestern). Junior ace Sofia Calderaro is back too. Yvette Tovar, an assistant last season, takes over as coach. She’s a 2003 Lake Central graduate who was part of the 2002 state champion and played at Indiana State. She expects sophomore first baseman Kaitlyn Streiler and freshman pitcher Maddie Such to significantly boost the roster.

2. Andrean (29-8): Expectations are sky-high for the 59ers, who had no seniors on the team that reached the Class 2A state championship game and won the Northwest Crossroads Conference title last year. Star senior pitcher Abbey Bond leads the way. Senior first baseman Libby Voliva, senior utility player Gracie Wardingley, junior shortstop Micah Snider and junior second baseman Maggie Voliva also are among the players back. New coach Miranda Elish, an assistant last season who was Miss Softball for Crown Point in 2016 and starred at Oregon, Texas and Oklahoma State, said the 59ers have been focusing on the “small things” and plan to “build off” last season’s “great foundation.”

3. Crown Point (23-9): Sophomore first baseman Ashlyn Kita and sophomore outfielder Scarlette Tegtman return for the Bulldogs, who have won four straight sectional titles. Senior third baseman Lexi Howard is back too. Coach Angie Richwalski said the Bulldogs have an “incredible pitching staff” that goes five deep. That group includes senior Kendra Steinberg, junior Lexi Smith and sophomore Paige Liezert, who returns after missing most of last season with a hand injury.

4. Hanover Central (23-3): Behind star shortstop Gabi Comia (Florida) the Wildcats should be right in the mix as they debut in the NCC. In their final season in the Greater South Shore Conference, they split the title with Illiana Christian before advancing to a semistate semifinal and losing to eventual state champion New Prairie. Senior Payton Antkiewicz (St. Xavier) and junior Elle Mowry return to give them a formidable one-two pitching combination. Junior infielder Sienna Antkiewicz and senior outfielder Kaitlin Duffy also are among the players who are back. Coach Sam Antkiewicz expects sophomore catcher Sienna Stilley to make strides as she takes on a starting role.

5. Boone Grove (18-7): The Wolves seem poised for a strong season, returning all of their starters. Senior pitcher Natalee Meinert, senior shortstop Emily Veschak (Drake) and junior first baseman Mercedes Szakacs (Valparaiso) are back, as is senior infielder/pitcher Mariah Atteberry. Coach Ron Saunders said the Wolves also have a promising freshman class.

6. Munster (15-18): Senior pitcher Emily Siurek (South Dakota State) returns for the Mustangs, who are always NCC contenders. Senior infielder Kylie Madura (Purdue Northwest) is another top player, along with junior shortstop CeCe Mason.

7. Hebron (26-4): The Hawks put together a record-breaking 2023. The Porter County Conference round-robin and tournament champions won their first sectional title since 2011 and set program marks for wins, runs, homers, batting average and more. They feature a pair of stars in versatile junior Addison Toczek (Pittsburgh) and senior pitcher Brooke Cunningham. Senior infielder Molly Friel, senior outfielder Emily Michalak and junior infielder Macey Siminski also are among the returnees.

8. Illiana Christian (18-9): The Vikings have an outstanding core. That group includes senior pitcher Mikayla Derks (Hope), senior middle infielder Maya Wondaal (DePaul), junior middle infielder Lydia VanderWoude (Belmont) and senior catcher Libby Kreykes (Roosevelt). Freshman Mya VanderWoude is among the newcomers.

9. Hobart (16-11): Star senior shortstop/catcher Keirys Click (Illinois) headlines the Brickies, who lost just one player to graduation. Senior pitcher Morgan Ellenberger, junior catcher Emili Knestrict and junior outfielder/first baseman Taylor Lopez also return for the veteran team.

10. Highland (17-11): The Trojans look to build in Harry Humyak’s second season as coach. Sophomore outfielder Jordan Steele made an impact as a freshman. Junior Skylar Zoeteman succeeds do-it-all Mia Rivera as their No. 1 pitcher. Junior infielder Jordan Boyd also returns, as does sophomore infielder Evie Rivera. Humyak said freshman Hailey Thomas could provide a big bat.

25 PLAYERS TO WATCH

  • Jolie Adams, Lake Central, senior, outfielder

  • Abbey Bond, Andrean, senior, pitcher

  • Sofia Calderaro, Lake Central, junior, pitcher

  • Izzy Calinski, Lake Central, junior, catcher

  • Keirys Click, Hobart, senior, shortstop/catcher

  • Gabi Comia, Hanover Central, senior, shortstop

  • Brooke Cunningham, Hebron, senior, pitcher

  • Mikayla Derks, Illiana Christian, senior, pitcher

  • Ashlyn Kita, Crown Point, sophomore, first baseman

  • Kylie Madura, Munster, senior, infielder

  • Kaylee Meeks, Lowell, senior, pitcher

  • Natalee Meinert, Boone Grove, senior, pitcher

  • Clara Phariss, Wheeler, senior, pitcher

  • Kate Renschen, Lake Central, junior, third baseman

  • Taylor Schafer, Lake Central, junior, shortstop

  • Emily Siurek, Munster, senior, pitcher

  • Elyse Starr, Kankakee Valley, senior, pitcher/infielder

  • Mercedes Szakacs, Boone Grove, junior, first baseman

  • Addison Toczek, Hebron, junior, second baseman/outfielder/pitcher

  • Lydia VanderWoude, Illiana Christian, junior, middle infielder

  • MaKayla Van Vossen, Lake Central, sophomore, second baseman

  • Emily Veschak, Boone Grove, senior, shortstop

  • Libby Voliva, Andrean, senior, first baseman

  • Maya Wondaal, Illiana Christian, senior, middle infielder

  • Skylar Zoeteman, Highland, junior, pitcher