WOBURN — Led by an experienced group of seniors, the Woburn High softball team won a third straight Liberty Division title last year with a 12-3 league record (14-4 overall).
But while the Tanners did win a first round tournament game over Waltham, their post-season run came to an abrupt halt when Concord-Carlisle beat Woburn in the Division 1 North quarterfinals.
Now the Tanners may find the challenge to successfully defend a division title more difficult than it was the last two years. Woburn was not only hindered by the loss eight seniors to graduation, but the Tanners were also dealt a setback by the loss of their top pitcher last year Kaci Madden, who opted to compete in outdoor track this year.
The positive news for Woburn is that it does have eight returnees from last year’s team. But with many new faces in over half the positions in the field, the Tanners appear to be more inexperienced than they have been the last several years. This will make it more difficult for them to win a fourth straight division crown.
“We are extremely inexperienced for the first time in a long time,” said 18th-year head coach Courtney Sigsbury (222-132). “We’re pretty well balanced between seniors, juniors, and sophomores, and we’re very athletic with many players that can play a lot of different positions. I feel we will be able to hit the ball, and we will have to score runs and may need to win some games in shootouts this year, and try to get better every game.”
With the loss of Madden, the Tanners will go with junior Lindsey Starr as the top starter, with sophomore Clara Horton backing her up. While Starr pitched briefly in the late innings of two lopsided wins over Winchester last year, her experience at the varsity level is limited and will need to be acquired as the season goes along.
“This will be Lindsey Starr’s first year with total varsity experience,” said Sigsbury. “I feel that her velocity is pretty good, and she will have to mix some change-ups with her other pitches to keep hitters off-balance. It won’t be easy for her to move up to her first year at varsity, so we will need her to pound the strike zone, and stay ahead in the count for us to be successful.”
Starr and Clara Horton will pitch to another newcomer, sophomore Bella Sgori, who will assume the starting role as the team’s catcher.
Sgori will be backed up by third-year senior Izzy Horton, who was last year’s starter behind the plate, but has now moved over to first baseman.
The tallest player and most powerful hitter on the team, Horton will bat in the third spot and will be relied on not only for her power hitting but her fine defensive play as well.
“Izzy (Horton) is a power hitter so our goal is to get hitters on base in front of her,” said Sigsbury. “She will hit a lot of balls to the outfield and hopefully drive in a lot of runs. She’s clearly one of the best hitters in the league. She’s a hard worker and a true softball player. We’re going to need her to be a consistent hitter and fielder.”
The Tanners will also be inexperienced in the middle of the infield with newcomers at both second base and shortstop. Sophomore Keeli Queen will now be the starting second baseman with senior Danielle Leuzzi backing her up. Junior Kelsey Doherty will assume the starting role at shortstop with sophomore Grace Sgori backing her up there.
Woburn has some experience at third base with the return of second-year senior Jill Becchia, who shared the role last year, and now will start at the hot corner.
“Jill (Becchia) has really impressed us defensively so far, and since we have a new pitcher the left side of the infield will be really important for us,” said Sigsbury. “She can throw very accurately to first base, and she will hit seventh in our line-up. We need consistency, and so far we’ve been really impressed with her in the pre-season.”
The Tanners will have most of their experience in the outfield, especially in left field with the return of fourth-year senior captain Julia Taylor.
The team’s only captain, Taylor will be relied on for her leadership, experience, fielding, and hitting from the left side of the plate.
“It seems Julia (Taylor) has been around forever, and everyone in the league knows who she is,” said Sigsbury. “She’s got unbelievable speed, and as our leadoff hitter I feel she’s the hardest out in the league. She can bunt, slap-hit the ball, and hit for power, and as a fielder she can get to any ball hit near her. She sets the table for us and is one of the best players in the league.”
In center field will be sophomore newcomer Grace Sgori who will start there when she’s not playing shortstop.
Over in right field the competition to start there is between seniors Taylor Doherty and Kelly Mett. All three outfielders will be backed up by seniors Anna Juilli and Mikayla Loughlin, the latter back from an injury and will also be the team’s designated hitter.
With a good deal of inexperience this will be Woburn’s toughest title defense in three years. Yet Sigsbury is confident the team will come together as the season goes along and will still play well enough to qualify for the tournament.
“This is a tough division, but some of our players have worked hard to win three straight titles, so we know there is a target on our backs,” said Sigsbury. “We will see everyone’s best game, but we know we have athletes that work extremely hard. Our goal this year is to get 10 wins and go from there. With a young team we have to gain team chemistry pretty quick, and get better with each game we play.”
Woburn has one more scrimmage on Thursday’s at St. Mary’s-Lynn (4 p.m.). The Tanners begin the regular season on Thursday, April 11 when it hosts Wilmington at Library Park (4 p.m.).