By Marty Farmer
Nazareth Academy's new softball coach, Chris Van Degraft, has inherited a good situation in terms of program status. Two years ago, the Roadrunners made history by taking fourth in the Class 3A state playoffs. The team won 27 games and advanced to a sectional final last season.
Even with their recent run of success, the Roadrunners have room for improvement.
"We finished .500 (7-7 record in 2018) in conference last season so we are looking to improve on that this season," Van Degraft said. "We are also a very young team so we will have to play in the moment and handle the pressure of tight games. Our girls will play to the very last out of each and every game.
"We are a very good hitting team," he added. "Our pitching is strong and our team plays defense well."
A tough conference schedule, plus non-league games against Oak Park and River Forest, Downers Grove North, Fenwick, Trinity and Riverside-Brookfield, among others, will test Nazareth throughout the season.
"Our schedule is very competitive this season," Van Degraft said. "I have packed it with games against many [Class] 4A schools, so we can be battle tested when when the playoffs start."
Senior catcher Jordan Barnes leads a very young lineup. She's an all-conference player who will play college softball at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) next season.
"Jordan is a team leader, powerful hitter," Van Degraft said. "She also has an excellent arm behind the plate."
Junior outfielder Nicole Salata is a fast baserunner, plays good defense and can hit for power.
Sophomores Allyson Layne, Olivia Mardirosian, Toni Rodriguez, Emily Monahan, Jamie Suppa and Paige Barnes as well as freshmen Jazyman Casas and Melisa Hadzic are all expected to contribute this season.
Layne and Mardirosian both pitch and play first base. Rodriguez and Monahan play third base and second base/shortstop, respectively. Both are regarded as excellent defenders with quick hands and arm strength. Suppa and Paige Barnes will see playing time in the outfield.