New coach Jim Hendricks says his Anne Arundel Community College softball team is, "100 percent improved over last year."
The Pioneers were 3-17 under former coach Tom Smith.
There are two sophomores -- Kathy Green and Lisa Purkins -- and 10 freshmen on the roster.
Green (St. Mary's) made the Region XX second team last season after batting .347. Primarily a first baseman, she also will spend time in right field. Purkins (Glen Burnie) was the starting catcher last year but will be used more as a utility infielder this spring.
The top freshman is pitcher Stacy Reynolds, a second-team all-county selection who went 12-4 and led Northeast to the region final last year. She gave up one hit, struck out 10 and didn't issue a walk during a scrimmage with St. Mary's College last Monday.
"She's used to winning, which is the kind of attitude we need," said Hendricks, an assistant for two years under Smith.
"She picked up a screwball during the fall, so she's throwing six pitches now. She could be one of the dominant pitchers in the region."
The Pioneers' infield should be strong, Hendricks said. Amy Fichter, who will spell Green at first base, was a three-time all-county selection in Boyertown, Pa. She will team with Denise Gibson (Millville, N.J.) at second, Dora Taylor (Glen Burnie) at shortstop and Christie Dunbar (South River) at third. Holly Hladycz (Broadneck) and Kim Horney (North County) will handle the catching duties.
Wendy Snyder (Severna Park) will play at second and third, but she has been slowed by a pulled ligament in her back.
Taylor also will serve as a backup pitcher. "I feel comfortable with her coming in when needed, like for the second game of a doubleheader," said Hendricks, a 1982 graduate of Annapolis High.
Hladycz and Horney also will split time in left field. Rebecca Almon (South Dade, Fla.) will be in right, and Kristen Meade (South River) will play center.
"Kristen covers a lot of territory and she has a strong arm," Hendricks said. "Defensively, we're going to be very, very strong. We have people playing in their natural positions, and people who have been playing the last seven or eight years."
The rookie coach is stressing that his team needs to get off to a better start than in the past two years, when the Pioneers went 0-6 and 0-13, respectively.
"I don't think this team will be blown out like last year. We'll be a very competitive ballclub," Hendricks said. "As far as how well we'll do in the region, only time will tell. I don't want to say we'll be tough to beat, but I think we'll be very competitive."
Catonsville, Hagerstown and Charles are considered the teams to beat in the region, with all three likely to wind up in the top 25. Anne Arundel isn't quite ready for similar status, "but with 10 freshmen, this is a great way to start," Hendricks said.
"We're building on something here."
When Essex Community College basked in the glory of winning a national JuCo baseball championship last spring, Anne Arundel Community College had reason to celebrate as well.
Clayton Jacobson, who begins his fifth year as head coach of AACC, led the Pioneers to a 32-10 record and a Region XX runner-up finish to Essex.
"We let Essex off the hook in the last game we played, and they went on to win it," said Jacobson, whose club split with the Knights in the regular season. "But what they did was great for Maryland JuCo baseball, and yes, I guess, we had to be considered one of the very best teams in the country after the way we played with Essex. I think all the teams in our league can feel good about what Essex did."
Essex became the first Baltimore-area team to win the national title and is expected to be the team to beat again. The Knights were tabbed in most preseason polls as the No. 1 junior college team in the nation.
With an excellent pitching staff led by sophomore left-hander Jimmy Simms (Old Mill), the Pioneers expect to challenge Essex in Division I of the Maryland JuCo League.
Anne Arundel and Essex are joined in the highly competitive Division I by Baltimore City Community College, Cecil, Montgomery-Rockville, Hagerstown, Allegany and Garrett.
"It's a really tough league, and after what Essex did, should be even tougher this year," said Jacobson. "But our pitching and defense should keep us right there, not to mention what I think is going to be a pretty good hitting ballclub."
Simms is the ace, and the left-hander might have given an indication of what to expect in the Pioneers' first game, a 3-0 victory over BCCC. Going the first seven innings, Simms, who was used mostly as a closer last year, gave up four hits and struck out 12.
Mark Fearing, a sophomore right-hander from Annapolis, closed the home opener by striking out five of the six batters he faced.
Other key members of the staff are expected to be sophomore Glenn Shiring (Severna Park) and freshmen Sean Sesney (Chesapeake), John Degan (Broadneck) and Dave Ryder (Chesapeake).