SALEM - If Salem coach softball coach Jodie Hippely had to use one word to describe the 2012 Lady Quakers "experienced" would be her first choice. Her second would be "optimistic."
"Our experience is definitely our strength with the senior class we have," she said. "We have a very strong athletic senior class with five returning lettermen. We're going to go out there and battle as much as we can. If these seniors spark at the right time, we'll have a great year."
Those seniors include pitcher Deanna Walker, an All-League Second Time pick in 2011. Walker will be the Quakers' No. 1 pitcher and play third when she's not in the circle.
"She'll be our starting pitcher," Hippely said. "She got a lot of playing time last season and we're expecting even better things this season. Offensively, she hits the ball pretty well."
Last season, Walker lifted four pitches over the fence to set a school record for most home runs in a season. This season, she is approaching the Salem career-homer record.
Also returning for their senior seasons are Alexis Smith, Tyler Shrader, Morgan Crosser and Katie McDevitt. Smith returns to short where she started last season. Schrader will catch and play some outfield, Crosser will once again patrol left field, and Katie McDevitt returns to center.
Another senior will make her varsity debut in 2012. Abbey Minamyer, who was a junior varsity player last season, will see time in the outfield.
Four juniors - including two returning letterwinners - are also expected to play big roles. Angela Woods, who pitched last season, will be the Quakers' No. 2 this season. When she's not pitching, Woods will play third, swapping positions with Walker. Kaylin Wood, a starter last season, is back at first base. The new junior players are Sami Reedy (second base/outfield) and Lizzie Barth (first base/outfield)
Up and coming Quakers who will see time on the varsity squad are sophomore infielder Sarah Smith and freshmen Alyssa Wright (infield), Rylee Meals (infield) and Raegan Meals (catcher).
The Quakers will have to live without the talents of pitcher Tiffany Woods, second baseman Kennedy McCrea, outfielder Jackie Gorcheff and third baseman Marissa Wright. All four graduated in 2011. Salem will also be without Becca Devlin. Deviln, who would have been a four-year lettermen, chose not to go out for softball due to a back injury.
"Those four girls who graduated were vital to our program over the last four years,' Hippely said. "It'll be tough to replace them. And it was a surprise that Becca didn't come out, but she's had some injury issues. The other girls are just going to have to step up."
Stepping up means stepping out of a 4-12 season that plagued the Quakers in 2011 and into a new conference. The Quakers leave behind the All-American Conference for the NBC,
"The NBC is very, very competitive," Hippely said, "I know Louisville is very strong. The good news is we won't see them in the tournament. The bad news is we have to play them twice this season. And West Branch had a great year last season losing to Poland in the regional semifinals. They'll be a tough team to beat as well. Hopefully, we will surprise some teams in the NBC. They don't know a lot about us and we're looking to shock a few of them."
Hippely is once again assisted by Buddy Woods and welcomes Bob Reeder, a coach in the United program for 13 years, to her staff. The Quakers also have a new head J.V. coach in Katie Malloy. Her assistant is Katelyn Kibler.
The Quakers kick off the season on Monday at home opposite Lisbon It's the first of five games in six days. The Quakers travel to Marlington on Tuesday and Sandy Valley on Wednesday. They return home for a game with Canton South on Thursday before traveling to United for a doubleheader on Saturday.
"It's a pretty busy week, but we're looking forward to it," Hippely said. "These seniors are working hard and our juniors, sophomores and freshmen have done great in our scrimmages. Hopefully, we come together, play some good softball and go out there and beat the teams people think we shouldn't."