Spring sports lines

Mahomet-Seymour freshman soccer standout Cayla Koerner advances the ball during Tuesday’s win against Warrensburg-Latham.

There is optimism in the air around Mahomet-Seymour as spring sports get underway. And for good reason. The M-S softball and girls’ soccer teams are two of the best teams in the area and will be right in the thick of things once regionals roll around. The boys’ track and field team placed second in Class 2A last year and likely will be really good. Both the baseball and the girls’ track and field team returned a few key pieces.

It’s only March and a handful of games have been played, but a few things are becoming clear. Let’s take a look at five spring sports storylines to keep an eye out for as the Bulldogs begin to settle into the spring season.

1. How does M-S softball handle lofty expectations?

Lisa Ayers won’t say it, but you can see it in her eyes. The M-S softball coach is giddy about her squad this year.

After winning a regional championship last year, the Bulldogs return six starters and added a huge transfer in Parkland College commit Sam Tamburo. Sophomore Aubrie Shore and Tamburo will team up to be one of the best middle-of-the-order duos in the area. Shore is terrifyingly strong, and Tamburo’s swing is short, compact and lightning fast. Additionally, Ashley Wheeler, Allison Nofziger, Ashley Campbell and Julia McNaught have all previously contributed.

But when you return so much talent, the expectations continue to rise. The Bulldogs were the underdog last year. M-S came from behind to defeat Rantoul in the regional semifinals and then destroyed a Rochester team that was kind of overlooking M-S a little bit.

Now, no one will be looking past Shore and the Bulldogs. How will they handle the lofty expectations? That’ll be a question all spring.

2. Can the M-S boys track and field team stay healthy?

After a runner-up finish at the Class 2A state finals last year, the M-S boys’ track and field team come into 2019 with lofty expectations.

Head coach Todd Lafond is focused on bringing another state trophy back to Mahomet. But he’s going to need his team to get healthy. Senior long-distance runners Mathias Powell and Bryson Keeble were both hobbled to start the season.

Now, Powell made his return on Saturday at the Charleston Invitational and promptly pasted the field in the 3,200-meter race. Powell destroyed runner-up Ethan Black from Clinton by nearly 40 seconds.

But Keeble had a nasty stress reaction, and unfortunately, his season is over.

“I feel terrible for Bryson,” Lafond said. “He has really battled injuries the last couple of seasons and we had high hopes for him being an All-Stater this year in the 1,600.”

Freshmen distance runners Joseph Scheele, Jonah Singer and Kyle Nofziger are all talented and will have to step up in Keeble’s place.

Despite the tough injury to Keeble, M-S will still have reigning shot put state champ Hunter Hendershot as well as Powell, who can be All-Staters, and the Bulldogs are going to be right in the mix for another state trophy.

C.J. Shoaf, Noah Powell, Grant Brown and Corey Cebulski could all play big roles. But if the Bulldogs want to finally get over the hump and win a state championship, they’ll need their youngsters to compete at a high level.

3. M-S girls track and field loaded at the top, but others need to step up.

The Bulldogs girls’ track and field team have put up some encouraging performances early in the season. They placed sixth as a team at the Charleston Girls Invitational at Eastern Illinois University thanks to huge performances from Lakeida Nichols, Brisa McGrath, Elizabeth Sims and Cece Abramson.

Nichols might be the best athlete on the team, and she’s been terrific in the sprints and the long jump. McGrath and Sims are both strong in the long-distance events, and Abramson, a freshman, is an outstanding pole vaulter.

But if M-S wants to compete for a trophy at the state finals, they’ll need some others to step up. No team can truly compete with only four stars. Quantity is just as important. Desinty Pryor could be in that mix. Pryor has competed well in the 400-meter dash. Sylvia Byron has also showcased some promise in the triple jump and 60-meter hurdles.

The biggest challenge for coach Darren Tee will be finding a supplementing cast to his stars.

4. Can M-S baseball find enough pitching depth?

The old phrase, “You can never have too much pitching” gets thrown around often by high school baseball coaches.

For M-S coach Nic DiFilippo, he’d probably wish that he had a few more proven hurlers. Senior lefty Kyle Kinney will be the unquestioned ace for the Bulldogs, and he got his final high school campaign off to a great start when he fired 4-plus scoreless innings in a 10-2 win over Danville on Monday.

Senior Dawson Finch also has experience on the mound at the varsity level. But after Kinney and Finch, there are plenty of unknowns.

Junior Kobe Essien has been lighting up the radar gun early in practice. The lanky right-hander’s control can be fleeting, but when it’s in the zone, his stuff is absolutely nasty.

Junior Zack Chalk pitched 2-plus innings of relief against Danville and allowed two unearned runs. He could be a factor on the mound alongside Ben Greenberger and Rick Bohlen.

The Bulldogs’ lineup isn’t likely going to be one that averages eight or nine runs per game, so the pitching staff will have to keep M-S in games. Kinney can’t do it all by himself, and if Essien even scratches his potential ceiling, the Bulldogs could be in a position to make a run.

5. Freshmen step up for talented M-S girls’ soccer squad.

The M-S girls soccer team is off to a 2-0 start, and they’ve outscored their opponents 15-0. It’s an impressive start for the Bulldogs as they look to rebound from the loss of star Meredith Monfort-Johnson, who graduated. She was one of the best players to ever suit up for M-S, but head coach Kelsie Briggs has had two really good freshmen step up early. Cayla Koerner had one goal and two assists in the 8-0 win over Urbana University High, and she added two goals and one assist in the 7-0 walloping of Bloomington. Fellow freshman Brea Benson has scored two goals in both matches.

With Benson and Koerner stepping up, its made the loss of Monfort-Johnson a whole lot easier to handle. Benson and Koerner combined for four of M-S’ seven goals in the Bloomington win. If the youngsters keep playing at a high level, M-S will be in great shape to win another regional championship.