By Chris Parker
College Heights/McAuley Catholic softball had one of the area’s biggest turnarounds from the 2019 season to the 2021 season. The Lady Cougars went from three wins in 2019 to an 18-4 record in 2021 and a district title.
The Lady Cougars will be young, but experienced this year led by a quartet of juniors in Jayli Johnson (catcher/shortstop), Addie Lawrence (outfield), Lauren Ukena (shortstop/third base) and Aaliyah Perez (third base/outfield).
“We don’t have any seniors on this team so our four juniors will be our team leaders. All of them helped us tremendously last year,” College Heights head coach Mike Howard said.
Johnson earned first-team all-conference and first-team all-state honors last year. She hit .500 with four home runs, 20 RBI and 23 stolen bases. Lawrence was a first-team all-conference honoree after she hit .387 with two home runs and 18 RBI. Ukena scored 22 runs and stole 12 bases. Perez was a first-team all-conference selection thanks to her .324 batting average and 10 stolen bases.
A lot of College Heights’ success will come on the arm of pitcher Maddy Colin. The sophomore had a dominant freshman season in the circle with a 17-4 record that saw her strike out 224 batters in 121.1 innings pitched. Her ERA was 1.61. She also hit .375 with 21 RBI. Colin was named Ozark 7 Player of the Year and first-team all-region.
Colin will be throwing to Johnson behind the plate, as she moves from shortstop to catcher.
“She (Johnson) is a natural born leader and loves to catch Maddy,” Howard said. “While this is her first season at catcher, she has played that position in travel ball and is very comfortable behind the plate.”
Freshman Libby Fanning (first base) and sophomore Kloee Williamson (second base) will join Perez and Ukena on the infield. Williamson earned first-team all-state honors last year on the strength of her .579 batting average with 24 stole bases and 29 RBI.
Sophomore Kaitlyn Bates (left field) will join Lawrence in the outfield. Right field is still to be determined.
“Our strengths would be experience in key positions and in big games,” Howard said. “We return six starters and one other letterman from a team that made it to the quarterfinal game last year. We were one run away from going to the final four. We finished the season ranked eighth in the state.”
College Heights opens the season on Mar. 21 at home against Galena.
“My expectations are very high,” Howard said. “After completing a historic season that ended with the best record ever (18-4) and the first conference and district championships in school history, I look for us to set our sights towards achieving the same level of success we had last year. That 1-0 loss in the quarterfinals left a bitter taste in our mouths and we will work tremendously hard to get back to that game and beyond.”