Huntley’s softball team has tied or set the program record for wins in each of the past four years, winning three straight Fox Valley Conference championships and four straight Class 4A regional titles.
It’s no surprise, then, that this year’s team is embracing the challenge of topping last year’s Red Raiders.
“It doesn’t put any added pressure on us,” said senior catcher Sofia Tenuta, a four-year varsity starter. “It’s an expectation for us because the previous teams have set the bar so high. We all want leave our mark. We always want to be better.”
Last season, Huntley finished with its most wins (32) and fewest losses (six) in program history, going 15-1 in FVC play.
Huntley’s season ended against Barrington for the third straight year. Barrington beat Huntley, 5-3, in the Huntley Sectional final and has eliminated the Raiders from the postseason in each of the past three years. The last two have come in the sectional championship.
That loss stung, but Raiders coach Mark Petryniec, who is 314-214 in
15 years at Huntley, won’t put anything past his players, who have ambitions to reach the state tournament in East Peoria.
“To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” Petryniec said. “The senior class is really focused. The goal isn’t just to win conference again, the goal isn’t to win a sectional. ... it’s, ‘What can we do to get to East Peoria?’ ”
Things will look a little different for Huntley this year.
The Raiders lost four starters to graduation: four-year varsity pitcher Tiffany Giese (the 2018 Northwest Herald Softball Player of the Year), four-year varsity shortstop Autumn Kasal, first baseman Taylor Pacana, and left fielder Cailyn Pienschke.
Huntley also is replacing a starter at second base. Paige Berkmeyer, a freshman starter last season, moved to Ohio.
“The nice thing is we’ve never had a really senior-heavy team,” Petryniec said. “We always have a nice mix of juniors, sophomores and freshmen. When we do lose players, the girls are ready to step up and take over.”
Sophomore Briana Bower, an All-Area first-team selection as a freshman, striking out 109 batters in 79 innings with a 1.68 ERA, is ready to take on a bigger role with Giese, the program’s all-time winningest pitcher, now at NCAA Division-I Wisconsin-Green Bay.
But Bower won’t be alone. Petryniec doesn’t want to overwork his No. 1 pitcher and plans to get plenty of innings out of sophomore Aubrey McFadden and freshman Jori Heard. That is a luxury Petryniec hasn’t always had in previous seasons.
“[Bower is] not going to be throwing 200 innings,” Petryniec said. “We want Bri to be her strongest in the postseason.”
Despite the turnover, the Raiders return plenty of offense.
Tenuta (.471 batting average) smacked 16 extra-bases hits and drove in a program-record 62 runs last year. Senior Grace Kutz, who will play at D-III Wisconsin-Oshkosh, hit .406 with nine homers and 35 RBIs.
Junior Teagan O’Rilley (.374), who will join Giese at Wisconsin-Green Bay, had 11 doubles, five home runs and 35 RBIs. Sophomore Marley Reicher hit .440 with 42 runs and
23 steals. Senior Kendra Mitchell had 21 runs and 10 steals.
Huntley’s path to another conference title won’t be easy. Crystal Lake South returns a loaded offense, led by seniors Emily Sulikowski (.513 batting average, seven home runs, 33 RBIs), Christina Toniolo (eight homers, 34 RBIs) and Maddie Bush (.487, 33 RBIs) and sophomore Brooke Kuffel (.476, 13 doubles, 35 runs).
Cary-Grove and Jacobs return the majority of their starters, and Prairie Ridge and McHenry are coming off regional titles. McHenry won its second straight 4A regional championship and lost to Huntley, 12-2, in the sectional semifinals.
Huntley’s seniors addressed the newer players at the team’s first practice, relaying advice from last year’s graduated class.
“Last year’s seniors said to take it one day at a time,” Kutz said. “Not wish time to go away, and don’t look ahead to the postseason. Before you know it, it’s going to be here and we’re gonna be done, so enjoy every day.”
“We’re all still getting to know each other,” Mitchell added. “I think adding pressure doesn’t help anybody. We’re focused on our goals, step by step, day by day, and getting there as a team.”