SIKESTON -- The 2003 spring softball season begins next week. The Kelly Lady Hawks have dropped out of spring play, but other teams around the area expect to field solid teams this year.
Here is a look at teams in our coverage area.
NEW MADRID -- The Lady Eagles hope momentum from last year's perfect 19-0 season will carry over into 2003.
NMCC's most notable returner is senior pitcher Heather Robey. Other key players will be shortstop Ashley Brittian, catcher Megan Rhinehart and first baseman Heather Redd.
Lauren Daniels is injured right now, but will start in center field when she returns. Autumn Walker will start in right, Jessica Gist will be on third, Ashley Wrather will play outfield and Laura Carter will play second base.
Jenni Glenn will also see some action on first base and in the outfield.
"Our sophomores and juniors got a lot of playing experience the last couple of years," said NMCC head coach Steve Rogers. "Even though we're relatively young with just two seniors, the kids that are playing have a lot of experience."
NMCC will open the season on Tuesday, hosting Chaffee.
DEXTER -- The Lady Bearcats return six letterman from last year's 7-6 team, giving Dexter high hopes for the 2003 season.
"We've got a lot of people coming back with experience," said Dexter head coach Don Goodwin. "We were co-champs in the Stoddard County Conference last year. We hope to win it this year. Hopefully we will be competitive."
Returning seniors include catcher Megan Bishop, pitcher Jessie McClendon and third baseman Sonya Darnell.
Returning juniors include outfielder Brittany Greer, shortstop Carrie DeArmann and second baseman Ashley Jackson.
Others expected to contribute are Christina Parr, Josie Arciola and freshman Mindy Jones. Nikki Kitchens will be Dexter's backup pitcher. Dexter will open the season on Tuesday at Bloomfield.
EAST PRAIRIE -- East Prairie is expecting to be improved this season, returning a few good players from last year's team.
"If we can move the runners around, hopefully we will be competitive with every team we play," said East Prairie head coach Jerry Myrick. "We should be good defensively and we've got good pitching."
Meghan Massey is East Prairie's top pitcher and is one of the team's best hitters also.
"She has a very strong arm and works as hard as anybody I know," said Myrick.
Other key returners include catcher Jessica Wallace, infielder Leanne Hedges and outfielder Summer Holdiness.
Other contributors will be junior second baseman Tabitha Johnson, freshman first baseman Molly Triplett and freshman third baseman Brittney Woodward.
East Prairie will open the season on Monday, hosting Scott City.
CHAFFEE -- Debbie Lewis steps in as head coach of Chaffee's softball team this season, taking over for longtime coach Mark Devenport.
On a down side, two key players from last year didn't go out for the team: catcher Kate Pfefferkorn and first baseman Ashley Graham.
But on a positive note, several impact players from last year's 11-4 squad return.
On the mound, the Lady Red Devils will be led by seniors Abby Walter and Shannon Hampton. Senior Brittany Bennett also comes back in the outfield.
Junior Mallory Kiefer will play shortstop and first base. Junior Molly Fowler will play both infield and outfield.
With six freshmen, several new faces will also bolster Chaffee's lineup.
Sarah Dooley is expected to start at catcher and utility player Casey Guzman will probably also start.
Other contributors for Chaffee will be Brandi Snider, Lindsey Everett, Suzanne Reischman, Whitney Horrell, Mindy Hendrix and Kegan Orr.
"I think we're going to have a pretty competitive team this year," said Lewis. "We have several freshmen that are going to contribute a lot. They are all very talented."
Chaffee will open the season on Tuesday at NMCC.
ORAN -- The Lady Eagles lost just one key player off last year's 8-2-1 team, shortstop Ashley Dirnberger.
Jamie Pobst is expected to be Oran's top pitcher, after posting a record of 6-1 last season. Teresa Hodges is also back and will play catcher, third base and pitch.
Shortstop/catcher Tori St. Cin is another key returner.
"We should have a pretty good season," said Oran head coach Travis Spane, who is in his fourth year with the program. "We're pretty young again, but we have a lot of talent and a lot of speed. Hopefully we will be competitive like we have been in the past."
Other girls expected to contribute are pitcher/outfielder Hannah Seyer and pitcher/outfielder Amber Seyer.
Oran will open the 2003 season on Wednesday, hosting Delta.
PORTAGEVILLE -- The Portageville Lady Bulldogs hope for a turnaround season under first-year coach Michelle Goodbred.
"I'm hoping it will be a good season for us," said Goodbred. "With all the rain, we haven't got out on the field much. We've still got a lot of work to do before we start playing games."
Portageville's top players will be senior shortstop Beth St. Mary, senior pitcher Mindy Stafford and freshman third baseman Rebecca Cayton.
Freshman catcher Jenny Brasher is also expected to contribute.
Portageville will open the season on Monday at Charleston.