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The will to win : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
The will to win
McCance works to bring first winning season to Oswego softball in 20 years

by Kristin Sharp


There is one statistic that stands out on first-year head coach Denise McCance's resume.

In eight seasons as the Wheaton Warrenville South head softball coach, she never had a losing record. In stark contrast, Oswego has not had a winning season since 1994.

McCance is the third head coach in four seasons at Oswego, returning to the coaching ranks after stepping down at Wheaton South in 2011 to spend more time with her young family.

McCance is still on staff at Wheaton South as a physical education/driver's education instructor and built a 160-128 varsity record as head coach. She also coaches JV girls' tennis for the Tigers in the fall.

The Oswego roster includes seven returning players from a team that finished 4-19 overall in 2013, and McCance is hoping that experience sparks a new winning tradition within the Panther program.

"I know the challenges of a spring sport - the weather, prom, graduation, end of school - and having the seniors be the leaders on the team and buy into the program is the first thing I wanted to do," McCance said. "The leadership from the seniors so far has been good. It starts with them. The younger girls can really see the role models and what needs to be done. I want a program that's year after year good. I don't want one season and then a rebuilding season for three seasons. That's why this team is a lot older. I didn't move anyone up; I have the juniors and seniors to get it done."

Senior pitcher Stephanie Prentice returns to lead the Panthers on the mound after finishing with a 4.57 ERA with 53 strikeouts over 56 2/3 innings, while senior Julianne Nation returns after tossing 21 1/3 innings for a 4.92 ERA.

Junior left-handed pitcher Taylor Foy joins the team after transferring from Plainfield South, which took runner-up honors in the Southwest Prairie Conference behind Plainfield Central in 2013.

"I have three established, experienced pitchers," McCance said. "It's great to have that option and do some different things, especially with a lefty. It gives you a completely different look. They're all so different and going through that lineup with a different pitcher is a good strategy in softball. We're going to see how it pans out at the beginning, and it's going to be hard because we won't be playing for awhile."

Senior Brooke Riess returns to second base and senior Abby Etheridge, who led the team in stolen bases last year, is back in the outfield.

Junior Kirsty Tracy, the only player named to the Southwest Prairie All-Conference team last year, returns to center field after hitting a team-best .416 last spring with 17 RBIs. Juniors Savannah Brady and Jess Lofthouse also return solid bats for Oswego, while junior McKayla Nila returns to the program and will work behind the plate.

"We have some really good younger girls too who will be a nice edition," McCance said.

Practice began on March 3, but with the lingering winter weather, McCance has increased time spent in strength and conditioning to make the most of their indoor practice sessions.

"We've pitched every day and we've hit live every day and getting the pitcher's stamina up," McCance said. "We've done a lot of agility, and overall the whole program is dedicated to lifting and strength. We have to increase our strength to be competitive - all the teams, freshmen and JV. Now it's easy, but once we have games it will be more challenging. You're either committed to it or you're not, and I am committed to it. We need to be stronger and faster than other teams to beat them. That's been a lot of our practices right now."

"I've noticed that last year's practices to this year are more up-tempo and we're working 10 times harder than we ever have," Prentice said. "We started lifting, we started conditioning more. She does more drill work rather than just ground balls."

The team is scheduled to open the year on March 27 at Naperville North, but that will be dependent on field conditions.

Oswego will take on Montini at the Rosemont Dome on April 4 and will open Southwest Prairie Conference play on April 8 at Plainfield South before taking on defending Class 4A state champion Minooka on April 10.

The annual Fox Valley Tournament will take place April 18-19 and will close out the regular season at the Joliet West Quad Invite on May 24.

"We have all the team leadership at the top and it's trickling down to the juniors. We're one big team of leaders," Prentice said. "The leadership is spreading through and we're all getting to that point where we can push each other."

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