Grain Valley softball coach Garrett Ogle fared fairly well in his first season with the Eagles in 2018.

In their first year in the Suburban Small Seven Conference, the Eagles took fourth place with a 7-5 league record and finished 17-11 overall before losing to Lee’s Summit in the first round of the Class 4 District 13 tournament.

In 2019, Grain Valley will have a young team and returns nine players with varsity experience, and the hope is to build off a solid 2018 campaign.

“We had (18) freshmen tryout, so we’re definitely going to be young this year,” said senior first baseman Keely Hill said. “Most of them are really good and I am excited for the season because I think we will be really good.”

Elle Nicas, who was second-team all-conference in the Suburban Small Seven, will return at catcher, and Malia Gutierrez will start at third base. BriLeigh Sims, who will see time at second base and third base, led the team in batting average and was near the top in almost every offensive category. Junior Riley Downey could also see time at catcher as one of the team’s top newcomers.

Alexis Parra and Morgan Robinson also could see playing time in the infield, and Avery Huffman and Mikayla Chairez are returning outfielders. Sophomore Lauren Parker and junior Olivia White are also fighting for playing time in the outfield.

“We have about five to six girls competing for outfield spots,” Ogle said. “It’s a tough field. We don’t know what we’re going to have yet. We’ll have a couple of returners there, but we could see new faces in the outfield.”

With so many returning position players, Hill said she thinks the offense will be strong.

“We have people who are power hitters,” she said. “I think our hitting is going to be really good.”

Ogle added that his team does the little things on offense, as well.

“They do a lot of things well like bunting, hitting it well and hitting for average,” he said.

At pitcher, Huffman returns after earning first-team all-conference honors in 2018 as a freshman. She was the ace of that staff and earned wins against quality teams like Liberty, Liberty North, Ozark and Eureka. Assisting Huffman in the circle will be senior Shea Blankenship and freshman Hailey Hemme.

“She’s does everything well,” Ogle said of Huffman. “She hits well, she runs well, she fields well and pitches well. She is probably one of our best all-around players.”

Added Hill: “(Huffman) positions the ball really well. She also has a lot of spin on her ball.”

Huffman will have plenty of strong teams to pitch against as Grain Valley will have a tough tournament schedule that includes Marquette, Raymore-Peculiar, Springfield Kickapoo and Liberty, which are some of the top teams in the state.

“It’s think it’s going to benefit us and make us a lot better,” Ogle said. “It’s going to make our girls tougher for the postseason. I look forward to the competition.”

That could help the Eagles become battle tested to prepare for much tougher competition in the postseason. For Ogle and his players, they are expecting more success this season.

“I want to see us improve our conference record and compete for a conference title,” Ogle said. “District-wise, I would like to see us move on further.”

Added Gutierrez: “We have the talent to compete for a district title.”