PRINCETON — Heidi James didn’t hesitate.
Neither did Makenzey Wilson.
When the two returning seniors on the Princeton softball team were asked about their goals for this season, both quickly offered the same answer.
“Regionals,” said James, a four-year varsity player. “Winning regionals is our main goal. We haven’t done that yet so it’s always the goal.”
“We really want to get our name on the wall,” said Wilson, referring to the boards hanging in Prouty Gymnasium that list conference and postseason titles for every PHS program. “We don’t have anything up there yet so we definitely want to change that.”
Despite being close to postseason hardware the past few years, this year’s Princeton squad is looking to break through and win the program’s first regional title.
After going 21-13 last season — the first 20-win season in program history — this year’s PHS squad returns six starters.
Back is sophomore catcher Abby Jaques, a NewsTribune Second-Team All-Area player last season who hit .353 with 25 RBI and 32 runs scored.
Also back is junior Mollie Bates at second base, James at shortstop and senior Katherine Pranka at third base.
In the outfield, sophomore Danielle Hughes returns in left field and Wilson in center.
Filling the remaining spots, sophomore Steph Farrell should play at first base and freshman Alisa Holmbeck is expected to play in right field.
Senior Sydney Hall should also see time in the outfield, while freshman Julia Bauer will play a utility role.
As the lineup is currently constructed, Pranka will hit lead-off, Bates second, James third, Jaques cleanup, Farrell fifth, Wilson sixth, Holmbeck seventh and Hughes eighth.
“In the past, a lot of our offense has been dictated by the team speed we have,” PHS coach Bob James said. “This year, we have some very good base runners and some very smart base runners and we, like always, want to get them on, get them over and get them in.”
The key this season will be an inexperienced pitching staff.
As the PHS ace last season, Heidi James went 14-7 with a 2.37 ERA in 118 innings pitched.
However, this season, James will be unable to pitch due to hip and rib injuries, which will leave the pitching responsibilities to freshmen Madison Menzel and Holmbeck.
“Due to Heidi’s injury, a lot of people may be concerned since we have two freshmen pitchers, but they are both seasoned and experienced pitchers,” Bob James said. “Like I’ve said before, as long as they can keep the ball on this side of the fence we’ll be OK.”
Princeton, which has had its first four games this season postponed due to the weather, will have to makeup for key losses.
First baseman Jess Martell (.440 average last season, team-high 37 RBI) graduated, while junior middle infielder Brooke Kamphuis (.526 average, 52 runs scored, NT First-Team All-Area player) moved to North Carolina after playing volleyball at Princeton last fall.
“(Brooke) was a good player and a good athlete, but we haven’t really talked about it or brought it up,” Bob James said. “She was a great kid, but we are focusing on what we have here and not what is gone. We miss her just like we miss Martell, but the next person has to step up and take the spot.”
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.