Masuk's Tatum Buckley
It might be hard to believe, but it’s been four years since the SWC produced a state champion in softball. You could argue, year-in, year-out, softball was the league’s strongest sport when state tournament play rolled around every June.
At the end of the last decade Masuk, with all-world pitcher Rachele Fico, was perennially the top team in the state, while Lauralton Hall seemingly made the Class M final every season. Each won a state title in 2008.
Behind them teams like Newtown, a Class LL finalist in 2010, and Brookfield remained threats in both the SWC and state tournaments.
That’s not to say the league has fallen off. Coaches will say it’s just as competitive as it’s ever been, with the bottom teams getting a little bit better each year. Last season, for example, Notre Dame-Fairfield — formerly an automatic win for most teams — reached the Class S quarterfinals.
At the other end of the spectrum, Brookfield won its first league title last year against Pomperaug. It’s noteworthy that the championship game pitted the No. 4 Bobcats and No. 6 Panthers at DeLuca Field. Having seeds that low reaching the title game was something almost unheard of only a few years earlier.
How does the SWC stack up this spring?
The powerhouse squads might be a thing of the past, but it could mean the league might be a tad more competitive, especially as teams adjust to the pitching mound being moved back, which has created more offense in games and lessening the impact of a lights-out pitcher.
“It’s going to be a strong league, there’s going to be more parity,” Newtown coach Bob Guerrera said. “It’s great for the league to have balance.”
Masuk might not have the next Fico, but it’s got a burgeoning two-way star in sophomore Tatum Buckley. Brookfield, which beat Masuk three times last season, returns a slew of key components from its title-winning team, while Lauralton Hall seems to define the term reloading instead of rebuilding each year.
Schools like Bethel, Barlow, Oxford and Pomperaug all figure to have their say before the season is done, too.
“This isn’t a cakewalk,” Crusaders coach Theresa Napolitano said. “The league is growing and it’s a lot more competitive.”
Brookfield's Brittany Fusek
Teams to watch
Lauralton Hall: Consistently a threat to win the SWC and Class M crowns every spring.
Brookfield: Defending league champion looking to build off last year’s success.
Masuk: Panthers bring back all 10 starters from last season and should be as strong as ever.
Position players to watch
Vienna Pallisco, New Milford: Junior outfielder could develop into one of the league’s best hitters.
Mariel Schlaefer, Lauralton Hall: Catcher batted .540 with a 1.170 slugging percentage last season. Will play at Colgate along with teammate Marissa Dowling.
Jess Gibbons, Newtown: Lefty slugger will see action both at catcher and in center field this spring.
Christine Pinnkathok, Pomperaug: Senior shortstop/centerfielder batted .375 last season.
Hannah Ford, New Fairfield: Sophomore earned all-league honors last year, batting over .500. Will see time at third base, catcher and possibly pitcher.
Lauralton Hall's Hayley Spragg
Pitchers to watch
Tatum Buckley, Masuk: Strong on the mound and with the bat, sophomore star went 17-5 last season, winning 15 straight starts at one point.
Yesenia Evaristo, Bethel: Senior will play at Southern Connecticut next year.
Ashley Guillette, Oxford: Freshman is already generating some solid buzz around the SWC.
Kyla Pataki, Bunnell: Junior is already a veteran in the league and was all-SWC last year.
Hayley Spragg, Lauralton Hall: Veteran hurler looking to get Crusaders back into the winner’s circle.
Brittany Fusek, Brookfield: A hero for the Bobcats in the SWC tournament comes back for an encore.
Five games to watch
Masuk at Westhill, April 5: Clash of two strong teams from the SWC and FCIAC.
Bethel at Newtown, April 13: Good measuring stick for both schools early in the season.
Brookfield at Pomperaug, May 10: Rematch of last year’s championship game.
Masuk at Lauralton Hall, May 12: Big time matchup near the end of the regular season to be played at DeLuca Field.
Stratford at Bunnell, May 12: Second game of a doubleheader at DeLuca.
Bethel (12-10) has a new coach, Shawn O’Brien, and should be a state and league tournament contender with Alyssa Martinez, Jenna Mango and Rachel Barton back in the fold. … Brookfield (20-6) has a lot back from its league-winning team from last year. All-league selection Danielle DeMarco and all-division players Wendi Westmark and Giuilana D’Arcangelo should provide a solid complement to Brittany Fusek on the mound. … Barlow (11-10) graduated only two seniors. A strong class returns, led by senior all-league centerfielder Katherine Acocella. … Bunnell (13-9) has a solid returning group, led by junior pitcher Kyla Pataki and all-league senior infielder Jana Kmec as well as Kelly Scofield and Chelsea Rossomondo. … Kolbe Cathedral (2-15) will be trying to take a step up in the league and should still have Rinisha Soto in the mix. … Immaculate (0-17) is shooting for its first win since 2009. (Mustangs didn’t play varsity in 2010.) Sophomores Sara Rizzo, Cara Capilli, Rachel Giorgio, Alexia Ferreira all return. … Lauralton Hall (18-3) remains a perennial contender and brings back most of its team with Mariel Schlaefer, Hayley Spragg, Marissa Dowling, Jess Napolitano, Sidney Spitz, Maureen Connolly and Fallon Foster all returning for the Crusaders. … Masuk (19-6) has 10 players back from last year’s team. Candace Lopiano is the only senior on the Panthers’ roster. Junior shortstop Ashley Fedor and junior first baseman Melissa Peet as well as junior outfielders Nicole Fischetti, Kayla Champagne and Kyla Cannon are already seasoned veterans. … New Fairfield (14-8) will try to build off last year’s Class L second-round appearance after graduating six seniors. Back are third baseman Hannah Ford, shortstop Michaela Paddock and outfielders Mel Sulich and Mariah Piela. … New Milford (5-15) is shooting for its first state tournament spot since 2009. The Green Wave will use both Brianna Celio and Kara Golembeski at pitcher and will rely on senior second baseman Tara Larkin for leadership. … Newtown (14-8) doesn’t return much, but still has sweet-swinging Jess Gibbons and seniors Maddie Hauck and Nora Murphy. The Nighthawks will likely pitch freshman Jillian Galante. … Notre Dame-Fairfield (12-11) has a new coach in former assistant Chuck Caruso and will try to return to the Class S tournament. Senior first basmen Jordan D’Aurio and centerfielder Jamilla Pommills are the only returning starters. Junior Taylor Springer will pitch. … Oxford (9-11) doesn’t return a lot, but it does have a solid foundation in senior shortstop Clare Michalak. The Wolverines could use an all-freshmen battery of Ashley Guillette and catcher Kaley Kempf. … Pomperaug (15-10) made the league final last season and brings back seniors Martha Stanko, Cait Hamilton and Christine Pinnkathok to pair with the sophomore battery of Lauren Reilly, poised for a breakout season pitching, and Kennedy Gibson. … Stratford (6-14) has a new coach in Mark Fawver, who previously coached the team five years ago for one season. The Red Devils get junior pitcher Kelsey Spada back from a broken leg, which cost her the entire sophomore campaign. Other contributors include senior catcher Melanie Cordero, senior second baseman Gretchen Panzak and junior outfielder Danielle LaPierre. … Weston (6-14) brings back eight seniors, including Kaidy Woolman and Leanne Hursch. Junior shortstop/pitcher Kat Fischer was all-state last season.