SANDY CREEK Just hours before taking the field for the Section 3 Class C championship game last year, the Sandy Creek softball team got together to prepare.
But they werent breaking down scouting reports, taking batting practice or going through warmups.
They were dividing up into teams to play kan jam, horseshoes and other yard games.
It was really fun and also really aggressive because we dont like to lose, senior Jordan Miller said.
Then the Comets traveled to Hopkins Road and claimed a 5-0 victory over Bishop Ludden to advance to the state tournament for the first time in a half-decade.
That day is a snapshot of what this current Sandy Creek unit, a majority of which has been playing together since 12-and-under travel ball, is all about.
Its a tight-knit group that knows how to have fun, but also knows how to accomplish the task at hand.
It makes it more enjoyable to be at practice, said senior ace and leadoff hitter Chelsea Claflin, the reigning Times All-North Most Valuable Player. We may have fun sometimes, but we are on the same page that our goal is to win states, so we are still focused; we just have a better time doing it because were a close group.
Sandy Creek will begin its season on Wednesday as the heavy favorite to be the top team in the Frontier League, returning every single member of last years squad that won 22 games, the leagues regular season and playoff titles, and a sectional championship.
Its whether we take advantage of the fact that we all get along and work so well together, that most other teams dont have that advantage, Claflin added. We need to apply that along with our skills.
Sandy Creek fell a game short of the state final four last season. The previous year, it lost in the overall Class C sectional final, and in 2010, its season ended in the Class C-2 title game.
This year, the Comets bring back what is essentially the same group that has advanced a step farther in each of those three seasons. They graduated two starters in 2011 and did not have a senior on the roster a year ago.
We might be the perennial favorite, but a lot of perennial favorites dont make it, Sandy Creek coach Bill Fowler said. I tell them every day, make sure when were at practice that we dont get outworked. Theyve kind of taken that to heart.
This years team has five seniors. Claflin is entering her sixth varsity season, Miller and Viki White are each starting their fifth, while Kendra Valley and Karintha Myslivecek are in their fourth and third varsity seasons, respectively.
And while the sense of urgency among them is stronger than it has ever been, they plan to enjoy the ride as much as they have in the past.
That includes all of Fowlers team-building activities scavenger hunts, yard-ball tournaments, an annual team after-prom party, and the most popular of all, Saturday morning pancake breakfasts.
Mr. Fowler makes the worlds best pancakes, White said.
The events are organized with the intent of having a good time, but there is an on-field purpose to each function.
I think its an important key, White said. You have to have team bonding to get that chemistry on the field, you have to know everyones moves and what theyre thinking, we all have to be on the same page and I think we have that.
The Comets play at Lowville on Wednesday, while a majority of the league is scheduled to start regular season play today.
Here is a look at the rest of the Frontier League:
Outlook: Indian River is the strong favorite to repeat as it returns seven starters from a team that went unbeaten in the division. The Barnes sisters, Lakiesha and Kammiekka, will share the pitching duties while their batterymate, junior Heidi Amato, is expected to anchor the lineup in her fifth varsity season. The Warriors hope to be more competitive against the strong B Division teams after going 0-4 against them last year. Carthage, with an experienced roster consisting solely of upper classmen, is looking to provide more of a threat than in years past. Immaculate Heart and Watertown will each field very young teams that hope to surprise but may not be ready to compete for the division title.
Coach: Alicia Logan (4th year).
2012 record: 3-10 overall (2-8 league).
Players to watch: Courtney Cunningham, Brooke Craig, Sarah Daily.
Roster: Brooke Craig (Sr., SS/OF); Courtney Cunningham (Sr., P); Sarah Daily (Sr., SS/OF); Alexis Harvey (Sr., 3B/P); Kelly Hunneyman (Sr., 1B/C); Alexis Martin (Sr., OF); Katelyn Sadler (Sr., OF); Alexis Mondragon (Jr., C/P); Morgan Bush (Jr., 2B); Natasha Gamble (Jr., 2B); Heather Leake (Jr., OF); Allyson Millard (Jr., OF); Desiree Reyes (Jr., OF).
Immaculate Heart Central Cavaliers
Coach: Paul Alteri (2nd year).
2012 record: 4-12 (2-8).
Players to watch: Mikayla Kolb, Korine Clark.
Roster: Elena Alteri (So., 2B); Jasmeet Aujla (So., OF); Korine Clark (Jr., P); Lauren Clement (So., 1B); Alyssa David (Jr., OF); Brittney Dunnigan (Sr., OF); Anna Garrabrant (So., P); Anna Jank (So., IF); Mikayla Kolb (Jr., C); Miranda Kolb (Fr., 3B); Charisse Lapointe (Fr., SS); Maegan Miller (Sr., OF).
Indian River Warriors
Coach: Tim Callahan (2nd year).
2012 record: 10-7 (6-4).
Players to watch: Lakiesha Barnes, Kammiekka Barnes, Heidi Amato.
Roster: Brianna Brizuela (Jr., 3B/OF); Heidi Amato (Jr., C); Larrissa Marte (Sr., OF); Tori Clyde (Sr., 3B/OF); Kasey Fuller (So., 1B); Lakiesha Barnes (Sr., P/SS); Meg Lynch (Fr., Util); Haley Prudhomme (Jr., 2B); Ashley Dobmeier (Jr., OF); Lacy Farr (Jr., 1B); Rebecca Butler (Jr., OF); Kammiekka Barnes (Fr., P/SS).
Coach: Matt Hynes (7th year).
2012 record: 3-14 (2-8).
Players to watch: Gabby Clark, Teniesha Gulledge, Hannah Martini, Brittany Ruiz.
Roster: Tara Blair (So., IF); Gabby Clark (Jr., OF); Kayla Couturier (Jr., OF); Destiny Cronce (So., IF/OF); Maggie Finster (So., IF/OF); Teniesha Gulledge (Jr., IF); Alyssa Heath (Sr., OF); Shytarra Lemon (So. IF/P); Hannah Martini (So., IF/P); Emily Medley (So., OF); Elissa Newhart (Sr., IF/OF); Brittany Ruiz (Sr., IF/OF); Maggie Valentine (So., IF).
Outlook: With Lowvilles move to Class C, this division is down to a fight between the three teams that have slugged it out for the title the last several seasons. Each squad lost a key player or two, but all three have plenty of returning talent and a trusted ace back in the pitching circle. South Jeffersons Brooke LaLone and Altmar-Parish-Williamstowns Tori Stanton will each enter their senior year, while General Browns Katie Pitkin will likely take on more innings in her junior season after sharing the circle in the past. As has been the case over the past few years, this division is a toss-up and should be highly competitive with three of the leagues premiere teams.
Coach: Peggy Bennett (14th year).
2012 record: 15-6 (11-3).
Players to watch: Tori Stanton, Amber Rice, Emily Radley, Rhiannon Wheeler.
Roster: Tori Stanton (Sr., P); Rhiannon Wheeler (Sr., OF); Emily Radley (Sr., OF/2B); Becky Trexler (Sr., 1B/OF); Rachel Mitchell (Sr., OF); Erin Stever (Jr., 1B/OF); Tia Britton (Jr., OF); Sierra Spink (Jr., OF); Katie Palmer (So., OF/2B); Amber Rice (Fr., P/SS); Bobbi Hoffman (Fr., OF).
General Brown Lions
Coach: Darrin Pitkin (3rd year).
2012 record: 18-4 (12-2).
Players to watch: Katie Pitkin, Hope VanBrocklin, Nikki Maier.
Roster: Deleha Decker (Jr., SS/3B/OF); Kayla Gaffney (Fr., 3B/2B); Kathleen Gruber (So., 1B/OF); Nikki Maier (Sr., SS); Sam Monroe (Jr., C/OF); Rhea Pitkin (Fr., P/1B/SS); Katie Pitkin (Jr., P/1B/SS); Taylor Rowe (Jr., 2B/OF); Alanna Savage (Sr., OF); Shea Siver (Jr., OF); Hannah Smithers (8th, C/1B/OF); Hope VanBrocklin (Sr., C/3B/1B); Chelsea VanTassel (7th, 3B/2B/OF); Tori Wojosinski (So., 1B/3B/OF).
South Jefferson Spartans
Coach: Steve Randall (10th year).
2012 record: 16-6 (9-5).
Roster: Brooke LaLone (Sr., P/1B); Alex Mooney (Sr., 3B/OF); Angela Cataldo (Sr., OF/1B/C); Hannah Mullin (Sr., OF/2B/C); Jackie Decker (Jr., C/SS/3B); Heather Williams (Jr., 1B/P/OF); Kassie Davis (Jr., OF/3B); Lyndsie OBrien (Jr., OF/C); Breanna LaFlesh (Jr., OF/1B); Taylor Brown (So., 2B); Janessa Vaadi (So., SS/P).
Outlook: Thousand Islands and South Lewis could each be a legitimate threat to Sandy Creeks repeat chances. The Vikings bring back a potent lineup, with its six returning starters hitting for a combined .447 batting average, to go with an experienced senior pitcher in Alesha Waterman. South Lewis will need to replace Amelia Campbell in the pitching circle, but it too brings back most of its lineup and will be led by the same coaching staff that has had the Falcons in the title hunt for much of the last decade. Falcons coach Chris Villiere took a new job within the school district this fall, thus prompting him to swap titles with longtime assistant coach, Dave Szalach. Beaver River brings back its pitching tandem of Dallas Briot and Taylor Buell, but will need to replace some strong fielders behind them and find some run production if it hopes to compete with the top three teams. Lowville, moving from the difficult B Division to the equally difficult C Division, will ride senior Haley Rileys arm as far as it will take them.
Beaver River Beavers
Coach: Tracy Adams (13th year) and Brenda Buell (2nd year).
2012 record: 8-11 (7-9).
Players to watch: Dallas Briot, Taylor Buell.
Roster: Dallas Briot (Sr., P/IF); Heather Bush (Sr., SS); Abigail Cornell (Sr., OF); Genevieve Fidler (Sr., 1B); Emmalee Ritz (Sr., IF/OF); Koari Uchiyama (Sr., OF); Zefine VanRochel (Sr., OF); Taylor Buell (Jr., P/IF); Rochelle Cowan (Jr., OF); Erika Glenn (Jr., IF/OF); Sidney Hawksley (Jr., P/3B/OF); Hailie Lehman (Jr., P/1B/3B); Kasidee Rhone (Jr., OF/C); Brittany Widrick (Jr., OF); Keanna Proulx (So., C).
Lowville Red Raiders
Coach: Ed Steckly (10th year overall, 1st year back with team).
2012 record: 6-11 (5-9).
Roster: Haley Riley (Sr., P/OF); Chelsea Koster (Sr., 3B/SS); Morgan McAleese (Sr., SS/2B); Rachael Waite (Sr., 1B); Page Seydler (Sr., C); Megan Hill (Jr., OF/C); Catherine Lyndaker (Jr., OF/P); Laura Platz (So., IF); Kaitlin Fayle (So., IF/OF); Ashlee Sprowl (So., IF/C).
Sandy Creek Comets
Coach: Bill Fowler (13th year).
2012 record: 22-3 (15-1).
Players to watch: Chelsea Claflin, Viki White, Jordan Miller, Karintha Myslivecek.
Roster: Madison Bush (Jr., C); Chelsea Claflin (Sr., P/IF); Shania Darling (Jr., IF); Gabriella Guarasce (Jr., OF); Kylie Hanni (Jr., IF); Maggie King (So., IF/OF); Kylee Martin (Jr., OF/P); Michaela Martin (Jr., IF/P); Jordan Miller (Sr., IF/P); Peyton Miller (Jr., IF); Karintha Myslivecek (Sr., OF); Brittany Valley (Jr., IF/OF); Kendra Valley (Sr., OF/IF); Grace Wallace (Jr., OF); Viki White (Sr., IF/C).
South Lewis Falcons
Coach: Dave Szalach and Chris Villiere (12th year).
2012 record: 12-8 (12-4).
Players to watch: Ashley Szewil, Rachel Newell, Jayne Strigle, Olivia Fitzgerald, Tasha Ortlieb.
Roster: Rachel Newell (Sr., IF); Tasha Ortlieb (Sr., IF); Ashley Szewil (Sr., C); Marissa Brown (Jr., P/OF); Carson Chruscicki (Jr., IF/OF); Jessica Haig (Jr., OF); Shania Loomis (Jr., IF/OF); Mia Poste (Jr., IF/OF); Jayne Strigle (Jr., OF); Olivia Fitzgerald (So., IF); Jaedyn Ossont (So., IF); Drianna Crofoot (8th, P/IF/OF).
Thousand Islands Vikings
Coach: Paul Barton (4th year).
2012 record: 13-9 (9-7).
Players to watch: Alesha Waterman, Allie Barton, Lindsay Barton, Casey Webb, Erica Sullivan.
Roster: Allie Barton (Sr., SS/OF); Kylie Barton (Sr., OF); Lindsay Barton (So., C/2B); Courtney Calhoun (Fr., P/OF); Bailey Call (Jr., OF/1B); Olivia Fulmer (So., OF); Jenna Manniko (Jr., OF); Sabrina Matthews (Fr., P/1B); Alleigh Robbins (Fr., 2B/OF); Heather Robinson (Fr., 3B/P); Erica Sullivan (Sr., OF/3B); Alesha Waterman (Sr., P/2B).
Outlook: LaFargeville could have a leg up on the rest of the division to start the season due to returning its junior ace, Amber Klock, whom coach Danielle Shimel said is throwing the best she ever has. But the Red Knights need to hit better than a season ago if they hope to take the title. Alexandria, Belleville Henderson, and Copenhagen all lost their ace from a season ago. Lorraine Beard will likely take over the pitching duties for defending-champion Alexandria, which also returns one of the divisions best hitters and base runners, Amanda Lingenfelter. Copenhagen and Belleville Henderson will need to find consistent pitching to be in the title mix, as will Sackets Harbor. Former IHC coach Tony Gullo will take over a very young Lyme team, looking to provide the stability and consistency that the program has lacked in recent years.
Alexandria Purple Ghosts
Coach: Diane Bush (31st year).
2012 record: 15-5 (10-4).
Players to watch: Amanda Lingenfelter, Lorraine Beard.
Roster: Rachael Calhoun (Sr.); Kayla Utterback (Sr.); Amanda Lingenfelter (Jr.); Lorraine Beard (Jr.); Mikaela Benny (So.); Hannah Lynch (So.); Sam Robinson (Jr.); Megan Brady (Jr.); Gulzhan Suningarina (Jr.); Jennie Spooner (Fr.); Cassidy Daily (Fr.).
Belleville Henderson Panthers
Coach: Colleen Bellinger (3rd year).
2012 record: 5-10 (5-9).
Players to watch: Whitney Maitland, Jordan Fitzgerald, Jenta White, Kristia Otey.
Roster: Whitney Maitland (Sr., P); Jordan Fitzgerald (Sr., OF); Jenta White (Sr., 3B); Kristia Otey (Sr., 2B); Erika Mendes (Sr.); Ashley Hodge (Jr.); Carly Barringer (So.); Karen Fargo (So.); Lizzy Scherer (So.); Katie Shannon (So.); Danielle Simmons (So.); Marisa Sudgen (So.); Zoe Stuckley (Fr.); Amanda Bond (Fr.); Haley Contryman (Fr.); Karlie Maloney (Fr.); Jayla White (Fr.).
Copenhagen Golden Knights
Coach: John Cain (11th year).
2012 record: 9-11 (6-8).
Players to watch: Alicia Evans, Rachel Muncy, Liz Martin, Brianna Muncy, Brooke Spaulding.
Roster: Rachel Muncy (Sr., IF); Liz Martin (Sr., P/OF); Jenna Bevens (Jr., OF); Nicole Burns (Jr., OF); Alicia Evans (Jr., IF); Summer Freeman (Jr., Util); Brianna Muncy (Jr., IF); Brooke Spaulding (So., OF/P); Morgan Moore (So., IF); Alexis LaBarge (Fr., Util); Sydney Greene (Fr., Util); Kylie Guyette (8th, C).
LaFargeville Red Knights
Coach: Danielle Shimel and Jeff Davidson (12th year).
2012 record: 9-9 (6-8).
Player to watch: Amber Klock.
Roster: Chanelle Savage (Sr., 1B); Jarika Nuffer (Sr., SS); Jackie Segouin (Sr., 2B); Lauren Beeles (Sr., C); Lauren Labiendo (Sr., OF); Amber Klock (Jr., P); Lacey Black (Jr., 1B/OF); Jenna Sharp (Jr., C); Jen Barker (Jr., Util); Tanisha Ryan (Jr., Util); Logan Labiendo (Fr., 3B/P).
Coach: Tony Gullo (1st year).
2012 record: 0-14 (0-14).
Players to watch: Mikayla Warren, Paige Kappus-Kron, Taylor Brown.
Roster: Mikayla Warren (Sr., SS); Susan Cornell (Sr., OF); Morgan Taylor (Jr., OF); Paige Kappus-Kron (So., OF); Emily Ennis (So., OF); Megan McKenna (So., OF); Taylor Brown (Fr., P); Alison Tarwater (Fr., C/1B); Haley Kappus-Kron (Fr., P/OF); Meghan Donaldson (Fr., C); Lauren Barry (Fr., 3B); Meghan Goutremout (Fr., OF); Morgan Warren (8th, 2B).
Sackets Harbor Patriots
Coach: Dan Green (17th year).
2012 record: 3-13 (3-11).
Player to watch: Jordan Gonseth.
Roster: Alexis Martin (Sr.); Olivia Martin (Sr.); Jordan Gonseth (Sr.); Sarah Kall (Sr.); Alexis Stewart (Jr.); Amber Fay (Jr.); Katie Lapusnak (Jr.); Alexandra Townsend (Jr.); Samantha Menapace (So.); Rainy Johannessenn (So.); Alexis Filley (Fr.).