BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — College-level talent up and down the lineup. A roster without holes. Experienced seniors at the ready.
Shenendehowa softball, to put it mildly, is loaded for the 2016 season.
“There’s expectations out there for us, but we’re going to focus on one game at a time,” said Shenendehowa head coach Chris Farquharson, whose Plainsmen were ranked No. 1 in the state in a preseason MaxPreps poll.
“Right now,” he added, “our first game is against Burnt Hills. That’s what we’re preparing for.”
“We’re going to focus on our goals, not what other people expect from us,” said senior second baseman Kelly O’Gorman, whose club opens April 6 against the Spartans.
But the potential of this year’s Plainsmen softball squad cannot be ignored. From a 21-3 season that ended in the state quarterfinals, the Plainsmen bring back all but one starter — Alyssa Garrison, last year’s right fielder — for its 2016 season. Six of the team’s nine seniors are already set to play college softball somewhere next season, while more commitments are expected to come. Two of the team’s players are headed in the future to Division I programs, with senior first baseman Kelly Barkevich signed to the University at Albany and junior shortstop Nicole McCarvill committed to Stony Brook University.
A younger squad a year ago, Shenendehowa was a slight surprise as the Section II Class AA champion.
This season, there is no flying under the radar for the Plainsmen, which had five of their returning players receive all-league recognition in 2015.
“Shen, we’ve always got a target on us whether we’re younger or older,” Barkevich said. “But especially coming off our run last year, there’s a big, huge target on us. Everyone knows we’re experienced and they’re going to be out to get us for sure.”
A roster including five sophomores has helped to keep things fresh this preseason for Shenendehowa. Starring roles will be difficult for those players to find this season, but the underclassmen are expected to provide an extra spark for the 16-deep Plainsmen.
“They’re pretty talented sophomores learning the ropes,” Farquharson said.
“We added more athletes with them. Coach is big on taking athletes because they can play anywhere in the field, and all of our sophomores can play anywhere,” O’Gorman said. “Now, one through nine can all hit, one through 16 can all hit. We have more depth.”
Besides its league schedule, Shenendehowa will play four nonleague games between two tournaments. The Plainsmen will play host to their annual “Forever Remembered” tournament in mid-April, playing Kellenberg and Massapequa in those games; later in the season, Shenendehowa will play Fairport and Liverpool.
Within the Suburban Council, Columbia — last year’s No. 1 seed heading into the playoffs — and Shaker, the squad Shenendehowa beat in the championship game, figure to be the toughest competition for the Plainsmen. Games against league foes from Averill Park and Troy, powers at the Class A level, also will provide tests for Shenendehowa.
“But you can’t underestimate anyone,” Barkevich said. “Every [game] is going to be the biggest game of the season for us.”