CAMERON - There's little disputing Mark Witzberger has turned his Cameron softball program into one of the school's signature sports teams during his first eight years at the helm.
Coming off a 22-7 season where the Dragons were dealt a setback by a streaking Wheeling Central team in the regional semifinal, Cameron lost a bunch, including record-setting four-year starting pitcher Tara Paczewski, a four-time West Virginia Class A all-stater and four-time first team All-Valley honoree.
That doesn't mean opponents are doing some sort of celebratory dance, though.
Witzberger still has some players, beginning with catcher Audrey Bryan, who was on her way to a season few in the small Marshall County school dared to dream before she became injured and watched the last half of the season from the bench.
She's a four-year starter who hit .357 with two home runs and 21 RBI in 42 at-bats prior to the injury. Coaches build teams around players who drive in a run every other time they step in the batter's box.
Bryan will be joined by sophomore pitcher Linda Hall, who was 7-1 in eight decisions (with an ERA of .079), and looks very much like the next ace in a long line of them at the school.
Other seniors are returning second basemen Ashley Berardi, Darby Brown, and Emily Johnson, who figure to see their names in the starting lineup at first base, or possibly, designated hitter. Johnson may play outfield as well. Janis Williamson, who is a catcher, is the final senior.
Berardi hit three home runs among 20 hits last season.
"We have five seniors, and I am expecting big contributions from all of them," Witzberger said.
The Dragons have three juniors in third baseman Natalie Trowbridge (13 RBI among 16 hits), left fielder Lexi Aston (11 RBI) and Taylor Wise, who spent spring practices battling for varsity playing time at first base and catcher.
Aside from Hall, who also acquitted herself quite well at the plate during her first year in high school ball (.346 average, 24 RBI), Caitlyn Berardi (Ashley's sister) assumed the spring lead at a shortstop position that was vacated by Cassidi Richmond, and right fielder Bailey Wood make up starters from the sophomore class. Caitlyn Berardi and Wood will be first-time starters.
Nine freshmen fill out the roster in Marissa Meintel, a potential starter in center field, pitcher Jenna Aston and infielders/outfielders Grace Fitzgerald and Hope Wise. Utility-type, first-year players to the program are Morgan Goode, catcher Meleigha Harmon, first baseman Samantha Phillips, and outfielders Tresa Roskelly and Taylor Winland.
"While this team may inexperienced, they are committed to developing their fundamentals, and are extremely coachable." Witzberger said. "As coaches we have pushed and challenged them every day in practice and they have responded favorably at every challenge and opportunity."
Witzberger, who owns a record of 140-79 at the school, is assisted by Lisa Leichliter and Roger Cain. Jonathan Matthews is a student manager.