CHURUBUSCO — The team that on Churubusco’s first ever Northeast Corner Conference Softball Championship is coming back for more.

The Lady Eagles return several key players to this year’s roster, including junior Abigail Erwin, who earned all-state and all-conference honors last season. Also returning are junior three-year starters Breanna Baughman at second base and centerfielder Brooke Nondorf.

Starting sophomore catcher Madison Simmons is back this season, as is starting sophomore outfielder Kurstin Clark.

“All of these returning starters from last year have improved both offenseively and defensively during the off season,” said head coach Phil Nicolet.

It’s not to say the squad isn’t suffering from some loss. All-state and Indiana All-Star third baseman Mallory Pearson graduated last year, along with starting pitcher Carlee Koldyke, first baseman Paige Stauffer, and lead-off hitter and left fielder Calla Boruff.

Four “very talented” freshmen look to take their places, including pitcher Kara Williams.

“She will carry the load on the mound and will have to pitch well for the team to be successful,” Nicolet said.

Freshman Mariah Hosted will start at third base and will be one of the first players at-bat in the lineup. Freshmen Katy Krider will start at either first base or outfield, and Amanda Erwin is expected to be utilized frequently on both offense and defense, Nicolet says.

The Lady Eagles’ biggest strength is defense, led by Ersin, Baughman and Nondorf.

“They dominate the center of the field,” Nicolet said.

Erwin and Baughman tallied six double plays last season, and Nondorf caught 38 balls in centerfield without an error.

“Catcher Madison Simmons as a cannon for an arm and is able to hold people from stealing any bases,” Nicolet said. “If our talented freshmen, along with sophomores who had a lot of playing time last year, can fill in the remaining positions, the defense will be solid.”

Those sophomores include Clark, Melanie Geiger, Deja Monroe and Darian Manth.

On the other side, the Lady Eagles will be working on offensive consistency.

“We need to put the ball in play more,” Nicolet said.

The team will especially work on improving bunting and moving runners into scoring position, as well as cutting back on strikeouts, especially when there are runners on-base.

The team has no seniors, and all three of the Lady Eagles’ pitchers are freshmen and sophomores.

“Is it a rebuilding year? Not really, because most of these underclassmen have had game experience, and the four freshmen have all played plenty of softball, including on travel teams,” Nicolet said. “If we can avoid being inconsistent and work on improving throughout the season, we could be a formidable challenge when the tournament begins.”

And as for next year? The team has many more talented youngsters coming in.

“We believe we are in the starting stages of having a very good softball program for the next 4-5 years,” Nicolet said.

Nicolet’s only goal is for the team to get better each game and enter the tournament as a “very good softabll team that can beat anyone in the sectional.”

The season starts tonight (Wednesday) with a county-rivalry game with Whitko, weather permitting.