WAUSAUKEE - Strong pitching and team unity which is second to none are two traits the Wausaukee Rangers softball team will rely on heavily this season.

The continual maturation of junior starting pitcher Lauren Edlbeck is one of the bright points for the Rangers early in practice.

After pitching her way to a first-team all-conference selection last season, Edlbeck looks to pick up where she left off after extensive work in the off-season.

"Lauren works about as hard as anyone I know and is a true competitor," Wausaukee coach Sue Stoltenberg said. "She's getting a lot of reps every day in practice and the nice thing is we have her for two years yet."

Wausaukee returns five other starters from last year's squad, but none may be more important than senior shortstop Sara Wickman.

Wickman, a first-team All-M&O Conference selection last year, has been a consistent player over her varsity career and Stoltenberg will lean heavily on her for her leadership and abilities on the field.

"Sara is and has been as strong as ever for us over her career," Stoltenberg said. "She's very patient with the younger girls and is a good leader on and off the field."

Junior Crysta Clark returns for her second year at third base and sophomore Kaylor DeLaet is back at second to help solidify a strong infield.

One of the biggest transitions the team will face is at the catcher position, where junior Bethany Gabriel will play after starting in right field last season.

Gabriel replaces Kari Jewett, a first-team selection and a heady player who was a key reason for the growth of Edlbeck over the past two seasons.

"Bethany played some innings at catcher last year and looks very comfortable early on," Stoltenberg said. "She has a strong arm and confidence that she'll succeed at her new position."

Sophomore Veronica Shaw, the team's starting leftfielder last year, will move to center. Filling out the two corner outfield positions will be junior Kendra Backaus and senior Stevie Oldenburg, who was a pleasant surprise for Stoltenberg after not playing last season.

Stoltenberg plans to play freshman Amber Dunlap and junior Morgan Zeutzius at first base. Both are learning the new position and getting better each day.

Off the bench Stoltenberg will rely on sophomore Jenna Stumbris and Sophia Distad to fill in where needed. Both can play multiple positions.

The Rangers have 19 players in their program with only two seniors, so youth could be an issue, though Stoltenberg likes what she sees.

"We have some younger players who will step up and gain experience this year," Stoltenberg said. "Our hitting and pitching will be strong points this year. We'll just have to focus on getting good defense."

Stoltenberg expects Peshtigo to be a stiff competitor for the Rangers once again and also expects Crivitz to be strong once again.

"We're ready to start playing soon, though Mother Nature has not been too cooperative so far," Stoltenberg said. "I like our chances of not only competing, but being a quality team. I feel very good about this season."