One sure sign of spring: local athletic directors busily crossing out dates and filling in new ones on their schedules.
For the second straight year, winter's reluctance to fade away is playing havoc with high school sports slates. Indoor track meets are safe, and some soccer has been played, but softball teams have been largely unable to get the season going due to the leftover snow, cold and wind.
Of the six softball teams I cover, only West Allis Hale has been able to get in so much as one game. Everyone else is madly scrambling to fill in the rest of their April and May schedules.
This will inevitably mean some weeks of four, five or even six games, plus some doubleheaders. Teams are either going to need two pitchers or one with a rubber arm.
Defending WIAA Division 2 champion New Berlin Eisenhower is well-armed (pun intended) with ace pitchers Lauren Beres and Kayla Schlegel, and New Berlin West also has two hurlers in sisters Liz and Martha Radtke. It will be interesting to see how much of an advantage this gives the New Berlin schools over foes with just one reliable pitcher.
Assuming spring actually does arrive sometime, here is a quick look at the teams I cover:
GREENFIELD: The Hustlin' Hawks have to replace ace pitcher Ashley Kowalewski but return the potent bats of sisters Stacey and Shannon Butts, both members of the 2008 NOW Newspapers All-Suburban team, and should contend for another Woodland Conference South Division title.
MUSKEGO: The Warriors lost their top pitcher, Christy Hudziak, to a broken thumb but welcome back several quality veterans plus some promising newcomers.
N.B. EISENHOWER: The Lions are loaded, with Beres, Schlegel, outfielder Liz Wiese and shortstop Kelly Brubakken, so they should be the heavy favorite for another Woodland crown as well as another strong run in the WIAA Tournament.
N.B. WEST: The Vikings have the aforementioned Radtke sisters and a few other veterans but have underclassmen at some other key positions, including the entire infield.
WEST ALLIS CENTRAL: The Bulldogs center around pitcher Corinne Burgermeister, another All-Suburban choice last season, and will have three freshman starters as well. They could battle Menomonee Falls and Divine Savior Holy Angels for the Greater Metro crown.
WEST ALLIS HALE: The Huskies boast a solid pitcher in Nicky Grubor and key returnees in second baseman Jenny Rechlicz and third baseman Morgan Abel.
Here is my guess as to the top five area teams this spring:
1. New Berlin Eisenhower, 2. Menomonee Falls, 3. Germantown, 4. Homestead, 5. Greenfield.
OTHERS TO WATCH: Oak Creek, Franklin, West Allis Central.