By Kyle Daubs

Charleston, the defending Apollo Conference champions, are viewed by softball coaches as the favorites to repeat.

Hall of Fame Mount Zion head coach Greg Blakey and Effingham head coach Jerry Trigg said the Apollo should be strong again, but the nod should be given to Charleston.

“I see the Apollo as being very competitive from top to bottom but I would have to pick Charleston as the favorite right now,” said Trigg. 

Blakey said that Lincoln could be “dangerous” this year despite last season’s 10-15 record. Lincoln lost starting infielder Mya Kirgan and starting catcher Emily Paulus to graduation, but returns First-Team All-Apollo junior Cara Farnam, who batted .425 last season. 

“Favorites to win the conference, that’s up for grabs this year with the level of play and great talent on so many different teams,” said Lincoln head coach LeeAnn Gilbert. 

Charleston returns a great deal of talent from a 24-4 team, which includes seven starters. Charleston went 7-0 in the Apollo, but lost three college athletes in First-Team All-State slugger Reagan McGahey, All-Conference member Ava Stephens, and Ashlynn McPeak. McGahey is at Southern Illinois University, Stephens at Lake Land College, and McPeak at Danville Community College respectively. 

The Trojans return junior All-Apollo First Team pitcher Karah Moore, who finished fourth in the state with 18 wins last season. The Trojans are expected to be deep with five players that can pitch at any given time but will have the task of having no seniors on the team. 

“Every team will be very good this year in our conference,” said Charleston head coach Blain Mayhall. “As always, it’s one of the toughest conferences for softball in the state.”

Mount Zion figures to be a contender for the Apollo. Despite a 13-18 record, the Braves finished as an IHSA Regional Champion. The team lost leadoff hitter Marin Stenger to graduation, but the team returns three All-Apollo returnees. 

Marin made our offense go and was a good leader for us,” said Blakey. Gwen Bender was all Conference for us last year as a returner.  She was a catcher most of the year and played a little shortstop when Marin was out.  Gwen will be a good leader for us.  Dakota Harrison will be counted on to ignite our offense, she has some power as a hitter and will be counted on in the circle.”

Mattoon finished second in the Apollo last season with a 6-1 record but returns a young, inexperienced team. Mattoon lost All-Apollo pitcher Raven Morrison and two strong hitters in Delainey Bryant and Xylia Greeson. Bryant is playing softball at Illinois State University, while all three were All-Apollo selections. 

Ivie Edwards returns as an All-Apollo selection, but the team will be fairly youthful for first-year head coach Jennifer Saucier. 

“We do have a lot of girls who have been in the program the past four years and are ready to step in as leaders this season,” said Saucier. “Cadance McDaniel, Emma Longcor, Abby Mathias, and Ivie Edwards are all seniors who have been with the softball program through high school and have put in a ton of work. I’ve coached them since middle school and I’m excited to see what they can do this season.”

Effingham finished with a 4-3 conference record last season and went 15-11 overall, but the team lost its top starter in All-Apollo player Jaidi Davis. The Hearts return five starters, which includes Second-Team All-Apollo player Riley Cunningham, a junior.  Mahomet-Seymour brings back one All-Apollo player in senior Karley Yergler while Taylorville did not win a conference game.

Preseason Apollo Conference Rankings

  1. Charleston
  2. Mount Zion
  3. Lincoln
  4. Mahomet-Seymour
  5. Effingham
  6. Mattoon
  7. Taylorville