Freshman Ashley Woodall immediately caught Laurel coach Julie Provino's attention when she first saw her pitch last year.
Woodall was pitching for a fall team that featured many of Laurel's players.
Provino, a fifth-year coach, can't stop talking about Woodall.
In fact, she said the hurler possesses the talent to rank among the Prince George's County best this spring.
Woodall, who will be backed up by senior Jamila Mitchell, played club softball for six seasons and this year she will also suit up for the highly-competitive Bowie Blue Jays travel team.
The pace of Laurel's game will surely pick up with more strikeouts and fewer walks, making Provino less nervous as she stalks the sidelines.
Even after going a respectable 13-6 last year, Woodall's presence has raised the expectations even higher for the Spartans.
"I think she will be up there with the Bowie and (Eleanor) Roosevelt pitchers," Provino explained. "Her ball moves a lot and she's got a lot more speed than any pitcher I've ever had at Laurel. She actually knows how to pitch. She is very confident. She should help our defense, too."
Provino has had to train pitchers in past years — which is not the ideal situation.
"At Laurel, we never get pitchers," the coach said. "I lose all of our pitchers to Roosevelt and Pallotti. I usually have to take a girl who want to learn to pitch and teach her."
Woodall, who will bat fourth in the lineup, figures to get plenty of support from a Spartans' offense that will pack a powerful punch.
Laurel returns several standout hitters from a lineup that batted around .400 last season.
The offense features senior catcher/shortstop Zelle Ndika, Mitchell, a senior first baseman, senior second baseman Dani Conway, senior third baseman Hayley Henkin and freshman shortstop Katie Cardinal.
"I think we will have a better lineup this year," Provino said. "I have a lot of strong bats coming back. When I look at my top five hitters — they are all power hitters that get extra bases with almost every hit."
The offense starts with Ndika, who bats leadoff and sparks Laurel with her scrappy play. She hit .563 last year and earned Second-Team All-County honors.
"She is always getting on base and she is very fast," Provino said.
Mitchell, who hits fifth, will also be a big part of the lineup after hitting .413 last year.
In addition, Conway will be a thumper in the lineup.
"She bats third, is a strong power hitter and gets a lot of RBIs," Provino said.
The infield defense looks promising. Ndika, Mitchell, Conway and Henkin return as starters. They're joined in the lineup by Cardinal and sophomore catcher Jamie Snider.
"I think our infield will be really solid," Provino said. "They all have good arms and good foot work."
The outfield is a less settled than the infield.
Junior Tia Craft, a returning starter, will move from left to center.
She will be joined in the outfield by senior Sankofa Ray and junior Bridgett Edman.
"I am putting my speedy girls out there and we'll see what they can do," Provino said. "I want them to use their speed to their advantage and keep everything in front of them."
Freshman second baseman Sharon Gilbertz and two players promoted from last year's junior varsity, sophomore outfielder Adrianna Little and junior second baseman Alyssa Moser, hope to contribute.
"This year, we have a better chemistry than we have had in the past," Provino said. "And the freshmen are very eager and very coachable."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun