The top 15 high school softball players in the Rockford area for 2022

Belvidere's McKenna Morris pitches against Sycamore in the second inning at Belvidere High School Thursday, June 3, 2021, in Belvidere.
Matt Trowbridge
Rockford Register Star

Softball is always one of the stronger sports in the Rockford area.

Last season was no different, highlighted by the rise of Oregon and North Boone in the Big Northern, Durand in the NUIC longtime NUIC power Orangeville finally winning its first state trophy, taking third in Class 1A and 27 local players being named either first- second- or third-team all-state in one of the four classes by the Illinois Coaches Association.

This year should be even better, with eight of the 12 Rockford Register Star all-area picks returning.

Here are the top 15 area players to watch for the 2022 softball season, listed in alphabetical order:

Belvidere North's Alex Blair gets set to take a cut during a Blue Thunder softball game this past season. Blair ran off with the Rockford Register Star high school Athlete of the Week on May 28, 2021.

Alex Blair, Belvidere North

The junior centerfielder made second-team all-state in Class 3A as a sophomore as well as the Rockford all-area team. She hit .506 with an OPS of 1.392, four home runs, 23 RBIs and 33 runs. She also stole 15 bases. “One of the big things about her that all coaches love is she doesn’t try to do too much with the pitch,” Belvidere North coach Brian Hilden said. “She is more than willing to use any field and spray the ball around. That makes her a tough out.”

Kara Erdmann, Forreston

Erdmann, a Michigan State volleyball recruit, is also a dominant left-handed pitcher. She struck out 15 in a 3-2 regional loss to powerful Pearl City last year and is the No. 1 reason Forreston won the NUIC South title at 16-2 overall, 10-0 in the conference. She finished 12-2 with a 1.43 ERA and 133 strikeouts in 83 innings as a junior, when she also hit .472 and set a school record with 20 stolen bases. "She's a gamer," Forreston coach Kim Snider said. "She wants the ball in her hand and she wants to make something happen for her team to win."

North Boone's  Danielle Goodman catches a pitch in the third inning of their game against Stillman Valley in Davis Junction Thursday, May 6, 2021. North Boone won the game 13-2.

Danielle Goodman, North Boone

The sophomore catcher has a huge, huge bat. She belted 14 home runs and batted .668 with 60 RBIs as a freshman to help North Boone finish one game out of what would have been its first conference softball title in history. "Purest hitter and athlete I have ever been around," North Boone coach Tim Fleming said. "And not only can she do a bunch of damage with her bat, she is just as good as a catcher."

Lexi Goodman, North Boone

The oldest of the three Goodman sisters in North Boone's lineup is a senior pitcher. She was 9-4 with with a 1.75 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 84 innings last year. She also batted .384. "Lexi is a great all-around player for us," coach Tim Fleming said. "Her leadership makes her a strong player."

Cheyenne Handsaker, Pearl City 

The dominant senior pitcher should lead the area in strikeouts this season after fanning 200 in 107 1/3 innings as a junior. Handsaker (12-4, 0.98 ERA) struck out 14 in a 3-2 regional title win over NUIC South champion Forreston, struck out 16 in a 5-4 sectional semifinal win over NUIC North co-champ Durand and then nine in a 4-3 sectional title loss to Orangeville, the other NUIC co-champ which went on to take third in state. “She will be one of the best pitchers in the state this year for Class 1A,” Orangeville coach Lon Scheuerell said. “She has great control and good velocity and is very experience.”

Orangeville runner Tessa Janecke slides safely into second as Durand's Rachel Nevdal misses the catch during their game at Nick Saelens Memorial Park Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Durand.

Tessa Janecke, Orangeville

Janecke, now a senior, leads another powerhouse Orangeville team. The Broncos return five of their top 10 players from last year’s team that finished third in the state. Janecke led Orangeville in batting (.597), homers (9) and doubles (10), runs (44) and even RBIs (33) despite batting leadoff. The shortstop/pitcher was also the team’s No. 2 pitcher, going 4-0 with a 2.20 ERA and 27 strikeouts with 15 walks in 35 innings. She will likely take a bigger role on the mound this year with Tori Plowman having graduated.

Oregon's Bella Koertner catches a ball in deep center field in the seventh inning in Oregon on Monday, May 24, 2021. Stillman Valley won 8-0.

Bella Koertner, Oregon

Koertner, a senior third baseman and center fielder, was named third-team all-state last year. She led Big Northern co-champ Oregon in batting (.586), hits (58), runs (45) and on-base plus slugging (1.367).

Liz Mois, Oregon

Oregon’s junior catcher/outfielder made third-team all-state as a sophomore. She hit .413 last year, second on the team. and led the Hawks with six home runs and 10 doubles. She slugged .706, just behind Bella Koertner’s .727, for a team that won a share of its first conference title in over a decade.

Belvidere's McKenna Morris pitches against Sycamore in the fifth inning on Thursday, June 3, 2021, at Belvidere High School.

McKenna Morris, Belvidere

McKenna and her sister, McKyler, a third-team coach’s all-state pick, should also be Belvidere’s two biggest bats. But McKenna Morris on the mound is the biggest reason Belvidere should be a NIC-10 title contender.

“She’s tough to hit off,” Harlem coach Kurt Head said. “She’s not going to wow you if you are watching from the side. She doesn’t overpower you. But she does a good job of keeping you off balance and has a different motion. She mixes her speeds well, hits her spots and gives you a different look you don’t see from most pitchers.”

Morris hit .524 in NIC-10 games last year with 24 RBI, 3 homers, 9 doubles and 2 triples. She also was 8-3 in the conference as a pitcher, with a 2.63 ERA and 47 strikeouts.

"McKenna is a competitor and a great athlete," first-year Belvidere coach Amy Douglas said. "She has a desire to succeed and brings that energy on the mound and to the plate to set the tone for practice, games and our team."

Durand's Emmie Nyen pitches against Orangeville at Nick Saelens Memorial Park Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Durand.

Emmie Nyen, Durand

The senior pitcher was 10-3 with a 2.49 ERA last year despite only 34 strikeouts in 68 innings. S was named all-area  and led Durand to perhaps its best season in school history. The Bulldogs finished 15-4 and tied Orangeville, which finished third in the state, for the NUIC North title at 8-2. Their only other regional title came in 2015, when they finished 17-15. Their school record for wins is 18-7 in 2019. But last year is their highest winning percentage ever and a share of their first conference title. “She is a solid pitcher who throws strikes and is a consistent hitter at the plate,” Orangeville coach Lon Scheuerell said.

Macy Olson, Freeport

Olson led Freeport with 24 RBIs in 19 games last year and made third team all-state in Class 3A as a catcher. The senior will be moved to second base this year because she is dealing with a shoulder injury. “She’s a really good hitter. Good power. Good leader,” Freeport coach Chad Hersey said. “She’s been around the game forever. She does everything we could ask — except throw a ball now.”

Alaina Schwanke, Harlem

Schwanke was named third-team all-state by the Illinois Coaches Association as a freshman, making her one of the top 100 players in the state in Class 4A. She should be even more dominant for the defending NIC-10 and regional champions this year now that first-team all-state pitcher Cheyenne Nietz (21-1 last year) is playing in college for Valparaiso.

“I expect big things out of her as a pitcher,” Harlem coach Kurt Head said of Schwanke. “That is her primary position, but the kid can play anywhere. I can play her anywhere in the infield. She played a heck of an outfield for us last year and she isn’t even an outfielder, but we needed someone in the outfield.”

Mia Trampel, Oregon

Trampel, a senior pitcher, made all-area and second-team all-state last season. She was 15-2 with two saves, a 0.73 ERA and 241 strikeouts in 151 innings.

Stillman Valley's Addison Wythe pitched a three-hit shutout with 12 strikesouts and no walks in an 8-0 victory over Oregon on Monday, May 24, 2021.

Addison Wythe, Stillman Valley

Wythe and Oregon’s Mia Trampel were the Big Northern Conference pitchers of the year last season. Wythe has been Stillman’s No. 1 pitcher for all four years and will play for NCAA Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point next year. “She’s just an all-around good player,” Stillman coach Shawn Byers said. “She can pitch. She can hit. Great kid.”

Taylor Zehe, Boylan

The senior catcher led Boylan in batting (.528), hits (28), RBIs (24), homers (2) and doubles (5) as a junior. She is also strong defensively. “Boylan has the best catcher in the conference in Taylor Zehe,” Freeport coach Chad Hersey said.

Matt Trowbridge is a Rockford Register Star sports reporter. Email him at mtrowbridge@rrstar.com and follow him on Twitter at @MattTrowbridge. Sign up for the Rockford High School newsletter at rrstar.com.