With spring weather in the air, the high school softball season kicks off this week as local schools will be competing in preseason games around the area before the games officially begin next week.

Though last year was viewed as a rebuilding year by coach Steve Constantino and the Venice High softball team, the Indians still found themselves playing against Fort Myers in the 7A District-11 Championship.

Venice lost that game, 8-1, but the growth the Indians showed across the 2018 season has Constantino and his players raising their expectations for this year — especially after the Green Wave have already set the template for success after winning the state tournament with seven starting sophomores two seasons ago.

This serves as plenty of motivation for an Indians team that includes eight sophomores and three freshman in 2019.

Here’s how the 2019 Venice softball team is shaping up…

Last year’s overall record: 14-12

District record: 5-4

Coach: Steve Constantino (4th season)

How last year ended: Venice’s 5-4 district record was good enough for second place among the four team in its district (Fort Myers, Charlotte, North Port) and the Indians had little trouble dispatching Charlotte, 12-1, in the district semifinals.

However, the Indians fell to the Green Wave in the district title game for the second straight year, and were promptly eliminated from the postseason by Estero in a 2-1 loss in the following game.

“I think last year was our jelling year because I was new and everyone was new,” senior catcher Kay Holland said, who transferred to Venice from Sarasota Christian last year. “This year, we all know each other and we’re comfortable around each other.

“I think that when it’s time, we’re gonna step it up. Everything is gonna go right, I feel, because everyone is friends with each other and we have no problems. I think it’s all gonna come together this year.”

Why this season will be different: Coming off a “rebuilding year,” Venice returns most of its impact players in 2019, who’ve now had an additional year of training, growth and maturity.

Along with the returners, the Indians will feature a talented crop of freshmen and deep pool of JV players, many of who Constantino said can be plug-and-play athletes if injuries occur.

“I give credit to these kids for coming in not knowing each other and being young, but not getting overwhelmed by the moment,” he said.

“But this year has to be better. This has to be the next step for us. We should be competing for a district championship this year and beyond if we can take that step up. It’s a maturity year for us. How much have you grown up, and how much work have you put in before you got here?”

Starting lineup: With such a deep roster of talent, Constantino said he hasn’t nailed down an everyday lineup just yet, but he expects big things from many of his returners, and some newcomers as well.

Specifically, look for Kayleigh Roper (3B), Becka Mellor (P), Antonia Rosa (CF), Kay Holland (C), Tatum McGrath (2B), Hailey Adrian (P), Karsyn Rutherford (P) and Micaela Hartman (P) to be players that Venice leans on in 2019.

Top players to watch: Antonia “Peanut” Rosa — If you’re looking for spectacular plays in the field or close calls on the bases, look no further than Rosa.

The senior centerfielder not only had a perfect fielding percentage last year, but also broke the school record for steals in a season and maintained over a .400 batting average all year from the leadoff position.

“Peanut Rosa comes back in centerfield for us,” Constantino said. “She’s been an outfield starter since she was a freshman. If Peanut gets the game started, offensively we’re in good shape. She will be a big part of our offense because we want to run and play fast, faster than we ever have.”

Kayleigh Roper — Just a freshman last year, Roper showed just how special she could be as she cemented herself as a regular star for Venice. The third basemen’s efforts have earned her a spot in the heart of the order and she looks to improve on a freshman year in which she hit several home runs.

“This monster over here, Kayleigh Roper, is special,” Constantino said. “There’s freaks in every sport and that’s a freak right there. We hope she’ll hit some more home runs for us this year.”

Becka Mellor — Also a freshman last season, Mellor quickly turned into the go-to pitcher for the Indians — throwing what Constantino estimates to 160 innings. She features a curveball (her best pitch), a screwball, a change up and a fastball, which she used to lead her to a dominant first season.

Not only does Mellor lead Venice on the mound, but she’s also no slouch with the bat, hitting second in the order for most of last season.

And she’s a bit more comfortable this year, after getting used to pitching at the varsity level and growing what she estimates to be two-to-three inches over the offseason.

“Becka ended up throwing a lot of innings last year, way too many especially for a freshman,” Constantino said. “And it was a lot of pressure. You don’t want to put that much pressure on a freshman, but we didn’t have any choice.

“We’re expecting her to have the same control again this year.”

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