HOOSICK, N.Y. >> The Hoosick Falls Central School softball team has a familiar face coming back to coach them this season.
After three seasons away from coaching, Charlie Weeden is back coaching Hoosick Falls, returning for his 19th season as the leader of the Panthers.
"It's great to be back coaching the team again," Weeden said. "I always wanted to get back to coaching after I retired and felt that I could still help the team win, so I'm very happy to be back coaching Hoosick Falls."
Weeden takes over a Panther squad that went through a lot of struggles in 2015, finishing with a 5-14 record and not qualifying for the Section II, Class B tournament for the third straight season.
"The team had a tough season last year, so I knew that there were things we had to work on to begin the season," Weeden said. "I also had to see in general what we overall had on the team, too. So it was a very instructional and competitive preseason for us."
Even with their recent years of struggles, the Panthers come into the season very upbeat and focused on having a better year in 2016.
This season the Panthers are led by their top two players on the team in seniors Erika Quackenbush and Alyssa Ellis.
Quakenbush enters the season as the ace of the Panthers pitching staff, having over four years of varsity experience at Hoosick Falls.
"Erika is great solid option for us at the top of our rotation," Weeden said. "She has gone through some ups and downs and injuries the past few seasons, but she has looked really good this preseason and is on track to have very good season for us."
Besides being on the mound for the Panthers, Quakenbush will also play center field for Hoosick Falls and is one of the team's top four hitters at the plate as well.
After a great junior year for the Panthers in 2015, Alyssa Ellis returns as Hoosick Falls' top hitter once again in 2016 and will be one of the best hitters in the Wasaren League this season, too, Weeden feels.
"Alyssa is a great hitter and can hit both for contact and power," Weeden said. "The ball just flies off her bat and from what she has done at the plate the past couple season, she is right up there as one of the best hitters in the conference."
In the field, Ellis joins Quakenbush atop the Panther pitching rotation as another ace for Hoosick Falls and will play center field too when she is not pitching.
A couple other key players returning for Hoosick Falls this season will be juniors Sydney Miller and Lizza Ryan, both of whom will be manning the left side of infield with Miller playing third base and Ryan playing shortstop.
The two of them will also hit in the top four spots in the Panthers lineup this season, as both Miller and Ryan had good years for Hoosick Falls at the plate last season.
Senior Abigail Gilson returns as the Panthers' second baseman this season as well.
Some newcomers to the Panthers lineup this season include junior Madeleine Atherton in left field, sophomore Stephanie Merwin in right field and eight grader Mackenzie Ellis, who steps in as the team's starting catcher in her first year on varsity this season.
All three players are expected to make big contributions at their positions in the field and at the bottom of the Panthers lineup this season.
Senior Catherine Whitman will also be a key player for Hoosick Falls, starting for the first time on varsity this season after winning the first baseman job during the preseason.
"We have a lot of girls that haven't gotten a lot of varsity time over the years that are going to be major contributors for us this season," Weeden said. "It's been great seeing a lot of the competition and having fun doing so during the preseason and I am really looking forward to seeing how they do this season."
As the Panthers prepare for their season opener on Monday at against conference rival Mechanicville, the team has set the goal to break the three-year drought and make sectional this season.
"I told the girls and they agreed that our goal is to make sectional and finish with a .500 record or better," Weeden said. "Most importantly, though, we all talked about how we want to have fun playing together this season and have the mind-set to work hard and give max effort out there on the field. Those are what I expect from the team and I can't wait to see how we do this season."
First pitch for the Panthers' season opener against Mechanicville on Monday is scheduled for 4:15 p.m.