GROTON -- Numbers have dwindled over the past couple of seasons as the Crusaders have not had enough players in its program to field both a junior varsity and varsity program.
The 2014 installment of Groton-Dunstable softball will have just 11 players on its active roster.
"Despite the losses from last year, I think we have a solid team," head coach Derek Asadoorian said. "We are going to be competitive and are trying to get back to districts. We missed the playoffs the last couple of years. We don't miss consecutively often, and so we are making a big push to get back."
Groton-Dunstable graduated its leadoff hitter in center fielder Jen Johnson and utility player Olivia Lexo. Three other players chose not to return to the program for other reasons, but Asadoorian is confident in the small group he has.
"At this point early on in the season it has been hard to evaluate, but early indications are that we are going to be a good hitting team," he said. "We look better than we have in a while in terms of consistency throughout the lineup. There aren't a lot of easy outs. A lot of our kids can hit for power."
Asadoorian's projected opening day lineup features Bucknell-bound senior catcher Celina Antonellis in the leadoff spot. Antonellis, a captain and two-time league All-Star, has outstanding versatility, blazing speed and unmatched leadership ability. Fellow captain, senior Annika Liljegren, is gunning to build off a successful junior campaign.
In right field and in the three hole is senior Erin Olson who is coming off a rocky spring in 2013. Olson was named a league All-Star as a sophomore and has solid speed both on the basepaths and in the field.
Batting clean-up will be senior pitcher Alyssa Ash. Likely the opening day starter, Ash is a force to be reckoned with both in the circle and in the batter's box. Ash pitches and hits for power causing mismatches for opponents. Ash is the Crusaders' biggest threat to crush balls out of the park.
Groton-Dunstable has had a couple of scrimmages on the turf at Chelmsford last week and inside the Hampshire Dome in Milford, N.H.
Wednesday's scrimmage with Chelmsford was the first time this season the Crusaders have been outside and battled with the elements.
"We looked really good on our first day out," the coach said. "Certainly, there is some rust in the field, but that's because we don't have any legitimate practice fielding. I am encouraged with what I am seeing thus far."
The pivotal group of the Crusaders' lineup and bench include the core group of sophomores that include No. 5 hitter, starting shortstop Rose O'Malley, No. 6 Laura Bieren and Emily Figueroa.
O'Malley is in the running to be a designated hitter.
"The sophomores played for me last year and they performed really well," Asadoorian said. "For me, the season that those three have will determine how we end up -- that's how I feel. Three great kids who are really into softball and that year of experience as freshmen really helped them. I told them that they as sophomores are the juniors -- we have no juniors.
They've been set with the expectation that they will step up, and I have every bit of confidence that they will do that."
Sophomore Caroline Thompson is tabbed as Asadoorian's most improved player.
Thompson is competing for time at second base. Challenging Thompson for playing time at second are Bieren and freshman Helen Killian.
Starting in the No. 8 spot in the lineup is starting senior third baseman Ariana Cho. Cho is committed with a high baseball IQ.
The Crusaders are poised for a berth in the postseason.
"Generally, the versatility of our kids is a big plus for us," Asadoorian said. "The kids like having fewer numbers because our practices are crisp. I think that this year with the cohesive group we have; we are getting a lot out of our time together. I think we are going to be solid all around.
"I think our defense is somewhat young," he said. "We are going to have to score more runs than in years past. I am encouraged and excited by the group of kids -- I am optimistic."
Groton-Dunstable is scheduled to open its season today at Westborough. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.
The Crusaders are slated to return home for their opener on Monday afternoon against Hudson depending on the condition of their field.