It's not often that a team fresh off winning a championship will return the following year with a very different look, but that will be exactly the case for the Chicago Bandits as they attempt to defend their National Pro Fastpitch championship beginning Wednesday against the Philadelphia Force at Judson University.
The Bandits rolled off 15 wins in a row to secure the title last August with a 6-4 win over the Washington Glory but experienced some big roster changes in the offseason.
2009 Chicago Bandits
Roster Laura Harms, IF
Vicky Galindo, 2B, 3B
Aileen Morales, 2B, SS
Kristie Fox, 2B, SS
Tammy Williams, IF
Stacy May, 3B
Amber Patton, 3B
Samantha Findlay, 1B
Cheyenne Jenks, 3B
Nicole Trimboli, OF 1B
Ashley Carlson, OF
Caitlin Lever, OF
Izmena Cabrera, OF
Jamie Schloredt, C
Rachel Folden, C
Kristina Thorson, P
Eileen Canney, P
Brandice Balschmiter, P
Jennie Finch, P
Note: Home games played at Judson University
The most publicized change on the team will be the return of superstar pitcher Jennie Finch, who along with infielder Vicky Galindo and outfielder Caitlin Lever come back after playing in the Beijing Olympics a year ago.
Unquestionably the most well-known softball player of all time, Finch posted a 7-2 mark and a 0.11 ERA with the Bandits in 2007.
A middle infielder, Galindo went 3-for-5 in limited action for Team USA. Lever hit 6-for-19 while playing outfield for Team Canada.
Finch will headline the starting rotation with returnee Kristina Thorson right behind her. Last year, Thorson went 12-5 with a 2.37 ERA.
Eileen Canney should also provide a boost to the starting rotation after going 13-10 with a 2.29 ERA for the now-defunct New England Riptide.
The Bandits lineup will feature most of last year's notables. Award winners Stacy May, Nicole Trimboli and Rachel Folden should do most of the heavy lifting in the lineup.
May, the NPF Player of the Year in 2008, returns to third base after batting .391 with 13 home runs and 34 RBIs, finishing in the top three in three categories.
Trimboli garnered the NPF Championship Series MVP award last year and hit .289 with 24 RBIs in the regular season while spending most of her time in the outfield.
Folden broke onto the NPF scene with a huge 2008, winning the Rookie of the Year award. The energetic catcher batted .311 with 11 home runs and 32 RBIs.
Offensive Player of the Year Jaime Clark retired after last year's championship season.
First baseman Samantha Findlay, outfielder Ashley Carlson and infielders Aileen Morales, Kristie Fox and Laura Harms also return.
The Bandits will also sport six rookies, including Big Ten Player of the Year Tammy Williams, an infielder from Northwestern. Williams broke the Wildcats' single-season records for batting average (.440) and on-base percentage (.538) last year. Draftees also include outfielder Izmena Cabrera, catcher Jamie Schloredt, pitcher Brandice Balschmiter and third baseman Amber Patton.
Mickey Dean returns for his fifth year at the helm. Dean and his assistants were named Coaching Staff of the Year in 2008.