The 2016 softball season is underway and after just a few weeks one thing is certain — the region races and state tournaments are going to be packed with great competition.
In 5A, the top three teams are from Region 4, with Riverton getting the No. 1 ranking thanks in large part to the team’s returning talent.
“We are going to be a strong team led by six experienced seniors who are all hungry for a state title,” said head coach Katelyn Elliott. “The depth of our team is incredible, which is so fun to have, but can make writing a lineup difficult for any coach.”
The team is led by returning pitcher Jordan Lockhart and senior catcher Katie Adler.
Elliott called the duo “a lethal pitcher/catcher combo.”
Also returning are senior infielder Al Houston, and senior outfielders HaylieJo Hansen and Kaitlynn Withers. Senior first baseman Sarah Linford will join them in making the Silverwolves a formidable defense of experienced, skilled players.
“These six seniors are going to be extraordinary leaders on this team,” Elliott said. “They all recognize the potential this team has this year, and they all have winning in mind.”
Defending state champion Lehi is ranked second and the Pioneers return a promising core of leadership and talent.
“Lehi has seven starters returning, including the up-and-coming sophomore Bailey Tahbo,” said head coach Tim Kennedy. “The team should battle in playing in the toughest region in 5A and perhaps the toughest non-region schedule.”
In addition to Tahbo, the Pioneers will rely on senior outfielder Emme Cluff, senior catcher Brogan Kirby, senior second baseman Abby Padilla, senior thirdbase/shortstop Rylin Roberts, senior pitcher Syd White and senior pitch/thirdbase Stefani Zimmerman.
Third-ranked Herriman is motivated by all the team accomplished last year, but also by what it did not.
“Herriman is hungry after losing to Lehi in the state tournament,” said head coach Heidi McKissick. “They are coming back with a tough team this year.”
The team returns senior pitcher Bryce Taylor and senior catcher Ashlyn Visser, as well as junior first baseman Mikaela Thomson, junior shortstop Dayna Hokanson and sophomore second baseman April Visser.
And of course, Herriman’s offense will be formidable top to bottom.
“The Mustangs’ bats are a threat to any team,” McKissick said.
Taylorsville and Fremont round out the pre-season top five, and both programs have long histories of success coupled with some talented standouts.
Ryley Ball, senior shortstop; Jessie Wilson, senior second baseman; and Mckenzie Cottle, senior outfielder will lead Fremont this season.
The defending 4A state champion Spanish Fork Dons start the season ranked No. 1. They return a promising core from last year’s title team, but their success this season will likely be determined by how the team’s younger players develop.
“We should have decent pitching and hitting,” said head coach Don Andrews. “But we will be young and inexperienced at some key positions. If our youth doesn’t get in our way, we have a chance to be a good team.”
Returning starters are junior pitcher Cambrie Hazel, senior catcher/firstbase Taylor Miller, senior outfielder Cheyanne Dowley and senior third baseman Kenzie Branch.
The Dons play in a tough region that includes softball powers like Springville, Maple Mountain (the team they beat for the 4A title last year), Salem Hills and Uintah.
Springville is ranked second, in large part because the Red Devils return nearly all of their returning starters from last year’s team.
“With the development of our younger players and almost all of our starters returning, coupled with a successful off-season we are anxious for the 2016 season to begin,” said head coach Jill Thackeray. “Despite playing in a extremely difficult region, we are excited to build off last year’s experiences and look forward to watching our team compete.” The Red Devils will be led by returners that include, senior pitcher Kaycie Jensen, junior catcher Natalie Sumsion, junior shortstop Mary Fredrickson and sophomore third baseman Rylee Harris.
Box Elder is ranked No. 3, while Bountiful is ranked No. 4 and Alta comes in at No. 5.
The Braves are replacing four seniors from last year’s team.
“We have five returning starters,” said head coach Butch Latey. “The strength of our team will be defense. Hopefully our hitting will improve throughout the year.”
Stansbury returns only five starters from last year’s team, but if the Stallions have proved anything by winning three straight 3A softball titles, it’s that the program develops players.
“We have five returning starters from last year's team, anchored by our infield which are all returning starters, not to mention a very fast outfield capable of tracking down balls,” said head coach Bridgett Clinton. “We are fairly young team this year, however we have very talented players and look to be competitive.”
The team Stansbury beat in that title game is ranked No. 2 — Bear River. While the Bears also lost a few key players, they retain a core of experienced players, who are off to a great start this season.
The Bears have five seniors with college scholarships — rightfielder Kylie Larkin (SLCC); centerfielder Brenna Hinck (Dixie State); second baseman Oakli Rhodes (UVU); pitcher/first base Kenzi Summers (UVU) and pitcher Sydnie Sorenson (Snow).
“This may be the best hitting team I’ve had,” said head coach Calvin Bingham. “I have eight girls hitting .400 or better. They’re just clobbering the ball."
But this year’s team is more than just a highly skilled group. They’re committed in every way. “This is a really good bunch,” he said. “The parents are supportive, the kids are coachable. And my outfield, and this is a bold statement, could compete with some college teams.” Two of those outfielders will play college softball next season, while sophomore Mercedes Call, the left fielder, made a name for herself by tying a high school softball record with 27 consecutive games with a hit. Call is batting .450 this season.
“They’re smart, they’re aggressive,” said Bingham. “This is a really talented bunch.”
Third-ranked Grantsville will be filling some of the vacancies left by graduation, but like Bear River and Stansbury, the Cowboys will be in the playoff mix.
“We graduated five starters last year so we have some pretty big shoes to fill,” said head coach Heidi Taylor. “We will be young with only three seniors. We have a lot of work to do, but I believe in this team and these ladies and am excited to see the progress they will make.”
The Cowboys will be led by senior shortstop Sarah Sandberg and senior left fielder Maria Sweat.
Tooele, ranked No. 4, and Juab, ranked No. 5, round out the top five.
In 2A, the top ranked team is Enterprise, a team that placed third last season.
“This year’s 2016 team will be strong on defense,” said head coach Duane Wallin. “We have good experience in almost every position.”
The Wolves have won the Region 13 title for the last nine seasons, and they’re hoping to earn that state title trophy.
“This group of girls has played together for a long time and has excellent coaching from little league on and came to us here at the high school very well prepared and ready for varsity action at an early age.”
The Wolves will be led by returning starters junior shortstop Lacy Drake, senior catcher Stacie Williams, senior third baseman Madison Laub and senior first baseman Shea Gardner.
The second-ranked team is defending 2A state champion South Summit. The team lost eight seniors from the title team, but with three returning starters, the program has a solid foundation.
“South Summit should be young and inexperienced but talented,” said head coach Cody Bowen. “Returning 2A MVP Hannah Peterson will return to the pitching circle and along with returning starters Desmyn Woolstenhulme and Elise Bush, (who) will lead a good batting line up having a nice combination of speed and power. South Summit will be playing in a tough Central Region and looks forward to an exciting year of softball.” Bush and Peterson are both juniors, while Woolstenhulme is a senior.
The third-ranked team is Manti.
The Templars are young but talented, and the program has a tradition of success upon which to build. “With only two seniors and one junior on the team, Manti will be very young this year,” said head coach Susan Hatch. “However, both the sophomore and freshman girls are strong players, who play well both defensively and offensively on the field.”
The Templars will be led by four-year starter Mikaela Cox, who will play shortstop this season, and senior Amanda Naylor and junior Meg Larson.
“Mikaela’s speed will be utilized both on offense and defense,” Hatch said. “(Naylor) is a great hitter, moves runners, and (Larson) is extremely fast in the outfield and on the bases.”
Gunnison and Grand round out the top five, and expect good things from traditional power San Juan, as well.