This year's softball season will mirror last year's in one significant way the teams that do well will have consistently solid hitting.
In preseason polls, many of last year's top squads are expected to be in the title chase again, but most coaches agree what batters can do for a team will be critical in separating from the pack.
Most coaches expect defending 5A state champion Taylorsville to be one of the top teams again. The Warriors started the season with a solid win over Bingham but stumbled last week against Riverton, a squad that lost a number of key seniors.
"It's different having everybody back," said Warriors head coach Rich Kaelin. And he admits that while the team returned most of last year's state championship lineup, there are still holes to fill.
"Even though we didn't lose a lot, we have five new players, and we're still adjusting to playing together this year," he said. "We still have a few holes in our batting lineup, but we're just working to get better every game."
Kaelin said this year's team has great chemistry and is a lot of fun to coach. Taylorsville is led by last year's 5A MVP and the Gatorade Player of the Year, catcher Cyd Allen, who will play for BYU next year. Senior shortstop Tia Palauni, who signed with Utah, anchors the defense, while senior Marqi Gray, outfield and catcher, has committed to SLCC. Six of Taylorsville's seven seniors have committed to play college softball.
"I actually don't feel any pressure," Kaelin said. "This year will be a lot like last year. I expect everybody to score a lot of runs, and the team that makes the least amount of errors will be winning ... We're just going to relax and have fun."
The Silverwolves may have lost some senior leadership, but they are playing some of their most consistent softball. The team is led by junior Kelsi Hoopiiaina, pitcher Sami Powell and outfielder Sandy Bowles.
"The funnest thing about this team is the battles at practice," said Riverton coach Emily Cederholm. "We've got a group that wants to work hard."
Bingham, with two solid pitchers in Cienna Smith and Tori Almond, will also be in the chase again. Region 3 maybe the toughest top to bottom with Hunter, led by pitcher Saphina Butler and hitters like Latiesha Webster, Copper Hills, a young but very promising squad, and West Jordan, a group of solid athletes, all capable of competing with the state's best.
Last year's runner-up, Spanish Fork, will be back with most of the 2007 line-up and a lot more experience. The Dons are athletic and versatile with a deep batting order that features hitters like Whitney Holm, Katelyn Elliott, Lindsee Thurgood and Tina Ferguson and pitchers like Deven Baum.
Fremont is always tough and Viewmont will rely on the pitching talent of Shelbi Tyteca.
This may be the first year Tooele hasn't started the season ranked No. 1 in the last five years. The Buffalo, winners of four of the last five 3A state softball championships, make the jump to 4A and started the season ranked second behind defending 4A champs Murray.
The Buffalo have a very solid cast of players including Matti Snow and Lauren Folta. They lost one out-of-state game and a 3-0 contest to 5A's Bingham in preseason play but will be tough to beat in region play.
The Spartans lost some valuable seniors but will be returning some athletic players in Lyndi Miller, Monica Moffitt and Jackie Cooley. The only two losses Murray has are to out-of-state teams.
Sky View may be the surprise of the season but thanks to solid hitting and great pitching by Kelsey Naylor, the Bobcats are ranked third and expected to contend for the Region 5 title.
Snow Canyon always has a tough program and should make the jump to 4A without losing much ground. Look for Payson, Timpview and Mountain View to be strong this season, as well as Bountiful and Roy. Cyprus or Box Elder could be sleepers this season.
After finishing second last season, most coaches thought Hurricane would be a contender again this year despite a coaching change. They return a number of solid players, including senior pitcher Megan Clyde, Jordan Ha, Tia Bringhurst, Natalie Hoyt and Chantelle Whiting.
"We will be really young on defense," said coach Aaron Esplin. "Offense should be our strong point. ... As a first-year coach, I couldn't ask for a better group of girls to work with."
Grantsville is taking their success on the basketball court to the softball field with a tremendous start that includes wins over programs like Snow Canyon. The Cowboys have no seniors, but have solid athletes like Korryn Coates, Kelsi Wells, Annie Young and Lynzie Valdez.
Bear River returns just three players from last year's third-place squad, but are expected to be in the mix with solid leaders like Shawnee Christensen, Kelsey Hodge and Josei Summers.
Cedar, Juan Diego, Judge, Emery, Carbon, Union and Uintah could also be in the mix this season.
Manti softball looks to win it's fourth title in a row, which will be difficult given the competition in 2A this season and the fact that they lost six seniors of last year's title team. This year's squad is led by Alyssa Murray, Felicia Bailey, McKenzie Hatch and Kaitlyn Hatch.
San Juan will be in the mix with players like Janera Nelson, while South Sevier will also be a contender. The Rams are led by Aubrey Lindgren and Megan Dowell and are young after losing six seniors last season.
Juab looks to build on last year's success behind the athleticism of players like Jordan Gurney and Amy Johnson. Expect Enterprise to do well behind the pitching of Samantha Wallin. North Summit will make some noise behind the play of Ashlin Olsen, Kelli Stuart and Britney Vernon.North Sevier, Parowan, Grand, Richfield and American Leadership could also be in the mix this season.