A week into the first high school softball season with Class 6A, and already it’s shaping up to be competitive across the state.
Realignment has had a major impact on every classification with numerous teams moving up and down a classification. Class 4A could benefit the most in quality with the consolidation of some of the top programs into the state all into the same classification.
Bingham, West, Bear River, Grantsville and Gunnison begam the season ranked No. 1 in their respective classifications in the Deseret News coaches preseason rankings.
Here’s a closer look at each classification heading into the season.
Without defending champion West participating in the state’s highest classification this season, there’s an obvious power shift in Class 6A toward the southwest corner of Salt Lake Valley.
Bingham, Herriman and Copper Hills begin the season as the top three teams in the Deseret News coaches preseason rankings, and they’re talented enough and experienced enough to remain there all season.
Bingham is the clear front-runner. Led by returning first team all-state pitcher Nicole Wall, the Miners return a bevy returning senior contributors from last year’s 5A runner-up team.
“Having been to the finals last year, the team certainly hopes their experience will help them return, but knows that it won’t be easy. With strong teams all around, we will have to work harder than ever to fend off the talented contenders in 6A,” said Bingham coach Mikki Jackson.
Bingham’s pitch staff also includes talented senior Karly Wightman and freshman Emily Dority. Their battery mate, Kenadee Moore, was a second-team all-state catcher last season.
Coach Jackson believes depth will be the key to a strong season.
“The team’s strength is not in a single or even a couple flashy superstars but rather a solid group of players that take care of the routine plays. All of them have contributed ‘big moments’ at various times during their careers with many innings of solid ball between those heroic moments,” said Jackson.
Bingham’s top competition will come from softball rivals Herriman and Copper Hills.
Herriman beat Bingham 9-1 in last year’s nonregion game, but was eliminated by the Miners in the one-loss bracket. It returns two key players from that squad, returning first team all-state shortstop April Visser and returning second-team pitcher Elizabeth Parkinson.
The Mustangs struggled a bit last weekend at the Tournament of Champions in Nevada against teams from warmer climates, going 1-4 over the three-day tourney. That experience should pay off as it returns to Utah with a tough schedule this week.
Copper Hills finished third at last year’s state tourney, and expectations are just as high under first-year coach John Flores, who was previously an assistant coach at Bingham.
First baseman Kaci Bobo is a returning all-stater from last year, while catcher Portia Price and outfielder Makaiya Gomez are returning second teamers.
“(Coaching change) could be an obstacle for the team to overcome this year, but the experience of the players, their desire to be on the field, their willingness to not let the obstacle impact them and their new coaches should have them ready to compete again at a high level,” said Flores.
Up North in Region 1, Davis, Syracuse and Fremont figure to be in the hunt all season for the region crown, while in Region 2 Kearns is the frontrunner.
West’s powerful offense is loaded again this season, and the defending state champs are the clear favorite to repeat again this year.
Huntyr Ava was the Deseret News 5A MVP last year after finishing with a .594 batting averaging with 21 home runs and 66 RBI as a sophomore.
She’s back along with returning first-team all-state infielder Jazmyn Rollin, who batted .600 with 16 HR and 47 RBI a year ago.
“The expectations placed on our returners are to be a better team than we were last year. We return a number of experienced players who love the game. Our number goal each year for the past three years is to ‘Win as 1,’ said West coach Keith Lopati. “We work very hard on the execution of the game, developing the talented group of players that come to us and most importantly, we have fun.”
That fun translated onto the scoreboard as West averaged 11.9 runs per game last season.
Other key returning players for the Panthers are Mikayla Ulibarri and Keisha White.
Box Elder, Maple Mountain, Bountiful and Springville followed West in the Deseret News coaches preseason rankings, and among them Box Elder seems to the most likely to give West a run for its money.
Box Elder ace Brylee Marziale was a first team all-state pitcher last year, and this season Nyah DeRyke is a complementary arm on the mound for the Bees.
There’s no shortage of bats either with Marziale, Ali Ellertson, Mallory Merrill and Marcen O’Neal.
“We have a lot of returning talent this year with a big senior class. This senior class has worked well with each other over the past three years and I am excited to see their leadership and hard work show in this coming season,” said coach Taleas Marble.
Box Elder will get a big test throughout region play from Bountiful, which should be very good despite starting numerous underclassmen this season.
Senior returning all-stater McHailee Danner will be counted on for great leadership after she’s coming off a 20-7 season on the mound last year.
For Region 8 front-runner Maple Mountain, third basemen Mickie Mills is the backbone this season as she batted .460 last year. Springville has the depth to compete for the Region 8 title as well.
Realignment’s biggest impact could be felt in 4A, with numerous juggernaut programs converging together this season.
Spanish Fork beat Uintah in last year’s 4A title, but neither school made the jump to 5A. Now they’ll participate in a classification that includes last’s 3A runner-up and traditional power Bear River, along with other strong programs like Tooele, Stansbury, Ridgeline and Lehi.
And it’s foolish to overlook Cedar and Desert Hills either, two Southern Utah programs who return many of their top players from a year ago.
“This will be a difficult year playing in what many deem as the deepest classification in softball. Our team could be good but will need to really work to try to push into the upper level of the teams in 4A,” said Ridgeline coach Michael Anderson.
Bear River began the year ranked No. 1 in the Deseret News coaches preseason rankings based in large part on returning all-stater Kapri Toone. She posted an 18-5 record and a 2.07 ERA last year and boasts one of the top arms in the state.
Taylor Fox and Mercedes Call are two other returning all-staters for Bear River.
Spanish Fork has won three state 4A titles, but the catalyst to that success, Cambrie Hazel, graduated. She was the 4A MVP her sophomore and junior seasons and last year’s Ms. Softball.
Coach Don Andrews believes his team has the potential to be contenders again, but acknowledges, “we have to find someone to replace Cambrie Hazel.”
Among the players who could take on those reigns are seniors Mallory Barber and Jordyn Bate and then junior Brylee Rudd, all of who were first team all-staters last year.
The Region 11 race figures to be very competitive between Tooele and Stansbury, with Payton Hammond and Lindsey Allie leading the way respectively for those two teams.
In Region 12, Ridgeline hopes to push Bear River for the region title led by returning first team all-staters Mailee Jensen and Mya Washington.
Uintah lost to Spanish Fork in last year’s title game, and despite graduating numerous key seniors expectations remain high.
“We have a lot of talented girls on the team and I am excited to see what they can accomplish together,” said coach Maddy Keel.
The battle for the Region 9 title should be tight all year. Desert Hills returns all-state pitcher Brianna St. Clair, who had a 1.46 ERA last season, while Dream Weaver is the leader of a strong Cedar team as she returns following a season in which she batted .652.
With a pair of returning state champs and several other strong programs, realignment has created a very top heavy Class 3A this year.
Defending 3A champion Grantsville didn’t make the jump to 4A like many of its old rivals, and instead headlines a strong contingent of teams this season that includes Manti, Union and defending 2A state champion South Summit.
“We lost four very important seniors to graduation, three of our top four batters and our pitcher and catcher. After the successful season our basketball team had, I am hoping we can just keep rolling with that success. I am confident that we will have some younger players step up and help take the lead,” said Grantsville coach Heidi Taylor.
Grantsville’s girls basketball team finished third at state this year, and expectations for the softball team should be higher. Juniors Addison Smith and Hannah Butler were second-team all-staters last year and could emerge as the strength of the team this year.
South Summit won last year’s 2A title with a senior-laden squad, but coach Cody Bowen believes there’s enough talent to compete at the top of 3A a year later.
“Our team has some great returning players from last year. We will be quick and very athletic. We have some new young girls filling in for some big shoes we have lost to graduation but are excited to move to 3A and look forward to a competitive enjoyable season,” said Bowen.
Manti was one of the top contenders in 2A a year ago, and it could be an even bigger force this season with four players returning who were either all-state first teamers and second teamers. Leading the way are first teamers Madison Cox and Jayda Shaw.
“We are excited to be competing in the new 3A classification. This particular group of girls have been playing with each other for a long time. The important thing for us is to stay healthy,” said coach Susan Hatch.
Over the past 18 years only five different teams have won the 2A state softball title — South Summit, San Juan, Manti, Grand and Juan Diego. Not one of them is in 2A anymore with the latest UHSAA alignment.
Their departure opens the door for numerous other programs who’ve never tasted softball success to fight it out for the state title this spring.
Beaver was the runner-up to South Summit a year ago, while Gunnison finished fourth. Along with Enterprise, they’re the three front-runners heading into the season.
“We have some good experience returning with our position players, but we have a few big spots that will need to be filled for us to compete with the best teams in our region and in the classification,” said Enterprise coach Dallin Clove. “With some good, young talent in our program we are looking forward to the process of getting to work and finding the girls that want to step in and contribute at the varsity level."
Gunnison won its region title last year, and only graduated one senior as coach Tyson Brackett has a strong squad returning again this season.