SALT LAKE CITY — The high school softball season gets underway this week, and it begins with a bang as over 50 teams flock to St. George to participate in multiple tournaments this Friday and Saturday.
Those tourneys will provide a great early test for coaches breaking in new staters.
As the season begins, all five state champs from last year begin the year ranked No. 1 in the Deseret News preseason coaches poll — Herriman, Box Elder, Bear River, Grantsville and Gunnison.
Here’s a closer look at each classification heading into the season.
Defending state champion Herriman opens the season as the preseason No. 1 in the Deseret News coaches poll, and for good reason. The Mustangs were perfect in the state tournament last year, and two of the key contributors from that squad — Libby Parkinson and Sydnee Hoffman — are both back after being named first team all-state.
Winning region is the first priority, and that’s always difficult in Region 3 with teams like Taylorsville, Copper Hills and Riverton. A year ago, Herriman won the region despite two losses.
Parity will likely be the theme throughout the season across the deep 6A classification.
Rounding out the preseason top five after Herriman are Bingham, Syracuse, Copper Hills and Davis.
Bingham graduated nine seniors last year, but coach Mikki Jackson said the Miners will still be very competitive despite the young squad.
“With a freshman and sophomore heavy crew, there will be some learning to do but Bingham is not without tools to compete,” said Jackson, who said sophomore Emily Dority will be the ace of staff that also includes strong sophomores Averi Hanny and Paige Braunbeck.
Also back for Bingham is returning first team all-state outfield Aubree Hogan.
Pleasant Grove finished just outside the top five in the preseason rankings and will push Bingham for the Region 4 title.
In Region 1, the race for the league title should be very competitive between last year’s 6A runner-up Syracuse and Davis.
Syracuse gets the early nod with six key contributors from last year’s team, even though coach Kelly Anderson said his team might start the season slow as many players are changing positions.
“Looking forward to coaching this group because they have a lot of potential and could make a strong run in region and state if the pieces fall into place,” said Anderson.
Copper Hills second-year coach John Flores really likes his mix of experienced players and youth, highlighted by returning all-stater Makaiya Gomez.
He said if the players rally behind one another, the Grizzlies will challenge Herriman in Region 3 and be a factor at state.
Kearns finished outside the preseason top five statewide rankings, but it heads into the season as the Region 2 favorite.
Box Elder had a storybook ending last season winning three games on the final day of the season to claim the state title.
This year, the Bees begin the season as the preseason No. 1 in 5A, but there will be a bit of a learning curve with new faces throughout the lineup.
“After graduating six seniors, we have had to do a bit of shifting around throughout our starting lineup,” said Box Elder coach Taleas Marble. “We have quite a few underclassmen who haven't seen a lot of varsity time but were able to see what it takes to win last year and have the drive to achieve it.”
Bountiful begins the season ranked No. 2 in 5A behind Box Elder. Bountiful won the Region 5 title ahead of Box Elder last year, but lost twice to the Bees at the state championships to finish as runner-up.
Bountiful coach Butch Latey said defense will be the strength of his team.
West checks in at No. 3 in the preseason rankings, a team coach Keith Lopati characterized as the best collective group of players he’s coach at West.
“It all begins with our seniors. They go, we go. The passion and commitment these young ladies show for the game of softball is incredible to witness and be a part of,” Lopati said.
Rounding out the Deseret News preseason top five are Maple Mountain and Springville from Region 8.
Maple Mountain has a young pitching staff, but coach Jackie Carnesecca is excited about the potential of the young team.
Region 7 is the only team without a team in the 5A preseason rankings, but Corner Canyon begins the season as the slight favorite ahead of Cottonwood.
The state’s largest classification is loaded with question marks heading into the season.
Preseason No. 1 Bear River graduated most of its varsity contributors from last year’s title team, with the biggest void at pitcher.
Second-ranked Spanish Fork lost the meat from its potent lineup but has an elite pitcher to fall back on in Jordyn Bate.
Tooele begins the year ranked third as it will lean on the sophomore arm of Attlyn Johnston, a first-team all-stater last year.
Uintah, the preseason No. 4, might return the most experience of the top contenders.
“I am very excited for this year’s team. We have six seniors this year, so we are going to have a lot of experience on the field. I think that experience they bring to the field will play a major role in how successful we are this season,” said Uintah coach Maddy Keel.
Cedar rounds out the top five, but like the top teams only has a couple returning varsity starters.
An ace is always the best remedy for uncertainty, and that could give Spanish Fork and Tooele the nod at least early in the season.
Bear River coach Calvin Bingham doesn’t have that obvious ace with the graduation of Ms. Softball Kapri Toone, but he’s excited about his team’s chances nonetheless.
“We are dealing with some injuries that will require younger players to step up in order for us to be successful. We feel that we have a capable young team that will get better as we get experience. How fast, that is the question,” said Bingham, who is entering his 20th season.
Grantsville dominated the revamped 3A last year going 18-0 against teams within its own classification and not really getting tested in five state tourney wins either.
The Cowboys feature another strong team this season, one that coach Heidi Taylor is looking forward to coaching.
“We have six seniors this year, (and) they are each a ton of fun. They know how to work hard when it is time to, they set the bar high and they are great leaders. We have experience in our junior and sophomore class as well which we believe helps us out quite a bit,” said Taylor.
Union, North Sanpete, Carbon and Manti round out the preseason top five rankings in the Deseret News.
Union was the runner-up to Grantsville at state last year, and with seven eight returning starters from last year the Cougars should challenge for 3A supremacy this year.
“Lot of returning and new experienced talent to make our team stronger than last year. Very dedicated and disciplined team with great team chemistry. Union will continue to work hard and push for a successful year,” said Union coach Evah Taylor.
“Like everyone, we are excited for this season. 3A is loaded with some very strong teams this year and it is going to be a battle every game. Our team has a few holes to fill but our girls have been working hard and our goal is just to continue to get better each day,” said Bailey.
Defending state champion Gunnison returns five first team all-staters and that experience made the Bulldogs the obvious choice among most in the Deseret News preseason coaches poll.
“With eight returning starters, we look to pick up where we left last year. We have three pitchers that will that will help us in the circle. Our lineup will be strong. Our tough nonregion schedule should help provide us with some good games to get us the experience we need to make a run at the title again,” said coach Tyson Brackett.
Enterprise, Beaver, Duchesne and Parowan round out the top five.
Gunnison beat Enterprise twice during last year’s state tournament and multiple state tourney showdowns could be in store again this year.
For Enterprise, all of its tops contributors from last year are returning, and every time they step on the field they’ll take the memory of their old coach with them.Comment on this story
“Coach Duane Wallin passed away last fall after coaching Enterprise for more than a decade. He left a great legacy and the girls are determined to work hard and hopefully win a state championship for Wallin. We have a good group of hardworking girls with everyone returning from last season and look to make a run at the state title,” said new Enterprise coach Katye Jones.
Beaver should be in the thick of the state title chase with multiple returning all-staters, including three who just won a state title with Beaver’s girls basketball team.
“We have a solid group returning from our team last year. Our seniors this year are capable leaders and are excited and enthusiastic about getting back on the diamond and getting to work,” said Beaver coach Dallin Clove.