When we asked coaches to name teams to watch this year in high school softball, the common theme in all three classes can be summed up in three words.
The usual suspects.
When that wasn’t the phrase they used on season preview sheets, coaches were listing teams that are perennial contenders for state tournament berths.
A look at team sheets from the perennials confirms those thoughts — rosters full of experienced starters and reserves who also saw plenty of playing time last season.
That’s why all four sets of preseason ratings look awfully similar to the final Top 10s published after the 2014 state tournament.
Millard South has earned the chance to start the season at the top of the All-Class and Class A ratings, though the Patriots lost nine seniors who led them to their fourth consecutive state championship.
The biggest void the Patriots need to address in their drive to five is at pitcher. Gone is three-year starter and All-Nebraska team captain Jordan Johnson, who has moved on to Central Missouri.
Patriots coach Steve Kerkman said he has plenty of faith in senior Ally Marcsisak to take over Johnson’s role as staff ace.
Kerkman noted Marcsisak had a 7-0 record last year and pitched in several tough situations, including Millard South’s first-round state tournament victory over Millard North.
The Mustangs, who host Millard South in today’s 4 p.m. season opener, sliced the Patriots’ lead from 7-0 to 7-5 after getting to Johnson. So Marcsisak came in and cooled off the Millard North bats.
“JJ only threw 21 of our 33 games,” Kerkman said. “Ally did a good job of coming in and holding things together in that game until we got our runs back.”
If the Patriots do get their fifth consecutive title on Oct. 16 in Hastings, it likely won’t come as easily as it did in a 31-2 campaign last season. Several teams are ready to pounce should the Patriots falter; Millard West, Omaha Marian, Papillion-La Vista and Lincoln North Star were listed most often as candidates.
It will be tough for Elkhorn to repeat in Class B now that pitcher Laura Roecker has moved on to UNO. There’s a good chance the title could stay in the same school district: Elkhorn South has its deepest team ever and Nebraska recruit Olivia Ferrell in the circle.
The path to state for the Antlers or the Storm won’t be easy, since they’re both in the same district with perennial contenders Blair and Omaha Skutt.
That B-1 district will be hosted at Blair, but it’s not the only top-heavy district. York and Beatrice — rated Nos. 2 and 3, respectively — are in the B-3 district at Seward.
That group also includes No. 8 Crete and ratings contenders Norris and Seward. With Waverly as the sixth team, there’s the potential for all six teams to enter district play Oct. 8 and 9 with winning records.
We’ll address the inequities of the pre-determined districts later this season. But with schools like York, Grand Island Northwest and Hastings all in the hunt for state berths, not all of the top Class B teams are in the eastern third of the state this season.
Class C also has evolved into a familiar group of teams, led by defending state champion West Point GACC. Raymond Central, Wayne and Ashland-Greenwood are among others who have solid Class C résumés.
One school we’ve gotten used to seeing in the Class C state field, Wahoo, is in Class B this year. And by the way the districts are set, there’s a very good chance the Warriors can win their district.
Homes of their own
After sharing the same home field for as long as both programs have been around, Papillion-La Vista and Papillion-La Vista South finally have fields of their own.
Neither school will call Halleck Park home anymore. The field wasn’t as well-maintained the past few years; same for the press box, bathrooms and concession stand.
The Monarchs, who had called Halleck’s Volunteer Field home for 22 years, now will be playing at La Vista City Park, 78th and Josephine Streets.
Plans to get the primary field 100 percent ready for this season fell short. That means with no lights, the Monarchs will be playing their games late in the afternoon instead of early evening.