When Centennial coach Mike Livreri looks around the softball field, he sees a strong group of upperclassmen.
He can only think what could have been.
“We’ve got a lot of stud juniors and a couple seniors, but we’ve barely had them,” Livrieri said. “If we were able to have them for the third year going on solid seasons, we’d be creating more of a culture. When you’re away, the culture starts to fade.”
Livreri said culture is built on spending time together in practice, traveling to tournaments and especially experiencing tough playoff games.
While there was a regional tournament during the shortened season last year, the time together was limited and travel was nixed. Some teams missed 10 days at a time because of positive COVID tests, a year after the season was shut down less than a month after it started because of the pandemic.
The last state championship went to Shadow Ridge in 2019. The Mustangs were competitive again last season, falling to Arbor View in the Class 5A Southern Region tournament championship game.
“Once we got back on the field last year, we had a lot of athletes that had been in the JV program and never played varsity, and we had to throw them on the field in an odd situation,” Shadow Ridge coach Julia Meyn said. “They were forced on the field as starters, and that was a lot of stress on them.”
But the Mustangs responded, and they will be among the favorites again to reach the state tournament out of the south.
Arbor View headlines that list under the guidance of Lea Ann Jarvis, a former Division I college coach at Texas State and New Mexico State.
The Aggies return a strong core led by senior Trinity Brandon, a San Diego State signee. They should be tough in the circle with Annie Finch returning, and they added a two-way standout in Jill Colgan, who struck out a state-high 149 batters and hit .460 as a sophomore last season for Rancho.
The difference, Meyn said, is there always have been three or four teams that could contend, but that number has grown in recent years.
She expects more intense games like the Mustangs and Aggies played in last year’s regional final.
“I appreciate a game like we had with Arbor View,” Meyn said. “It was intense and challenging, and that’s what you look for. I think it will be like that when we play teams like Green Valley, Centennial and Arbor View, and we can’t overlook anybody or it will bite you.”
Green Valley was the surprise team last season, earning the No. 1 seed for the regional tournament under first-year coach Kathlyn Doiron, a two-time national champion as a player at Florida. The Gators return junior twins in pitcher Avari and shortstop Mikee Morris.
“We have a better idea of what’s out there after getting a glimpse last season,” Livrieri said. “There are a lot of good challengers out there.”
In Class 4A, Bishop Gorman is the favorite after running through the season undefeated and with little resistance on its way to the title. Silverado should be the Gaels’ closest challenger after reaching the 4A championship game last season.
Players to watch
Ellie Bostedt, Centennial — The junior hit .540 with 13 doubles, one home run and 12 RBIs last season. She also went 3-1 with a 1.73 ERA, one save and 34 strikeouts.
Trinity Brandon, Arbor View — The junior played all over the field and hit .568 with a 1.480 OPS, six doubles, three triples, one home run and 16 RBIs.
Destiny Capers, Silverado — The senior hit .659 with a 1.788 OPS, six doubles, five triples, one home run and a team-high 18 RBIs from the leadoff spot.
Jill Colgan, Arbor View — The junior struck out a state-high 149 batters in 93⅔ innings and had a 1.94 ERA for Rancho. She hit .460 with five doubles and 12 RBIs.
Avari Morris, Green Valley — The junior was 9-1 and struck out 54 in 62 innings. She hit .438 from the leadoff spot.
Mikee Morris, Green Valley — The junior shortstop hit .667 and anchored the infield defense.
Hailey Morrow, Shadow Ridge — The senior shortstop hit .536 and was one of the valley’s top defensive infielders.
Rylie Pindel, Bishop Gorman — The junior was 9-0 with one save, a 2.10 ERA and struck out 47 in 46 innings. She hit .643 in 18 at-bats.
Riley Price, Virgin Valley — The sophomore was 9-1 with a 1.11 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 63 innings. She hit .556 with four doubles, one triple, five home runs and 25 RBIs.
Ava Walker, Faith Lutheran — The freshman struck out 63 in 72 innings, hit .415 with two doubles and two home runs.