BRISTOL - This seasonâ€™s local high school softball is going to be about youth.
All four teams lost significant seniors after last season and all have been faced with how to replace seasoned veterans with younger, inexperienced players.
Bristol Central won the CCC South last season but more than three quarters of its starting lineup from last season has graduated. With only two seniors this year, the youth will have to rise to the occasion for the Rams to repeat.
There are plenty of veterans in the Bristol Eastern starting lineup but behind the older players, there is very little in the way of experience. The Lancers also lost a lot of offense to graduation and will need its sophomores and freshmen to provide some help to the upperclassmen.
Terryville was the only area team to not have double-digit wins in 2016 but the Kangaroos have possibly the most experienced roster. They also have a pair of freshmen and a sophomore that could make contributions this season.
Here is a closer look at each of the teams:
Coach: Monica Hayes (3rd year, 29-14)
Last season: 21-6, CCC South Champions, lost in Class LL second round
Probable starters: Ali Holden (sr., P, 2016 all conference), Sarah Strilkauskas (sr. capt., 3B), Kayla Beaulieu (so., 1B), Jenna Ptak (so., 2B), Gianna Anneli (so., OF), Makenzie Lewis (so., OF/P)
Key reserves: Xiaâ€™an Curasco (jr.), Sarah Guerin (jr.), Mia Santilli (fr., utility), Morgan Greger (fr., C/1B), Peyton Greger (fr., SS/P)
Ramsâ€™ outlook: Bristol Central claimed a CCC South title and its 24th consecutive postseason berth but the Rams are going to look much different on the field this season. They graduated seven out of nine starters from last seasonâ€™s team and now Bristol Central coach Monica Hayes has the difficult task of filling the gaps with younger, less experienced players.
â€śWith a lineup dominated by underclassmen, youth is both a strength and weakness,â€ť Hayes said. â€śWe are in the process of trying to place kids in the best possible positions to enable our team to be successful.
â€śIt will take time for them to become comfortable playing together and learn new positions. They are full of enthusiasm and eager to learn.â€ť
The Rams have only two seniors expected to start this season but, luckily for them, one of them was an all-conference selection last season. Pitcher Ali Holden was strong from the circle for Bristol Central last year and will have to be again this season with such an inexperienced defense behind her. The good news is senior captain and third baseman Sarah Strilkauskas will be there to help.
According to Hayes, the key to success for the Rams will be finding the necessary support - both on offense and defense - for Holden as they shoot for their 25th straight playoff appearance.
CCC outlook: The Rams are their divisionâ€™s defending champs but that does not mean that they do not expect stiff competition. Hayes mentioned Newington and cross-city rival Bristol Eastern as some of the other top teams.
Coach: Scott Redman (5th year, 42-43)
Last season: 10-11, lost in Class LL first round
Roster: Makenzie Jankowski (sr., OF, 2015 all conference) Nicole D'Amato (sr., 3B, .361 AVG and .444 SLG in 2016), Mikayla Martin (sr., C/IF/OF, Junior Select Game Nominee, .299 AVG, .377 SLG in 2016), Jillian Maghini (sr., OF), Lexie Mastroianni (sr., OF), Jordan Fitzsimons (jr., SS, .310 AVG, .390 OBP, .408 SLG in 2016), Paige McLaughlin (so., C/IF, .333 AVG, .394 OBP in 2016), Erin Girard (fr., P), Taylor Keegan (fr., utility), Alyssa Hackling (fr., utility), Lauren Aparo (fr., utility), Karly Martin (jr., OF), Emily Marquis (jr., OF), Aliana Rivoira (so., P/OF), Maura McGuire (so., P)
Lancersâ€™ outlook: Bristol Eastern was knocked out in the first round of the Class LL tournament by the eventual runner-up last season and the Lancers want to get further than that this season. They have plenty of experienced upperclassmen returning this season, two of which batted over .300 and another that hit .299. Seniors Nicole Dâ€™Amato and Mikayla Martin and junior Jordan Fitzsimons were forces at the plate for Bristol Eastern last year and will look to continue where they left off.
But the youth coming up for the Lancers should also be a strength. Entering the season, the youth movement is led by sophomore Paige McLaughlin, who batted .333 last season and had an on-base percentage of .394.
Both the veterans and younger players will have to step up this year as the Lancersâ€™ lost a sizeable percentage of their offense from a season ago. Bristol Eastern coach Scott Redman also sees depth as a possible weakness of this seasonâ€™s squad.
Despite the unknown quantities that younger players tend to be and the key losses of last yearâ€™s seniors, Redman and the Lancers still believe they can finish over .500 and possibly be a contender.
CCC outlook: Like Bristol Centralâ€™s Hayes, Redman views Newington as the team to beat in his teamâ€™s division and believes that the Lancers and the Rams will contend as well.
Coach: Gary Hovhanessian (13th year, 135-120)
Last season: 14-8, lost in Class S second round
Roster (from CIAC website): Abby Aldieri (jr.), Brigid Johndrow (sr.), Bianca DiLernia (sr.), Hannah Kosikowski (jr.), Emma McPhee (jr.), Alessandra Milardo (sr.), Rebecca Nerbonne (so.), Carolyn Marchak (so.), Julia Sosnowski (so.), Ashely Crowley (jr.), Melissa Lopez (jr.), Hannah Orzel (so.), Jess Persechino (so.), Lindsey Oâ€™Bright (jr.), Abby Poirot (so.), Katelynn Oullette (jr.), Brooke Perez (sr.)
Coach: Stephanie Konopaske (7th season, 64-62)
Last season: 5-15
Probable starters: Lexie Gonska (sr. capt., SS/OF/C), Alycia Calabrese (sr. capt., OF/P), Maisie Festa (sr. capt., 3B/SS), Maria Cesare (jr., OF), Martina Trovato (jr., 1B), Alexa Nelson (so., P/OF), Amy Ieronimo (jr., C), Samantha Stone (jr., OF)
Key reserves: Olivia Tuohy (fr., 2B), Alexandria Michaud (fr.)
Kangaroosâ€™ outlook: After a 2016 season with just five victories, Terryvilleâ€™s prospects for the 2017 campaign appear much brighter. The Kangaroos have three seniors this season that had significant roles a year ago, including star pitcher Alycia Calabrese. They also have four juniors in the projected opening-day lineup that also have varsity experience.
â€śOur returning players have worked hard in the offseason,â€ť Terryville coach Stephanie Konopaske said, â€śand we are becoming a more experienced team.â€ť
In addition to the veteran presence on the team, Terryville has some strong, younger players to fill in the gaps. Sophomore Alexa Nelson is expected to crack the starting lineup in the outfield and do some pitching, while a pair of freshmen could make contributions early.
â€śOur newcomers bring a new level of depth that we have not experienced in recent years,â€ť Konopaske said.
Berkshire League outlook: Softball in the Berkshire League has been getting stronger over recent years but Terryville is hoping to be able to compete this season. Konopaske singled out Northwestern and Thomaston as two of the teams to beat in the league.