A season ago, nary a local softball squad made it to the first round of the CIF Southern Section playoffs.
Only Crescenta Valley High and Holy Family advanced to the postseason, with both falling in the wild-card round, while Flintridge Prep, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, Glendale and Hoover were left on the outside looking in.
The Falcons, Nitros and Gaels will all be helmed by new skippers, while every team — though some are clearly in rebuilding stages and others are looking for further playoff ascension — shares the common thread of looking for vast improvement in 2014.
John Pehar has taken over dugout duties for the Falcons, who return plenty of talent after tying for second in the Pacific League a season ago. Crescenta Valley enters a league race that many believe Burbank is far and away the front runner.
“Well, certainly we want to knock them off the top and I believe we have the ability to do so,” said Pehar, who inherits a team that lost in the Division III wild-card round to La Salle in 2013. “We’re stronger than last year.”
Leading the charge will be senior center fielder Hannah Cookson, the team’s No. 3 hitter, a reigning All-Area pick and arguably the top hitter in the area. Younger sister Hailey Cookson, a junior shortstop, is also an All-Area returner who provides dependable defense and a hot bat, as does senior third baseman Taylor Hill.
Pehar believes for CV to truly succeed, though, it must get balance throughout the lineup.
“To be strong in our league … we definitely have to bat nine strong,” he said.
In the circle, Pehar will lean on another decorated returner in senior Olivia Thayer, with contributions in a variety of ways expected from junior Adela Alatraca and freshmen Rachael Abboud and Jessica Yzaguirre.
“I’m excited for these girls because they’re really excited to play,” Pehar said. “And they’re having fun. You put that all together and it makes for a successful season.”
Glendale has a new coach in Greg Martin, who takes over a team brimming with young talent.
Of Martin’s 14-player roster, half are underclassmen, but that doesn’t mean the Nitros are short on talent. Still, Martin is emphasizing that execution is paramount.
“I think we have potential, but we have to execute,” Martin said. “We have a very deep league. But our goal is to make the playoffs. We have to execute and upset a team or two.”
Glendale finished fifth in league a season ago and boasts its share of returning starters, including sophomores Alex Howard and Jordan Lousararian, who will be focal points at the dish, in the infield and in the circle. Joining them will be former Little League teammates Sammy Fabian and Tiffany Bartamian, who will start at second base and catcher, respectively.
“Of course, I think we have the talent, but talent doesn’t win games, execution does,” Martin said.
In the wake of the graduation of four-year standout Kaitlyn Williams, Hoover finds itself in true rebuilding mode with just one senior on the team and just three players with varsity experience.
“We’ll see what this year brings,” said Hoover Coach Rich Henning, whose team took seventh in league a season ago. “It’s gonna have to rely on defense and most likely outhitting the other team.”
Henning will count on production from senior catcher/outfielder Jenesy Gonzalez and junior outfielder/shortstop Karina Moreno, both captains. Though pitching will be a question mark, Henning also sees it as the possible beginning of a foundation going forward with freshman hurlers Evelyn Unger and Leslie Franco taking the reins.
“It’s gonna be a learning experience,” Henning said. “I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun, because these girls are all hungry and they want to play.”