It would be an immeasurable understatement to say there will be a void felt during this 2012 area high school softball season.

Gone is the architect of the area's most successful program, as the Crescenta Valley High softball diamond will be absent of a fixture in the dugout and along the third-base line.

Following a 2011 season in which the Falcons won the 20th Pacific League championship in the illustrious coaching tenure of Dan Berry, the coach who created the program, navigated it to its first and only CIF championship among a slew of notable playoff runs and oversaw some of the area's most illustrious softball playing careers passed away at the age of 65 in October.

Thus, the 2012 season for Crescenta Valley softball will certainly be one of rebuilding.

"I think the girls actually have done a pretty good job," said first-year Falcons Coach Mark Samford, who has lent the coaching duties to Sara Sardo, the junior varsity coach, and assistant Ashleigh Viers-Gordillo while Samford was assisting the school's boys' basketball team during is run to the CIF semifinals. "Obviously they were shocked and upset and all the things you'd expect. But they've done a good job trying to focus on the game."

Samford, who assisted Berry in the past and has been a coach for different sports at different levels at CV for 10 years, doesn't hesitate to say he is coaching on an interim basis and will give way to a permanent replacement at season's end.

"I use the term interim freely," Samford said. "I'm just a bridge to where they want to go."

On the field, Crescenta Valley will look to deal with the departure of two-time All-Area Player of the Year Erin Ashby, who is now at Stanford. Returning are All-Area standouts Hannah Cookson and Jessica Morena, senior catcher Allison Lacey and some new blood in the form of freshmen Hailey Cookson and Olivia Thayer.

"I want to be in a place to compete for a league championship," Samford said.

Flintridge Prep enjoyed a successful season a year ago, posting a 14-5 record, winning a share of the Prep League title and bestowing Coach Julie Jaime her first playoff victory before a second-round playoff exit.

But times, or more accurately personnel, have changed for the Rebels, with eight seniors having moved on — including seven with starting experience. Among the departed were All-Area pitching ace Denise van der Goot and Prep's top hitter, Abby Deckop.

"We have a solid core returning, but we also have six new freshmen and seven new faces," Jaime said.

Still, Jaime is shying away from calling this a rebuilding year.

"I think I'm gonna stay away from it," said Jaime, whose No. 1 pitcher looks to be senior Caitlin Gillman, though junior Jenna Galper, sophomore Drew Montgomery and freshman Kyla Bradley could figure into the pitching equation when not playing in the outfield. "We did lose a lot, but we do also have a lot of potential.

"There's a big void to fill. …There's a lot of versatility and I think that's gonna help."

Chelsea Johnson, Rachel Simon and Maya Okamoto look to aid offensively, which is likely to be the team's strength, though it's been a rough start already, as the Rebels have started out 0-3 and have already incurred some injury problems.

Still, Jaime is optimistic, as she said most of the Prep League is believed to be in the same boat, with plenty of lost seniors and question marks, including Mayfield, which shared the title with the Rebels.

"It's anybody's league this year and it's gonna be competitive," she said.

Holy Family, under Coach Greg Ziomek, advanced to the CIF Division VI playoffs where it lost to Vasquez, 11-6, last season. It was the second straight advancement to the postseason for the Gaels, who went 9-7 and 6-2 in the Horizon League for second behind San Gabriel Mission.

The Gaels, who opened their season Tuesday with a 7-3 loss to Mayfield, are expected to return a senior core of pitcher Rachel Turner, an All-Area pick last year, Elena Lomeli, Aurora Aguirre and Jennifer Rodriguez — all four were all-league honorees last season.

Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, which opened its season Wednesday against Westridge with a win, is working toward getting back to the playoffs after a two-season hiatus.

"Our team goal is to finish third in league and make playoffs," Tologs Coach Kirk Nishiyama said.

But Nishiyama is the first to admit it will be an arduous undertaking a season after his squad finished fifth in league and two games out of an automatic playoff spot.

"We have some question marks," Nishiyama said. "It's gonna come down to our pitching. I think we need [nonleague play] to determine our pitching."

Seniors Alex Eaton and Ashley Lund and freshman Hannah Zika are all in the mix to take the top spot in the circle for the Tologs.

"We have a pretty good core, it just depends on how the pitching develops around it," Nishiyama said.

Returning All-Area selection Lauren Torres returns for her senior season and is likely to hit clean-up, with fellow returners Kelly Jacobs, who will hit third, and Sumner Hanula, likely to lead off, providing offensive punch, as well. Hanula and Torres could both play in the outfield or shortstop, where Zika is also likely to see time.

For a second straight season a year ago, rivals Hoover and Glendale tied for fifth in the Pacific League.

For Rich Henning's bunch of Tornadoes, the goal remains the same in taking a step up and qualifying for the playoffs.

"We want to make the playoffs," said Henning, whose team opens its season Saturday in the Lincoln Invitational. "Ultimately it comes down to the girls, how much they're willing to go the extra mile."

Led by All-Area first-team shortstop Kaitlyn Williams, the Tornadoes will look familiar at the top and middle of the lineup, as Williams will be joined by senior speedster Kenya Buckley and La Sierra University-bound senior pitcher/outfielder Briana Manzanero as the familiar core for Hoover that will look to blend with a group of new junior faces expected to produce by Henning.

"I think we have a good blend of speed, hitting and fundamentals," Henning said.

The Christine Paknik-coached Nitros, who opened their season Saturday with a 9-2 win against Eagle Rock at home and will also take part in this weekend's Lincoln Invitational, are expected to return junior Meghan Spencer, an All-Pacific League selection last season.