WALLA WALLA - If predictions are true and past results are any indication of future success, then this will be a good year for Wa-Hi softball.
Seven seniors are back to lead the Blue Devils, who placed third at state last year after a 29-3 season.
Although they lost six seniors from last year's team, including league MVP Alexis Bobadilla, the returning seven and a full roster of talent give head coach Jerry Humphreys a good feeling.
"We had a great team last year, but we've also got a great team this year," Humphreys said. "I think they're deeper, they can hit stronger - our expectations for this year are pretty high."
Last year's experience at state whet the team's appetites for another trip, he said.
"They got to taste state last year and as a whole group they're pretty excited this year," he said.
In addition to that trip, the 2009 Blue Devils won the league, district and regional tournaments, and three Wa-Hi players were selected All-Big Nine Conference first team in the Cascade Division. Humphreys was selected Coach of the Year.
This is his 10th year as head coach. The Blue Devils have been to state twice under his leadership, in 2009 and 2007.
The seven seniors are expected to make strong contributions to the team, coupled with solid experience, Humphreys said.
Alicia Baker and Jill McDaniels are both in the middle infield. Baker was out with an injury for much of the first half of last season but is healthy and ready to contribute now, he said. McDaniels was on the all-league team.
Vicki Reardon plays catcher. She was honorable mention on the All-Big Nine team the last two seasons.
"She knows how to handle (pitchers) Hope (Klicker) and Alyson (Ambler)," Humphreys said. "Her success will definitely be an indication of how we'll do."
Tara Garcia is moving to first base from third.
"She's a good hitter, and she's been working hard in the offseason," Humphreys said.
Tarynn Fortune is in the outfield. She was selected as designated hitter for the all-conference team in the last two seasons.
Rounding out the seniors are outfielders Courtney Zaro and Megan Ocanaz. Both are also strong hitters who've been working hard in the offseason, Humphreys said.
The underclassmen are also ready to play.
Junior Hope Klicker and sophomore Alyson Ambler will cover the pitchers' circle, Humphreys said. Klicker was first team all-conference last year and was selected offensive player of the year. This is Ambler's second year of varsity, after playing as a freshman - an unusual distinction.
"We have high expectations for our pitching circle," Humphreys said. "They've both had a great summer and been working hard in the offseason."
Juniors Ashley Bezdicek (third base) and Kaitlynn Griffith (catcher) and sophomores Andrea Hamada, TraeAnn Payne and Paige Pontarolo are also ready to go.
One of the usual athletic concerns is keeping kids motivated through the season, Humphreys said.
"But these girls want it as much as or more than anything else they're doing," he said. "A lot of that motivation is internal and that's an integral part of keeping them interested in the game and playing strong."
The concerns Humphreys does have are mostly related to cohesion.
"We have some new people coming in and they need to learn to play with each other," he said. "That's what the preseason and start of the regular season is for. We've got talent and they've got to get to know each other and get settled.
"At this point in the season, I think this team is the most advanced I've had so far," he continued. "They're talented, but young from the strategy standpoint - ‘What am I doing, when?' - and that comes with time and from playing with each other. But they've got as much potential as any group I've been involved with at the high school."
This year, the east side has four berths to the state tournmanet.
Humphreys is keeping his eye on them.
"We're planning to be one of them," Humphreys said.
Big Nine district play starts March 23 against Pasco.
Kennewick and Kamiakin both joined Wa-Hi in the state tournament last year, although Wa-Hi had the highest finish.
Southridge and Eastmont should also be good competition this year, Humphreys said.
Last year's top two teams were state champion Kelso and second-place finisher Mountlake Terrace, both from the west side.
The team travels to Pendleton for a doubleheader Tuesday afternoon and hosts Touchet and DeSales next Saturday in the spring jamboree.