Unaka appears to be the team to beat, with challenges expected from North Greene and Cloudland, and possibly University High.
Sullivan North and Hampton will try to figure into the middle of the mix.
Watauga Valley Conference predictions
3. North Greene
4. University High
5. Sullivan North
The Lady Rangers will be young in the circle, but a strong lineup should make them a force in the Class A ranks.
Leading the way at the plate are senior shortstop Erika Potter, senior third baseman Madison Pierce, and freshman catcher Kendall Bare.
“It’s hard to choose among our seniors, but Madison Pierce has always been a standout on this team,” said head coach Kenneth Chambers. “She leads by example and gives her best effort every day. She is a multi-position player, great base-runner, and has a strong bat.”
In the circle, Chambers will hand the ball to a pair of freshmen: Sadie Shoun and Kailey Wilson.
“We are a young team, and currently rebuilding with a very talented group of fine athletes,” said Chambers. “Our hopes for this season are to do well in our conference and during the postseason, so we can make another trip to the state tournament.”
The Lady Buccaneers will send a freshman to the circle as their top pitcher. Right-hander Avery Kibelbek will take that role.
At the plate, head coach Keith Jeffers will lean on sophomore catcher Sydney Trosin, sophomore center fielder Emily Morgan, and sophomore third baseman Ryleigh Owen.
Yes, it’s a young bunch.
“We hope to learn the game and get better,” said Jeffers. “I have no seniors or juniors. We will see what happens after this team gets some experience. It’s a talented but young group.”
It should be a much more competitive season for the Lady Highlanders, who haven’t been known for their softball program.
Part of the reason for optimism is junior pitcher Kenzie Birchfield. She will be supported by an offense that is led by sophomore catcher Kaylen Fields, sophomore shortstop Jasmine Birchfield, and sophomore second baseman Krisi Bare.
“We hope to compete in the conference,” said head coach Matt Birchfield. “We are a young team that will need to improve all year. We have only one senior, and that’s our right fielder Gracie Cook. She will have to lead us this year.”
Lady Raiders’ head coach Rachel Norris said she is hoping for a consistent incline.
“Our hope for this year is to get better every game,” Norris said. “We have three freshmen and two sophomores starting, so we need to grow as a team.”
Senior Gracie Monk will get the bulk of key-game work in the circle.
At the plate, North boasts senior third baseman Alexis Clark, Monk, and junior designated player Elaina Gilliam.