Central and Farmington exhibited the most dominant combination of pitching and offense among fall softball teams last season in the MAAA Conference.
A prominent rivalry between the Lady Rebels and Knights included a share of the league title as each posted a regular season record of 9-1.
While those programs are expected to contend for a potential 2016 repeat, they also share a common bond with fellow MAAA teams in the need to replace multiple standout seniors.
Perhaps the most notable changes await in the circle as four teams – Central, Farmington, North County and Ste. Genevieve – lost their most experienced pitchers.
Central is fully embracing a youth movement with five freshmen listed on its varsity roster. Left fielder Alexus Groom is the lone senior, but the overall talent level remains high.
Leadoff batter Kimmy Wallen returns an impressive batting average, and Karissa Belfield figures to join her near the top of the lineup. Both have been proven capable of pitching a big game.
Two offseason vacancies occurred along the left side of the infield, but the Lady Rebels have versatile catcher Caitlyn Holmes back along with outfielder Kerston Furry.
Farmington watched four impressive mainstays take their talents to the collegiate level, and will need a new ace pitcher, catcher, third baseman and center fielder as a result.
Junior Alyson Tucker supplies the combination of speed and a powerful arm at shortstop, while senior Allison Pingel and junior Emily Briese also return along the infield.
Breanna Belvin has previously started in right field, and the Knights will ask sophomore Sophia White to throw strikes and get opposing batters out after serving mostly in a back-up role last year.
North County challenged for the league lead before suffering a pair of walk-off losses to Central and being swept in a rare split-site doubleheader against Farmington.
The Lady Raiders bid farewell to a pair of potent bats and a two-year starting hurler, and will rely upon four seniors among five returning starters.
Kaley Newland shifted to the shortstop position late last season, and Courtney Coffman has been a fixture at second base. They will likely move higher in the lineup.
Kaitlyn Litton and Stacey Politte are looking to produce some offensive clout for North County along with outfielder Lexi Adams and Michaela Mason.
Fredericktown may best fit the label of conference sleeper with seven familiar starters, including five seniors, seeking to spark an upward trend.
Emily Winkelman and Marissa Lindsey have pitching experience, and will hope for better defensive support. Bailey Minx, Jodi Watson and Haley Gilmore bolster the batting order.
Potosi is led by infielders Macie Turntine and Baylee Mercer, who are among four seniors on the roster. Kelsey Bone, Gabby Miller, Paige Battreal and Summer Bourbon also return to the lineup.
Ste. Genevieve was most shaken by graduation, as left-handed senior pitcher Adrea Mueller represents the lone returning starter on the diamond.
Junior Britani Clanton and freshman Alyssa Huber may also see work in the circle, and Eureka transfer Dakota Johnson has an inside track to handling third base.
Recently announced MSHSAA district assignments moved Farmington down to Class 3. The Knights now occupy District 2 with Central, North County, Potosi, Hillsboro and De Soto.
Ste. Genevieve and Fredericktown remain in Class 3, District 1.
Matt King is the sports editor for the Daily Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org