1. Offense takes center stage
Softball is always a pitching-centric sport, but this season, the star power lies in the bats. There’s Buffalo’s Emily Hansen (a Minnesota recruit who hit .685 last season), Blaine’s sweet-swinging Mary Pardo, Farmington’s powerful Emma Frost, Champlin Park’s clutch Holly Blaska, Eastview’s five-tool Abby Lien (an Iowa recruit) and Park of Cottage Grove slugger Delaney Young. And that’s just a few.
2. Toughest conferences
Two conferences vie for the crown of the toughest league in the metro: the South Suburban and the Suburban East. The South Suburban boasts defending 4A champ Farmington as well as Prior Lake, deep and talented Eastview, Burnsville and Eagan. The Suburban East is equally loaded, with high-caliber teams like Forest Lake, Park of Cottage Grove, Stillwater, Cretin-Derham Hall and Woodbury.
3. Nastiest section in the state
With the strength of Section 2 of Class 4A, which includes the largest schools in southwest metro, expect the winner to be battle-tested for the state tournament. Prior Lake had the state’s best battery in P Kailey Ahlstrom and C Abby Sagert (both DI signees), but don’t expect Chanhassen, which has won the last three section titles, to give up its crown easily. Burnsville has a dominant pitcher in Megan Osterhaus. And Eden Prairie, Bloomington Jefferson, Chaska, Minnetonka and Shakopee – basically the entire section – harbor legitimate title hopes.
4. The next big thing(s)
So, who are the up-and-comers that will carry the mantle over the next three or four years? Let’s start with Edina freshman pitcher Genevieve Ovsak, a 5-11 fireballer who has already verbally committed to Syracuse. Benilde-St. Margaret’s Sarah Houlihan can excel anywhere in the field, has pop in her bat and leads a talented contingent of sophomores that include Becker P Corrie Weise, Chanhassen SS Tori Tollefson, Minnehaha Academy SS Kate Pryor and Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted C CJ Decker.
5. Change at the top in Shakopee
For the first time since Shakopee began its softball program 43 years ago, there will be a new head coach in charge. Hall of Famer Neil Johnson stepped down after 42 seasons and 551 victories. The Sabers’ new head coach is Joe Fittante.