Despite having only four starters back, North Carroll coach Phil Bonnell sees a lot of the same qualities in this year's team as in last year's state qualifying team.
After two consecutive state titles to start the '90s, the Panthers appeared to be in a rebuilding mode last season with a handful of new faces. After a rocky 1-3 start, they got things together in time to finish 14-7, defend their county and Central Maryland Conference crowns and advance to the state tournament.
Bonnell believes he has just enough experience to go with some talented new players and enjoy another successful season.
"We have a pretty young team, but they know how to win with a lot of them also playing basketball, soccer and field hockey," Bonnell said.
"I'm looking for a good year and hope we can get off to a little quicker start than last year. If we don't, we'll just have to make the needed adjustments like we did last year and hopefully come along in time to shoot for defending the county and CMC titles along with winning enough games to reach the region playoffs."
The big question for the Panthers this season will be on the mound, where they'll look to sophomore Kandi Lippy to do most of the pitching.
"You don't know what's going to happen with a sophomore. Last year on the 'B' squad, she would have one game where she'd walk two, and then walk six the next," Bonnell said.
"She just has to minimize her walks and she'll be fine. She's gone to a few camps and has shown a lot of improvement. She has some good velocity."
The Panthers do have a security blanket in senior Michele Jeffery, who saw varsity time on the mound last year. Bonnell would much rather see Jeffery playing first most of the time.
The infield is set with junior Casey Rhoten returning at second to join Jeffery on the right side. Sophomore Jenny Rongione will be at third with freshman Christine Crouse at short.
"The infield is shaping up pretty good even with the inexperience at shortstop. I think all of them are going to make some pretty big plays for us this season," Bonnell said.
Rhoten will lead off for the Panthers, and Bonnell is counting on Jeffery to drive in a lot of runs at the four spot.
"Casey's just a tough ball player," Bonnell said. "She makes good contact and has the speed to be a solid leadoff hitter. Michele's been spending a lot of time in the batting cage this spring and is hitting the ball very hard."
Junior Jenny Baker will anchor the outfield in center. She's making the transition to the outfield after starting at shortstop as a sophomore last year.
Her bat was a plus for the Panthers in 1992, and Bonnell is expecting much of the same this year. She hit .352 driving in 31 runs as a sophomore with four triples and five doubles.
"Baker has some good speed and covers a lot of ground in center. We'll likely bat her second or fifth. She makes good contact and uses her speed well."