The Westminster Owls under fourth-year coach Kathy Hodgkins made great strides last season, winning six more games than the prior year and challenging power North Carroll for county supremacy.
They finished the season 14-6 overall, just missing the regional playoffs in Class 4A, and had a 6-2 mark in the county, just short of North Carroll's 7-2 record.
This season, the Owls have a new nucleus -- five starters have graduated -- and Hodgkins believes this new mix of players can bring similar results.
"Things are coming together pretty well. We have a good nucleus back from last year's team and some good kids up from JV," Hodgkins said.
"The kids have good attitudes and I think they'll play well as a team. I really think we'll be about the same or a little better than last year."
Hodgkins has experience in a lot of the right places, starting with a returning battery of pitcher Stephanie Harrell and catcher Gina Hughes.
"Stephanie is looking very good early on and having Gina back there catching really helps," said Hodgkins.
"We're very strong in the middle and that's also where our leadership is."
The Owls didn't have many problems scoring runs last year, and Hodgkins is looking for more of the same this year.
Also back is junior center fielder Julie Backof, who hit .419 last season with seven doubles. She likely will bat third in front of Hughes, also a junior, who hit .333 last season with a county-leading 10 doubles.
Sophomore newcomer Laura Braun will be at short and provide another dangerous bat in the Owls' lineup. Hodgkins is looking to hit her fifth.
"We've got some good bats and should be able to score some runs," Hodgkins said.
Rounding out the starting infield will be senior returnee Sherri Schmitz at third; senior Stephanie Bollinger will be at first and also see time on the mound; and senior Erin McKinney and sophomore Lauren Kadlubowski will share time at second.
Junior Kristin Stull is up from last year's "B" team and has looked solid in the outfield. Senior Jessie Furbay also will be alongside Backof in the outfield.
Hodgkin believes that, after narrowly missing the region playoffs last season, the team will use that as motivation to get to that next level.
"I heard some of the older players talking to the younger ones about how close they came to making the regional playoffs last year," Hodgkins said.
"It's a definite goal they set for themselves this year."