Taking the York-Adams Division I championship from Central York tops the list of goals for the Dallastown softball team this spring.
In a season filled with lofty expectations, re-capturing the division crown is step No. 1 for the Wildcats.
Since they were freshmen in the program four years ago, the senior nucleus of Danielle Ludwig, Jaelynn Harbold, Melanie Grant and Gabrielle Jeanmenne, have been eyeing this season as one that could produce something grand. So, there was no reason to set the bar low heading into this season.
"(Beating Central York) is an important goal for us," Ludwig said during York-Adams spring sports media day. "Each season better than the last."
Last season wasn't a bad one by any stretch for Dallastown. It went 12-3 in league play and finished 13-6 overall. So topping that will take a special effort.
But the Wildcats will have the players to do it. The senior group has been playing together for years, but every year, has finished behind the Panthers in the Division I standings. Now, the Dallastown seniors feel like it's their time to take the next step and dethrone Central, which has won the last four Division I crowns and won the league title last season. Dallastown is looking for its first division title since going back-to-back in 2003 and 2004.
"Every kid in the lineup, or on the bench, it doesn't matter who you are, you bring something different to the table and it's all key roles," Harbold said. "Everyone is important. We can't win just as an individual. We're a team and that's important."
Dallastown's experience, coupled with the Panthers' perennial dominance atop the Division I standings, could make their battle for the top spot fun to watch.
It's also worth paying attention to South Western and Spring Grove. The Mustangs finished third in Division I last year at 9-6 and went 12-7 overall. However, they failed to qualify for the 16-team District 3-AAAA tournament, just missing out as the No. 17 team in the power rankings. Meanwhile, the Rockets went 8-7 in their first year at the Division I level and did qualify for the District 3-AAA tournament as the No. 13 seed, but lost their first game, finishing with an overall record of 10-11.
Division II: Dover enters 2016 as the reigning Division II champion, but that doesn't mean you should instantly pencil in the Eagles to repeat as champions.
In past years, the division has been dominated by the likes of Susquehannock and Spring Grove. Dating back to 2007, both the Warriors and Rockets have each won four division titles, with Susky claiming the crown from 2007-09 and 2014, while Spring Grove won it four straight years from 2010-13. But, the Rockets made the jump up to Division I for the first time last year, so they were no longer a factor in the race.
However, over the last few seasons, a usual division bottom-feeder, Dover, started to surge in the standings. Then, last year, the Eagles overtook the Warriors and Rockets, winning their first Division II crown since 1996 and just their second in program history. With Dover winning the division last year, that makes it three different Division II champions over the last three years.
The Eagles and Warriors were the only D-II two teams to qualify for the District 3-AAA tournament last season, with Dover qualifying as the No. 11 team and Susquehannock as No. 15. However, both lost their opening-round games and will likely enter 2016 as the teams to beat in Division II.
Division III: Over the last decade, Littlestown has been competitive within Division III of the Y-A League. Since 2005, the Thunderbolts have finished .500 or better in nine of 11 seasons, but only twice have they won the division crown. One, however, came last year, when Littlestown went 18-5 overall and 13-1 within the league.
Much of that success hinged on the hiring of new head coach Henry Wardrop before last season. He instantly became a players' coach. That led to a strong 2015 season that saw the Thunderbolts qualify for the District 3-AAA tournament as the No. 7 seed. Littlestown was the only local big school to win a district game, making it to the quarterfinals.
The same, and probably much more, can be expected out of Littlestown this year. It returns 11 varsity members from last year's team, including the Y-A Division III Pitcher of the Year, senior McKenzie Somers, and Class AAA all-state second-team shortstop senior Kaitlin Yealy.
"The girls won, what, 17 regular-season games last year," Wardrop said during spring sports media day. "But, as coaches, we've tried to share with them that doesn't mean squat. Nobody cares what you did last season. So, we start all over."
It'll take every one of those 11 returners to hold off Kennard-Dale, which is coming off a strong 2015 campaign, as well, finishing just one game behind the Thunderbolts in Division III. Not only will the Rams, who won back-to-back Division III crowns in 2013 and 2014, look to get back their title, but they're also coming off an early playoff exit, losing as the No. 8 seed in the District 3-AAA tournament to Bishop McDevitt, 12-0.
Traditionally, K-D has been one of the best AAA schools from the Y-A League, so expect the Rams and the Thunderbolts to again take their Division III battle down to the wire.
Division IV: Delone Catholic will have a target squarely on its back.
The Squirettes have been the class of Division IV for the past few years and continue to set their goals at the highest of levels.
Delone is coming off a year in which it went 20-6 overall, 13-2 in Division IV, won the District 3-AA title and made it to the quarterfinal round of the PIAA Class AA state tournament, losing to eventual state champion Holy Redeemer. That's a lot of accolades to achieve in one year and plenty to try and defend the following season, but Delone has the players to do it.
The Squirettes are only losing three starters from last year's team, but the six they're bringing back were arguably their best players last year. Senior Shelbee Holcomb returns as the District 3-AA Player of the Year, senior Cassie Rickrode was the Y-A League Division IV Pitcher of the Year and senior Katie Laughman was named Class AA first-team all state in 2015. Juniors Lauryn King and McKayla McCleaf and sophomore Marlee Lackey are all coming back after strong 2015 seasons.
Since this senior class arrived on the scene in 2013, each year, the team has improved its postseason results.
"The year before (2014) we lost in the district championship, so last year our goal was to win districts and go into states, which we did and went into the quarterfinals," assistant coach Matt Rickrode said during spring sports media day. "We've been to the quarterfinals of states twice. The goal this year is to accomplish all of the same goals and go even further in states, which would be semifinals, at least, and maybe even the championship."
Delone was the only Division IV team to finish with an overall record above .500 last season.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org