Here is a league-by-league look at the 2012 girls softball season in the Mid-Columbia:
Walla Walla took the Class 4A state title in 2011 and is the favorite to win it all again this year, especially with Gatorade Washington Player of the Year Alyson Ambler back for one more season. Decorated P/1B Hope Klicker has graduated, but the Blue Devils should not feel her absence too much. Ambler (11-0, 0.40 ERA, 146 Ks) will shoulder most of the pitching load, however. There also are some infield changes -- Libbie Jimenez is sliding from 2B to SS, and Andrea Hamada is moving from SS to 3B.
Richland graduated several of its top players, including C Bethany Burch, P Lindsey Walchli, SS Maddie Chambers, OF Sydney Cejka and DH Devauna Green. But OFs Dora Hernandez and Lexi McCracken came on strong last spring, and CBBN 4A first-team IFs Cydney Elgin and Bailey Walthers also are back from last season's state tournament team. Paige Goulet and Kayla Andrews bring experience to the circle, and freshman C April Utecht has broken out in nonleague play. Expect another Richland-Walla Walla battle atop the CBBN 4A standings.
Wenatchee, which ended Richland's state run last May, boasts a handful of returning all-leaguers, including C Emile Holzerland, 3B Lindy Holmberg, P Bri Craddock, 1B Rachael Tamngin and 2B Emily Rader. But the Panthers must make up for the graduation of base-stealing extraordinaire Haylee Douglass, whose .612 batting average wasn't so shabby, either.
Chiawana is more experienced -- and more dangerous. All-league first-team OF Kendra Boehning and Cara Nickolaus are the only two seniors. Maddie Heine, Whitney Weber, Danielle Sanaski and Melanie Cantu can do some damage at the plate, and the Riverhawks also return all-league P Katie Axelson.
Moses Lake has stability in its battery with junior P Haylie Van Laethem and sophomore C Tressa Radach. That should be of great benefit to the Chiefs, whose 2011 season ended in the district tournament.
Davis and Eisenhower have languished in league play, and it will be interesting to see how both teams respond under new coaches. Davis has brought in former Yakima Valley Community College assistant Susan Caruso to lead the Pirates, while Christine Summers is in charge at Ike.
Another undefeated run through the CBBN 3A is not out of the realm of possibility for Kamiakin. With Weber State-bound P Lindsey Kamphuis (18-2, 0.56 ERA, 174 Ks) and the power bats of sophomore twins Cylie (.475, 19 RBIs, 3 HRs) and Carlie Richards (.459, 19 RBIs, 4 HRs), the Braves, 3-2 last year at state, show no sign of slowing down this year.
Southridge graduated CBBN 3A first-team pitcher Caitlin Klepper and OF Mallory Jones, and second-team 2B Diana McGlynn. But otherwise, the Suns have changed little from last season, when they reached the regional tournament. Junior Janelle Randles, a first-team 1B who also stepped up at pitcher when Klepper was injured, will be in the circle with sophomore Sarah Gilliam. Senior SS Allyx Copeland, a .484 hitter last spring, gives the Suns a boost on both sides of the ball.
With five seniors and seven juniors, West Valley is loaded with experienced upperclassmen who should keep the Rams in playoff contention all season. Eastmont will be in the chase, too, with six returning starters, including P Kalee Auvil and C Madison Ransford.
Hanford should not be overlooked, however. The Falcons welcome back senior speedster Remy Bradley (.563, 23 SBs), an all-league first-team SS last year. Bradley also proved effective in the circle with a 2.58 ERA and will split time with Kayla De La Paz and Kadi Patterson.
Kennewick made a late-season push last year into the regional tournament. The Lions lost three all-CBBN 3A selections in Ashlen Ayres, Danielle Clark and Larissa Johnson, but first-team C Karissa Shiflet is among four returning starters.
Pasco boasts the reigning CBBN 3A Offensive Player of the Year, 3B Marissa Menchaca (.577, 20 RBIs, 11 SBs). Menchaca and senior SS Allison Deleon will be looked upon to lead the Bulldogs, who might struggle with pitching inexperience.
Sunnyside returns all-CBBN 3A first-team designated hitter Rosa Garza, but the Grizzlies lost some offensive production with the graduation of all-leaguer Maria Olivera, a .476 hitter.
With league co-MVP Mary Graf back for Selah, it's highly likely the Vikings will repeat as conference champions. Ellensburg also will be in the hunt with seven returning starters, including SS Cassie Sharon (.719, 40 RBIs, 5 HRs, 15 SBs).
Othello, which has reached the state tournament 15 of the past 16 years, returns just three starters from last season: senior Alyssa Martinez, who came back from a knee injury in 2011 to make the all-CWAC second team, and juniors Daisy Salgado and Kim Bullis. But coach Rudy Ochoa's young squad already seems to be on a winning track.
East Valley again will be in contention with all-league P Tracy Martin, C Kellie Ross, IF Ashlee Betancourth and OF Shallise Rodriguez on the field.
Grandview finished in the top half of the CWAC last year, largely thanks to Ashley VanTress. As a junior, she hit .517, drove in 29 runs, stole a league-best 24 bases and recorded a 2.82 ERA in 99 1/3 innings. VanTress, CF Samanta Castaneda (.469, 20 SBs) and 3B Yareli Pedroza (.426) will help offset the loss of all-leaguer Chelsie McNabb's bat.
Prosser will have Kenzie Koch in uniform one more year, which means the Mustangs still benefit from her bat (.603, 7 HRs, 27 RBIs) and speed (17 SBs). Also, Prosser gained Sunnyside Christian transfer Makayla Morrow, who helped the Knights reach last year's 1B state tournament. With Morrow and five returning starters, the Mustangs might shake up the conference race.
Ephrata graduated top hitter Skylar Lund, who dominated the CWAC last season with a .768 average and 37 RBIs, but the Tigers still have plenty of offensive power in Kayla Brissey (.525, 5 HRs) and Lauren Laird (.490).
Quincy must find pitching to replace the graduated Adriana Zamarron and Shelan Lybbert, whereas Wapato is going with Briana Cordova in the circle.
Toppenish returns six starters, including the battery of Lupita Guzman and Ayla Lewis, and looks to break its CWAC victory drought.
Defending 1A state champion Connell has the early advantage here. Though big hitters Kate Hawk and Kayla Bjorge have graduated, the Eagles return seven starters, including Washington commit Ashley Thompson. Last year's league MVP boasted a 0.43 ERA and a .607 batting average as a sophomore.
River View is down in the batting department after graduating mega-hitter Jalissa Hutchins (.703, 50 RBIs, 6 HRs), Teri Thompson and Demi McGill. Two-time all-league first-teamer Kim Gier decided not to play her senior year, and Abi Hamlin continues to battle leukemia. But senior P Haley Hess, who led the SCAC East with 130 strikeouts, should help keep the Panthers in games as they look to return to state.
Kiona-Benton went to the SCAC district tournament last year, and the Bears hope to do so again under new coach Dave Thornton. All-league first-teamer Alex Shuster will lead the way in the circle, with younger sister Dyoni backing her up.
Eight full-time starters are back for Columbia-Burbank, including P Brittany Cotsford (106 1/3 IP, 4.21 ERA). The junior could get relief from Rachel Roberts, Shelby Smith and Jocelyn Lott.
Mabton returns last year's top hitter, Jackie Cruz (.382), and Jazzee Sustaita and Adeline Barajas have shown early this season that they, too, can pack an offensive punch.
All-SCAC East players Stefhany Guadarrama, Gladys Meza and Maria Garcia are back to lead a young Royal team. The Knights have some bats -- last year, Garcia hit .489 and Lindsey Christensen .370 -- but their pitching is a work in progress.
Wahluke forfeited last season because of a lack of players, but the Warriors are looking forward under new coach Aaron Moen.
Waitsburg-Prescott brings back four starters: P Jennifer Nichols, C Dionna Baker, 3B Katy Hofer and OF Hailey Goenen. Nichols is expected to be in the circle most of the time, though sophomore Sydney Eng will get some experience.
Tri-Cities Prep's roster consists of one junior, seven sophomores and seven freshmen, but the Jaguars have athleticism in spades, as well as capable pitching in club players Victoria Nunez and Victoria Vargas.
DeSales coach Russ Vera started five eighth-graders Saturday because of injuries, and his young corps delivered with two wins. Though inexperience could rear its head this season, all-Southeast 2B P Ashlyn Lyons, part of a fourth-place state finish in 2011, will lead the Fighting Irish through any growing pains.
Hermiston has a tough road ahead as it copes with the death of coach Tom Bequette, but pitching coach Saul Castro stepped up to coach the Bulldogs on an interim basis, and that familiarity should help the healing process. Columbia River Conference first-teamers Paige Long, Courtney Howard, Melina Rodriguez and Maloree Moss are back for the Bulldogs.