As far as the other coaches in Class C South are concerned, the softball factory at Madison is still churning out a contender.
The Bulldogs have been the No. 1 seed in the region each of the past five years, and have won the region three of those times, winning two state titles, including last year.
It could be six straight top seeds this year, unless one of the handful of promising teams in the region can find a way to knock the Bulldogs off that perch.
“They’re always going to be good,” Monmouth co-coach Dave Kaplan said.
One of the Bulldogs’ perennial chasers, Telstar, might not be the favorite for the No. 2 spot in the region this year.
“I don’t know what they’re going to bring, but they lost 12 seniors,” Monmouth co-coach Mike Langlois said. “I’d suspect they’d be down this year.”
Other coaches aren’t so sure that the Rebels will be rebuilding, and aren’t ready to overlook them.
Oak Hill coach Allyson Collins, whose team is an MVC rival of Telstar but competes in Class B South come playoff time, thinks the Rebels could be there at the front of the pack by the end of the season. Winthrop coach Chuck Gurney said he sees Telstar as one of the tougher opponents his team will face this season.
The Ramblers have to face the Rebels twice, and do the same with Madison and last year’s No. 3 seed, Carrabec.
“Our schedule is extremely tough playing the teams that last year finished 1-2-3 in six of our 16 games this year,” Gurney said. Our only goal this year is to play as hard as we can for as long as we can and see where we are as a team when the dust settles. If we stay healthy I believe we may be ready to take a big step forward in an extremely tough Mountain Valley Conference.”
The coaches at neighboring Monmouth expect the Ramblers to take that next step.
“Winthrop’s up and coming,” Kaplan said.
“They wouldn’t be a darkhorse to me,” Langlois said. “They’re hungry. A lot of good, young players.”
The Mustangs and Ramblers met in the first round of last year’s playoffs, with Monmouth winning before falling to Telstar in the regional quarterfinals.
Monmouth could also see more success this season after returning everybody except for pitcher Katie Canning.
“Defensively, we return all of our starters from last year, and should match up well with the better teams in the conference,” Langlois said.
Telstar, which brings back longtime coach Jim Lunney for another run, but just one starter from last year’s team, was on a collision course to meet Madison in the regional final before getting upset by Lisbon in the regional semifinals. That came one round after the Greyhounds knocked off Carrabec.
Lisbon is looking to be one of those teams taking the next step this season.
“Having no seniors last season increases the expectations that I have set for my players and the team as a whole,” Lisbon coach Terri Tlumac said.
The region appears to by MVC-heavy once again this season. The Western Maine Conference hasn’t placed a team in the regional semifinals since 2012. Traip Academy was the No. 4 seed last year, but couldn’t get past No. 5 Hall-Dale in the quarterfinals.
Kaplan said he doesn’t necessarily see the WMC’s luck changing this season.
St. Dominic Academy, which moved from the MVC to the WMC this year, may not change its new conference’s fortunes, but the Saints could contend for a postseason berth after graduating just one key player. St. Dom’s will have to find wins playing a difficult schedule, and hope that the Heal points add up at the end to get into the playoffs.
Dirigo, which edged its way into the playoffs last year before a first-round exit, has a new coach in Scott Underhill, and the Cougars will have to replace six starters if they hope to qualify for the postseason again this season.
Mt. Abram finished one spot out of the postseason last year after being the last team to make it in the year before. The Roadrunners could one again find themselves in the playoff bubble.
“I think that this season will be as competitive as it has been in previous seasons,” Tlumac said. “A lot of quality players are returning to our region.”