Moments after the state championship victory last June, Jim Lunney couldn’t help but look to the future.

Despite losing seven seniors and starters from a team that had just claimed the Class C state crown, Lunney was an optimist.

His Telstar Rebels wouldn’t be rebuilding this year, he claimed. It may have sounded like typical coach-speak at the time, but his expectations of fielding another contender proved true.

“That class last year was a very good class,” Lunney said. “Athletically, they played all our sports, but the kids that were waiting behind them, they’re playing now. For two of them, its going to be just a one-year opportunity, but they’re all good athletes and they can play softball.”

The Rebels went 14-1 and didn’t lose until the regular-season finale at George’s Valley. That was the third straight road game for Telstar that week. The Rebels avenged the loss in the MVC championship game last Tuesday with a 12-3 victory over the Buccaneers. After winning the regional crown two years in a row, the Rebels are the top seed once again going into the Western Class C tourney.

“I thought we’d contend,” said Lunney, whose team battled through bad weather and bomb threats that kept them off their practice field for three weeks. “Early on, when we beat a couple teams that I thought were strong, I thought, ‘Maybe we’re going to be better.’ We thought we’d be competitive.”

The only returning starters from last year’s state champions were outfielders Jose Reiss and Abby Hutchins.

“We were losing seven seniors, but our whole bench could hit,” Reiss said. “Anyone of us could go into the game and do fine. So I’m not surprised.

“Everyone was kind of expecting us to not be good or to be around .500, but we knew we were going to do well.”

The playoff roster last year contained hints of the future – Candace Hall, Joseline Belanger, Megan Smith, Julia Stambolis, Whitney Mills and Vicki Rice. All were witnesses to last spring’s excitement.

“We had a lot of people step it up and take on new positions,” said Smith. “It’s not surprising to us, but I think we’ve surprised a lot of other teams.”

Replacing the caliber of talent they lost to graduation was a significant challenge. Pitchers Jillian Kimball and Jessie Farrington and catcher Liz Rosenberg had been the battery for four years. Tiffany Jordan, Kayla Mills, Chelsea Cozzolino and Stephanie Tripp were also veteran starters.

Hall, a sophomore, took on the pitching duties and has been dominant, working with catcher Sarah Field to silence hitters throughout the MVC.

“I thought she was going to be OK, but she’s done well,” Lunney said. “She doesn’t walk many. She doesn’t give up many hits. She fields her position well, and she’s a scrappy little hitter.

“I thought she was going to be good and she’s exceeded my expectations. I thought my defense was going to be good and they’ve exceeded that.”

Smith and Belanger, the lone seniors, took over first and second base, respectively. Rice has done well at short while Mills is at third. Stambolis joins Reiss and Hutchins in the outfield.

“The key has been the defense,” Belanger said. “As the season goes on, our hitting has gotten a lot better, too. We struggled at the beginning, but I think we’ve done a lot better now.”

The Rebels entered the tournament last year as the defending regional champs, hoping to avenge a tough loss in the state game. Telstar doesn’t have the same level of playoff experience now, but are still relatively seasoned, especially compared to an abundance of young teams in the Western C field.

“These kids are going to stand right there, and they’ve already exceeded the win record of that other group,” Lunney said. “They’re going to set a new school record as far as wins in four years.”

Lunney tells his club before each game that it is the best team that day that wins. Thus far, the Rebels have been up to that challenge almost every game. Telstar extended its winning streak to 33 straight before the lone loss to George’s Valley.

“Right now, I’m pretty pleased,” Lunney said. “We have a good pitcher and good defense. We’re swinging the bats. They’re all good. They’re not superstars, but they’re all good.”

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