1. Last Hurrah for Lauralton Hall
This will be the final season for Lauralton Hall in the South-West Conference. The Crusaders are hoping to have a memorable exit. Lauralton Hall has the depth and talent to challenge defending champion Masuk and defending Class S champion Oxford for the SWC crown.
The Crusaders, though, face a daunting early-season schedule with non-league games against St. Joseph (Wednesday), Seymour (Thursday) and Hand (April 19). Lauralton Hall, and first-year coach Amanda Acampora, who replaces Theresa Napolitano, moves up to Class L from Class M, but the Crusaders should still contend for a state title. Beginning in the fall, the Crusaders will become members of the Southern Connecticut Conference.
2. On the Defensive
Southington added to its state record when it won its 15th Class LL championship last season. Despite losing some talent to graduation, the Blue Knights return senior shortstop Sydney Ferrante and promising junior pitcher Kendra Friedt. Those two, and a solid supporting cast, should give Southington a decent shot at repeating. Bristol Central, Darien and Mercy, and others in the LL field, would like nothing more than to deny the Blue Knights back-to-back titles.
Defending Class L champion Masuk has the state’s best player in senior pitcher Tatum Buckley. The Panthers are the favorite to repeat, although this class is loaded and includes contenders such as Berlin, Foran, Maloney, Torrington and the aforementioned Lauralton Hall.
Waterford was a surprise winner in Class M last season. The Lancers return four key players from that squad, but Oxford, which won Class S last season, moves up to M and should vie for the title behind junior ace Ashley Guillette. Count East Haven and Seymour in as contenders as well.
With Oxford’s move up, Class S is wide open. Shoreline Conference teams Morgan and Haddam-Killingworth should be in the mix, as will Terryville.
3. Lions and Tigers
The SCC is one of the state’s top conference and the league tournament is usually intense. This year should be no exception. Defending champion Mercy is loaded. The Tigers return pitcher Mary Adametz, shortstop Astin Donovan and center fielder Madison DeRita, and just may be the most talented team in the league. Foran, behind pitcher Jess Harkness and first baseman Fallon Bevino, is also stacked. The Lions won the SCC title in 2012. East Haven will attempt to win its first league crown, while traditional powers Amity, Cheshire, Hand and North Haven all return talented squads.
4. Shoreline Strong
It’s expected to be a very good year in the Shoreline Conference. Defending champion Haddam-Killingworth, which has advanced to three straight league tournament championship games, returns both its pitcher (Ciara Samuel) and catcher (Casey Jackson). The Cougars’ biggest threat to another SLC title should be Morgan, which returns eight, including sophomore pitcher Emily Popp. North Branford and Hale-Ray are perennial contenders, while Old Saybrook returns its battery and a slew of other starters, and should also vie for league supremacy.
5. Spartan Effort
Maloney has reached at least the quarterfinals of the Class L tournament for the past six seasons but have yet to appear in a state final. The Spartans have advanced to the semifinals the past two seasons. With its entire outfield returning, as well as shortstop Ariele Virgulto, this just may be the year that Maloney plays for its first state championship. Spartans coach Scott Aresco, entering his 14th season, is just three wins shy of 200 career victories.