BUCKS COUNTY >> It's a little more difficult to project how the Lower Bucks County high school softball teams might fare this time around because you can't get any clues from last year when the entire season was canceled by the pandemic.
Still, some things about these clubs almost always hold true, and at the top of the list is 2019 Suburban One League division champion Pennsbury remains the team to beat.
Looking at the rest of the SOL Patriot Division teams in Lower Bucks, the chief challenge will probably come from Neshaminy. Bensalem and Truman are among the teams that also have some strengths in a year in which the league has a different format.
Under the new scheduling format, the Lower Bucks teams will play each other twice. In addition, there will be one crossover game against teams from the Colonial Division, which has some very capable clubs such as North Penn.
An early-season story concerns Bristol coach Mike Lalli. Now in his 35th year at the Warrior helm, Lalli enters the year just two wins shy of 600 with a career record of 598-131. To date, Lalli has won 30 league titles and 24 district championships. He has announced he will be stepping down after this year.
Coach: Dan Schram.
Roster: Maddie Buechner (Sr., IF); Jess Klein (Sr., IF); Emma Lostracco (Sr., IF); McKayla Edwards (Sr., OF); Maggie Formichelli (Jr., P/OF); Kira Hutchinson (Jr., IF); Mia Keshanech (Jr., U); Destiny Howard (So., OF/IF); Ayva Knowles (So., OF); Megan Klein (Fr., IF); Angelina Sponheimer (Fr., IF); Mackenzie Kramer (Fr., IF); Kayla Clarkson (Fr., IF/OF).
Strengths: The Owls have a good amount of varsity experience in their lineup. Jess Klein will spark the offense batting high in the order and gives the team a strong right side of the infield along with Buechner at first. Formichelli showed plenty of potential as a pitcher two years ago. This team will put up some runs.
Outlook: Bensalem should repeat the winning record it had two years ago and advance to districts. "We will have a lot of youth on the field,'' said Schram. "We have an established program and a purpose.''
Coach: Mike Lalli.
Roster: Jess Fusco (Sr., 1B); Andee Perseponko (Sr., C); Emma Boggi (Sr., CF), Kerrigan Reilly (Sr., 3B/P); Taylor McClain (So., SS/P); Jaidyn Devine-Morales (Jr., P).
Strengths: The Warriors have a solid returning cast that will carry the day in most games. Fusco can pound the ball and collected 11 doubles two years ago. Perseponko is strong behind the plate and had nine doubles. McClain didn't get to show her stuff as a freshman, but she can play. Scoring runs should not be a problem.
Outlook: The Warriors have a good chance to win their sixth league title in a row and 19th in the last 20 years. They will also be in the hunt for a 10th straight district title. Making their usual run in the state tournament may be difficult because unlike most of its past teams, Bristol does not have a true lockdown pitcher.
Coach: Sandy Hart.
Roster: Laura Wang (Sr., IB); Ange Bresnan (Jr., C/P/IF); Brielle Crawfod (Jr., OF); Katie Brennan (So., OF/IF); Bailey McCormick (So., 2B/C); Bella Palmer (So., OF); Ahlana Sesar (So., P).
Strengths: The Eagles have some capable players, including talented sophomore Katine Brennan and senior first baseman Laura Wang. Sesar is a capable pitcher who will win a lot of games. The team also has improved its depth with the help of nine freshmen who are showing plenty of promise.
Outlook: Once one of the premier programs in the entire Delaware Valley, Conwell-Egan appears to be on the upswing and is a young team that will only get better as the season progresses. A Philadelphia Catholic League title and return trip to states are attainable goals.
COUNCIL ROCK NORTH
Coach: Susan Yee.
Roster: Katheryn Hastings (Sr., P/1B), Sophia Levy (Sr., 2B/U); Gabriella Cohen (Sr., P/1B); Isabella Pellitta (Sr., IF); Allison Roe (Sr., OF); Sofia Shields (Jr., OF/IF); Jayme Bordner (Jr., OF/C); Noelle (Wood (Jr., OF); Emma Zoldi (Jr., SS); Kali Anderson (Jr., P/DP); Sarah Tietelman (Jr., C); Kandace Kiskurno (So., OF); Abigail Green (So., U); Molly Sheehy (Fr., C/3B); Taylor Gearhart (Fr., U)
Strengths: Hastings swings a big bat. Hastings and Cohen have potential in the circle, and there's been an infusion of young talent.
Outlook: Rock North is young and may need some time to come together, but there's a reason to be optimistic. "The team chemistry and attitudes are phenomenal, and that should lead to consistent improvement throughout the season,'' said coach Yee. "We expect to surprise some people and compete well within the very strong Suburban One League."
Coach: Tim Quense.
Roster: Mia Barrone (Sr.), Danielle Monaco (Sr.), Kylee Jones (Sr.), Kylie Siwek (Sr.), Darby Brandt (Sr.), Amanda Slabicki (Jr.), Sidney Phillips (Jr.), Carina Barr (Jr.), Kennedie Ruth (Jr.), Laura Chorbajh (Jr.), Michelle Baradiej (Jr.), Zoefia Shimp (Jr.), Christina Walker (Jr.) Olivia Turchi (Jr.), Emily Frame (Jr.), Jillian Thomas (Jr.), Ryleigh Bilbrey (So.), Madelyn Nelson (So.), Alivia Nocito (So.), Hannah Cieszkowski (So.), Zoe Shubin (So.), Lindsey Gorka (So.), Alivia McGrory (So.), Rachel Allen (So.), Peyton Tierney (So.), Alleigh Waskie (Fr.), Olivia Hughes (Fr.), Morgan Volgraf (Fr.), Grace Eppinger (Fr.), Molly Hitchens (Fr.).
Strengths: The Redskins have excellent depth, especially in the pitching department. Two years ago as a freshman, the hard-throwing Ruth was 13-6 with 138 strikeouts. Two of those losses were to Pennsbury. Kylee Jones is an excellent fielder and blasted five home runs as a sophomore. The team has returned a solid nucleus of players who would have started last year.
Outlook: A first-year coach, Quense is stressing a team-first approach and indicated there's all kinds of competition going on for the varsity spots. "All of our players will play infield and outfield,'' he said. "There's no shortage of talent here and you can be sure Neshaminy will challenge Pennsbury for a division title and be a force in districts."
Coach: Frank McSherry.
Roster: Riley Mahoney (Jr., CF); Caitlyn Martel (Jr., SS); Ainsley McClure (Jr., P); Quinn McGonigle (Jr., OF); Rowan Mulholland (Jr., C); Allie Charlier (Jr., IF); Taylor Askey (So., OF); Emma Hause (Jr., C/3B); Jessica Wade (Sr., 1B); Cynthia Ehrenfeld (So., 1B/3B); Laney Freiband (So., P).
Strengths: The Falcons have one of the true aces in the area with junior pitcher McClure. As a freshman, she went 18-4 and struck out 123 batters as the Falcons won a league title. Martel is one of many quality hitters in a lineup that has plenty of speed. Freiband gives the team pitching depth. Although last year's season was canceled, there is plenty of varsity experience with six players who were on the 2019 team.
Outlook: Pennsbury certainly has a chance to repeat as division champion this year and advance to states with a strong showing at districts. The Falcons also project as the one of the premier teams in the entire area.
Coach: Rick Palmer.
Roster: Jalecia Blackston (Sr., P) ; Kaylie Garcia (Sr., R); Madison Kuvulic (Sr., RF); Emily Kuvulic (Sr., 3B: Mara McKeon (Sr., LF); Emily Merrigan (Sr., C); Allison Micklo (Sr., U); Jada Moran (Sr., 1B); Courtney Nau (Jr., 2B); Jada Pote (So., OF); Devin Ross (Sr., U); Hannan Smith (Jr., SS); Kylee Thomas (Jr., P); Teyana Towner (Jr., CF); Gina Ward (Jr., F/C).
Strengths: The Tigers have some girls who can really play. Gifted with both speed and power, Towner is one of the top outfielders in the area. Blackston is a workhorse in the circle who can shut down a lot of teams. Emily Kuvulic and Nau have good power and McKeon is a four-year starter. Smith is an athletic player who has a strong arm and is a good fielder.