|2014 COVINGTON LADY BUCCS...
The Covington Lady Buccs enter the 2014 season with a young roster and plenty of unknowns after a third straight state final four appearance a year ago.
Since taking over the Covington softball program as head coach in 2009, Dean Denlinger has built a state power - earning three straight trips to the state final four in the past three seasons.
But the word thrown around the area in regards to Covington softball in 2014 is "REBUILDING". And there might be something to that as this year's team only returns three starters from a year ago to a roster where 11 of the 16 kids in uniform are underclassman.
"This is the youngest team I've had since I've been here," said Denlinger. "Youth brings competition and we have a lot of positions open for competition."
Which means the three starters who do return will likely see different roles than a year ago.
"We're trying to put the puzzle together," Denlinger said. "Nothing is really settled at this point, but the girls have great attitudes and are working very hard."
Senior Haley Adams and junior Jessica Dammeyer took care of two-thirds of the outfield a year ago, but may have to switch positions as the only player who returns in the infield is junior Morgan Arbogast.
Plus, with the graduation loss of one of the premier pitchers in the history of the program in Casey Yingst, Arbogast may be counted on to fill those shoes - meaning the entire infield will likely have a new look.
"We're going to have a different look, that's for sure," said Denlinger. "The good thing is we have some leaders who understand the expectation and are leading by example right now - helping get our younger kids up to speed."
Two of those leaders are seniors Haley Adams and Morgan McReynolds, two players who have big-game experience by playing in three straight state final four games.
"We will count on Haley and Morgan to provide the senior leadership, but another leader for us is Arby (Morgan Arbogast)," said Denlinger. "We also have a few other girls who played key roles last year, maybe not as starters, but they contributed greatly to our success."
The players Denlinger is referring to are junior Alex Gast and sophomores Arianna Richards, Brooke Gostomsky and Erin Olson.
"Those girls know what to expect," Denlinger continued. "They understand what needs to be done and how hard we need to work if we want to be successful."
Which will help the seven freshman and one sophomore who are new to the program get up to speed on what Covington Lady Bucc softball is all about.
And the youngsters will need to grow up in a hurry if Covington is to challenge in a very strong Cross County Conference, where programs like Miami East, Newton, Bradford, Ansonia, Arcanum, Tri-Village and Twin Valley South are traditionally strong.
"Our league is loaded this year with some really good teams," said Denlinger. "Our conference schedule is as tough as it gets."
And things don't get any easier for Covington in its non-league schedule with the likes of Versailles, Anna, New Bremen, Centerville, Minster, Russia, Greenville, Northmont, Celina, Milton Union and Troy.
"Our schedule is tough and we wouldn't want it any other way," emphasized Denlinger. "That's one of the first things I did when I came here was boost our schedule so we could play the best teams we could find."
Rebuilding or not, Covington will have a huge bullseye in its back.