BENNINGTON — Winning the past two championships firmly puts your team in the 'hunted' category, as opposed to the hunter, but Mount Anthony softball coach Katie Contrada hasn't let her Patriots rest on the laurels of the past.
"What we've done in the past is awesome, but it doesn't matter," Contrada said. "We still have to come out every day and work hard, teams want to beat us and we expect that."
If the Patriots want to make a third straight trip to Poultney for the Division I title, they'll have to do it with two of their best players in recent history gone after graduation. Pitcher Baylee Ports, the first MAU Gatorade Player of the Year and star catcher Julie Elwell leave a big hole that Contrada and assistant coach Brooke Remington are trying to fill.
"That was huge for us, but at the same time, Taylor [DiCranian] and Katie [Saunders] will be on the mound and they put in a ton of time in the offseason," Contrada said. "They pitched all winter, fall and summer, they've put in the time, we expect them to show up and do well for us. It's the same behind the plate, Jamie [Boyle] goes from third to catcher, she's got an awesome arm and [catcher is] her first position. It's different kids, but they're not rookies to the game of softball, so I think they'll be OK."
The Patriots have five seniors, including outfielders Lauren Woodcock and Cheyenne Guetti, infielders Kori Bow and Mariah Sauer-Yerke and outfielder Jordyn Upright, in her first season with the team.
"Kori, Lauren and Cheyenne were psyched to come back and have another season, they'll step into those shoes and show the younger kids what's expected and set the example," Contrada said. "We expect those kids to rise to the challenge, they are really coachable kids, fun to have. They'll be good mentors for the younger guys."
Despite some of the youth, there is a ton of experience for the Patriots. Sophomores Kaidin Gauthier, Kaity O'Brien, Jamie Boyle, along with infielder Ashley Billert, have all been on the big stage.
"We have a decent amount of returning players, even as sophomores, they come back with lots of experience," Remington said. "[Some] have been playing all year, so they're not rusty, they're coming in game-ready. We're excited to have them back."
Junior Marleigh Greene will be back in the outfield, while Lindsey Finney will be a backup behind the plate.
Contrada also kept a freshman in Caroline Worthington, who looks to step into a job at second base when the season begins.
"Cat is a great player, very athletic with a good arm," Contrada said. "She can play second base, but she's really a utility player. We're excited to have her, she's going to be an important part of this team for the next four years. She's got a really true swing and she's mature beyond her years at the plate."
Contrada and Remington have been stressing the point to look at things one game at a time, not to get caught up in what the team has done in the past two seasons.
"We can't look too forward into the future, right now, we're making sure everyone has the fundamentals down, and are we working as a team. Literally, we're looking to the first game on Thursday [against Mount Greylock]. In both championships, there were points that it was the little details that made the championship," Contrada said. "The game doesn't have a memory, every season is a new start and a new opportunity to do something great."
The Patriots are scheduled to start the year against Mount Greylock, then travel to Drury as the first four games of the year are on the road.
"We play a lot of Massachusetts teams this year, and it's good for us. We're looking forward to the challenge," Contrada said.