Last year, the Canyon Del Oro Dorados won their third straight state softball championship, and current University of Arizona ace Kenzie Fowler was one of the nation's top pitchers.
Fowler is gone from that 30-2 season, along with Katie Asher and Lindsey Weldon. "Losing those three seniors was huge," said new coach Kelly Fowler, who succeeds Amy Swiderski.
The Dorados opened this season with a 15-11 win, then lost 16-0 to Sierra Vista Buena. Concerns were raised.
But last Tuesday, Janelle Christman settled into a groove and pitched a three-hitter to beat visiting Sahuarita, 7-3. The Dorados are young, 5-2 and improving.
Christman gave up two runs and two hits in the first to Sahuarita, then allowed a home run and two walks the rest of the way. She struck out nine batters and hit a homer herself.
"It was tough in the beginning," Christman admitted. "My outfield helped me a lot."
Christman is one of two Dorado seniors. She likes what she sees from the young team.
"Everyone's here early for practice," Christman said. "We have a tradition to uphold. Everyone brings their A-game against us."
Adriana Privatera, the team's other senior, expects to return shortly from a torn ACL injury.
As for that pitching staff, the Dorados have now held their opponents to three runs or less in four of their last six games. Kelly Fowler may not have daughter Kenzie around to help pursue another state title, but she likes her staff, nevertheless.
"We have three good pitchers, Christman, Kayla Bonstrom and Kiley Raica," Fowler said. "The things we can count on are hitting, defense and three good pitchers."
The Dorados may have the offense necessary to win after a new rule change went into effect.
"This year the game has changed," Fowler said. "The pitcher's mound has been moved back three feet to 43 feet."
She really likes her top five hitters, Kayla Henry, Bonstrom, Val Mendoza, Sammi Noland and daughter Mattie Fowler.
"Our top five can compete with anyone," Fowler said.
Against Sahuarita, Henry had three hits and a walk. Mendoza had three hits, including two doubles, and also stole home when Brianna Dehogne was caught between first and second. Bonstrom hit a double off the fence.
"We have a very young team," Fowler said. "We're concerned about our youth."
The defense should help to keep opposition scoring to a minimum.
"Val (Mendoza), Mattie (Fowler), Sammi (Noland), Kayla Bonstrom, and Kayla Henry are good defensive players," Fowler said. "Katherine Peters does a good job behind the plate. She has a strong arm and blocks the plate well."