After a highly competitive 2016 season, the 2017 season of high school softball in Delaware promises to bring even more excitement.

Last year’s number one seed, Caravel Academy, enters the 2017 campaign as defending state champs, having downed the No. 2 seeded Sussex Tech Ravens in the title game.

While the top two seeds matched up in the finals, the 2016 tournament showed teams around the state that every qualifying team has a shot. Four higher seeds were upset in the opening round of the tournament and both the No. 12 seed Charter Force and No. 14 seeded Lake Forest Spartans advanced to the final four.

Below, we take a look at some Dover area teams looking to make their mark on the field this season.

Dover Senators

After five seasons of three wins or less, the Dover Lady Senators turned things around in 2016 going 8-9 overall.

Dover lost just one senior to graduation from last year’s roster and bring back 12 players, including seniors Antayza Campbell, Anye Carter, Syean Deleon, Tabriana Miller and Victoria Mitchell.

Joining the five seniors back for the Lady Senators are returning underclassmen, Katie Dunlap, Jonice Dyer, Mikayla Frantz, Kristen Spencer, Ashlynn Davis, Makayla Morris, Jenna Owens and Kaila Quick.

Dover opens the regular season Thursday, March 23 at home against Lake Forest - first pitch scheduled for 4:15 p.m.

Lake Forest Spartans

The Lake Forest Spartans were the surprise team of the state tournament last season, riding the No. 14 seed all the way to the state semifinals.

After going 12-6 during the regular season, the Lady Spartans drew one of the final seeds in the tournament. They opened with a first round victory over No. 3 Sussex Central, followed by another win over a top 10 seed, No. 6 Concord in the state quarterfinals. Lake’s run would end in the semifinals, falling to No. 2 Sussex Tech who went on to lose to No. 1 Caravel Academy in the finals.

While they’ll be without three seniors from last year’s team, the Lady Spartans bring back an impressive roster which includes Mya Maddox (First-Team All-State outfielder) and Brooke Glanden (Second-Team All-State third base).

“The ladies were very excited to get back on the field - they say it’s like they never left,” said Lake Forest Head Coach Ashlie Tatman. “They’re excited to get back on the field, but even more excited to put in the work to make it further than last year and build a stronger relationship between each other both on and off the field.”

The Lady Spartans begin their season, Thursday, March 23, on the road against Dover at 4:15 p.m.

Lake Forest opens their home schedule, Tuesday, March 28, hosting Polytech at 4:15 p.m.

Caesar Rodney Riders

The Caesar Rodney Lady Riders enter the 2017 season fresh off a winning mark and second round tournament run in 2016.

CR went 13-5 a season ago, earning the No. 9 overall seed in the DIAA Softball State Tournament. The Lady Riders opened the tournament with a 4-3 win over No. 8 seed and defending state champion Polytech before falling to No. 1 Caravel in the second round.

They’ll part ways with five seniors from last year’s roster, including Rosa’lynn Burton at third base who earned First Team All-State honors.

The Lady Riders have a possible 11 players coming back from last season, including First-Team All-State pitcher Alyssa Ball who enters her senior season.

“After last year’s run in the tournament, the players and coaching staff were very excited to get back after it,” said Head Coach Skye Boris. “We felt that we were a good team last year, but losing our second round game lit a fire to be even better. Obviously it wasn’t the outcome we wanted, but we learned from it and have begun to prepare to go even further this year. We are setting small goals that will lead to bigger goals and are very excited to get rolling.”

CR opens their season at home, Thursday, March 23, hosting Milford at 4:15 p.m.

Polytech Panthers

A season removed from winning their first-ever softball state championship, the Polytech Panthers followed that performance up with a 13-5 mark in 2016.

The Lady Panthers earned the No. 8 overall seed in the state tournament, but were knocked out in the opening round by fellow Henlopen Conference rival Polytech.

Polytech will be without several players who helped bring the school a title in 2015, including All-State players Morgan Dodge, Taylor Pechin and reigning player of the year, Whitney DeMora.

Only five players from last year’s team are back, including senior Brianna Sapienza along with four sophomores in Hayley DiCarlantonio, Jazle Rojas, Brianna Stevenson and Katie Burawksi.  

Polytech will also take the field this season with a new manager, Kristy Vodvarka, who takes over for Jenn Bradshaw.

“The program has been very successful and I have been lucky enough to be a part of the program’s success the past few years,” Vodvarka said. “I was also lucky to have coached with such an awesome coach prior to taking over the program. I would like to continue to instill a sense of pride in the program and a love of the game for the returning players and the new players.”

“The traditions of the program that have been set are ones I would like to continue to implement.”

The Lady Panthers open their season, Friday, March 24, at home against Indian River starting at 4:15 p.m.