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Softball looks competitive again

Two weeks into the season, it looks like what most coaches predicted -- a competative, tough softball season -- will be the case.

The top two teams in 5A, Alta and Jordan, played last week and the game ended with a score of 1-0. Tuesday afternoon, Alta lost to Mountain View. Last week, 3A powerhouse Snow Canyon beat Weber -- one of 4A's best teams. Weber and Fremont have beaten each other this season in tournaments and early season play.Here are the rankings for the 2000 Softball season as decided by the Deseret News and the state's coaches.

5A

In 5A most coaches agree Alta is the team to beat. But Jordan appears to be a rising power. Alta Coach Vaughn Alvey said his team could win it all if they work hard.

"We just hope to get better every game," Alvey said. "We're going to run, hit and giggle, same as always."

Alvey has excellent talent and experience returning in almost every position. He has two fast, hard-working pitchers in Niki Andersen and Jenna Merchant and last year's 5A MVP behind the plate in Nikki Hill.

Fox Sports ranked Alta 21st nationally among softball teams before the season started.

Rival Jordan High also boasts talented pitching, but the team is a bit younger and less experienced in high school competition. Coach Steve Hendricks has 1999 first-team all-star pitchers Lacee LePrey and Jamie Hendricks returning to the mound.

Hillcrest coach Sam Puich returns seven starters from last year, who are still very young, but a little bit more experienced this year and could throw some kinks into Region 3 competition. Taylorsville sophomore Leslie Higley returns this year and could lead her team through some tough games.

4A

Region four looks to be the tougher of the three regions this year, although there are strong teams in each region. Box Elder was the hands down choice to take the 4A title, but other coaches are promising tough games along the way.

Coach Jim Fuller was the only one who didn't pick his team to win it all, but he said he wasn't being "falsely modest." He said there are a number of factors that could come together for any of the teams near the top and make it possible for any of them to win it all.

Weber and Fremont have beaten each other in pre-season play, and if Fremont's Amy Russell gets healthy this season, they could easily become the favorite.

"She's just a tough competitor," Fuller said of Russell. He echoed his admiration when describing Weber's Ashely Smith. Her drop curve is "almost unhittable." He has younger pitchers, but very experienced infield behind them. His senior shortstop, Lisa Rackham, has already signed with Ricks College.

"When you surround your (pitchers) with that kind of experirence, that's a tremendous advantage," he said.

Weber, Fremont and Box Elder will likely contend for the state title, but look for Springville and Murray to provide some inter-region excitement.

3A

Another modest coach with a top program looks like the favorite for the 3A title. Wane Kittrell said his team is also young and inexperienced, but he does have 3A MVP Lyndi Frei back this year. He also has junior short-stop Shelby Sorenson and Crystal Geck, who plays first but can also pitch.

"We've got some good young players," Kittrell said. He's saving his pronouncements and expectations for the field, however. He ranked his team dead last in the region, while most everyone else ranked him first in the state. Should be an interesting season.

In addition to Snow Canyon, Bear River and North Sanpete should be tough and have all the elements of a championship team.

Last year first-team all-star Milly Chrstensen, North Sanpete, is back for her senior season, and Katie Nelson from Bear River is a junior this year. Dixie is another team Kittrell said could provide some upsets with six returning seniors including their main pitcher and catcher.

2A

Manti is the favorite to win the 2A title, but they should have tough competition from the South Sevier Rams, a team that knows how to win games.

South Sevier is returning three starters and first-team all-stars from last year in Sarah Gay, Jessyka Bowcutt and Reagan Roberts. Look for Anique Denton to lead the Templars through a tough schedule.

Most coaches see Grand High School going undefeated in the region again this year and they have junior pitcher Brittney Bohannon back for another season.

Millard lost pitcher Kelli Adams to graduation, but if they can adjust to new players and a new coach they could be tough. The team's key players could be Angeline Beckstrand and Lacy Christiansen.

All in all, coaches agree about one thing more than any other. If the season is as interesting as this spring's weather, it should be a rollercoaster ride to the state championships.