Wake Forest ruled the Cap Eight 4A Conference in softball in recent years, but there have been some changes.
The Cougars had a 143-game winning streak in the league that stretched back to 2002 broken by a 2-1 loss to Heritage in 2013. Veteran coach Doug Kinsman, who built the program during 13 years at the helm, has resigned and moved to Utah.
Wake Forest, which finished 20-5, reached the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 4A finals in 2013, dropping two straight games to Alexander Central in a best-of-3 series. The Cougars reached the state finals three times and have won 13 consecutive conference championships under Kinsman.
We lost lot of talented girls and their successful head coach, but that doesnt mean this years team is going to be a pushover, said new coach Sam Hershey.
Sophomore Chelsey Cunningham will take over pitching duties from graduated all-state pitcher Brittainey Dahle.
N.C. Softball Coaches Association all-state junior first baseman Katy Holt hit .533 and drove in 27 runs a year ago. All-state senior second baseman Delane Smith is outstanding and all-state sophomore Cassidy Dahle pitched some last year and returns to the outfield. Hershey believes junior shortstop Anna Wolfe has one of the best arms in the state.
Teams to watch
Apex (20-2): The Cougars may be the team to beat this season. Coach Bonnie Hodge returns seven starters from a group that has reached the third or fourth round of the playoffs the past two years.
The group is led by conference player of the year Lindsay Hodge. She batted .500 and drove in 30 runs. She also had a 1.56 earned run average as a pitcher and struck out 128 batters.
Joining her on the N.C. Softball Coaches Association all-state team were UNC Greensboro recruit Alexis Overdiep (.458 batting average, 13 stolen bases) and junior Cassie Healy (.464).
South Granville (24-3): South Granville has the richest softball history in the area. The Vikings reached the NCHSAA 2A finals and return all-state picks junior second baseman Erin Boone and junior catcher Karlee Michalina plus sophomore outfielders Savannah Tilley and Hunter Mundy.
West Johnston (16-6): The Wildcats finished second in the Greater Neuse 4A Conference in 2013 and advanced to the Eastern finals. Seven lettermen are back, including sophomore pitcher Megan Mills who helped lead West Johnstons playoff run last season.
Chatham Central (26-2): NCHSAA 1A West regional runners-up graduated five key players, but return all-state senior shortstop Antonia Nelson and all-state sophomore outfielder Anna Brafford.
Middle Creek (19-4): The Mustangs could go even farther this year with seven returning starters and three returning all-state players: senior third baseman Lauren Panella and juniors outfielder Megan Walker, and junior pitcher Kiley Majette, a Winthrop commitment.
North Johnston (23-1): The Panthers only loss was in third round of playoffs to Wilson Beddingfield. Senior all-state shortstop Jamie Johnson has committed to UNC Pembroke. Junior all-state third baseman Kaylynn Batten (.536, six homers) and sophomore Olivia Stewart also return.
Garner (16-3): Veteran coach Moe Barbour relies on all-state pitcher Lauren Marbrey, plus UNC Wilmington shortstop recruit Kelsey Bryan and Mount Olive recruit Brooke Kamphuis.
Clayton (15-5): The Comets graduated 4A state player of the year Nicole Bond, but return Presbyterian recruit Jenna Harris and sophomore shortstop Lindsay Hodge. New coach Jay Westbrook also is counting on seniors third baseman Ashley Murphy and second baseman Mindy North.
South Johnston (21-5): The Trojans could make another playoff run with the return of Mount Olive recruit and all-state outfielder Kayla Allen (.482), senior Krista Collins (.318) and junior Madison Byrd (.389 with 16 extra base hits). Pitchers Lauren Higgins and Dinalee Spell were 15-4 and 5-1, respectively.
Orange (16-2): The Panthers return the 3A East player of the year catcher Mackenzie Cates, an all-state pick, and all-state pitcher junior Kyrbee Cheek. Sophomore shortstop Montana Davidson also returns.
Millbrook (11-9): Seven starters return from an 11-9 team. Junior shortstop Devin Williams was an all-state pick. Sophomore catcher Emiley Burris and third-baseman Katie Thomas were all-conference picks.
Cardinal Gibbons (11-8): The Crusaders are led by sophomore all-state selections pitcher Kassidy Wood and thrid baseman Elizabeth Pederson.
Princeton (19-3): The Bulldogs return eight starters from a club that reached the 1A East championships. Junior Charley Cox hit .508.
Corinth Holders (13-8): The Pirates have all-state second baseman Kristina Neal (Chowan) and all-state junior third baseman Kelsie Hocutt. Senior outfield Kayla Meares is committed to Louisburg and Brandy Davis to Norfolk State.
Green Hope (14-8): The Falcons return all-state pitcher Ali Then (2.07 ERA) and all-state outfielder Lauren Clifford.
Triton (14-7): The Hawks return eight starters, including all-state picks Erica Occena and Kasey Matthews. Pitcher Kayla Baker was the conference co-pitcher of the year.
Heritage (14-4): The Huskies have seven starters back, led by junior pitcher Laura Williams, a two-time all-conference player. Shortstop Jordan Gontram and centerfielder Jacy VanArkel also were all-conference picks.
Person (13-5): The Rockets have a solid nucleus with all-star returners senior shortstop Jasmine McCain, senior catcher/outfielder Hannah Blaylock and junior catcher Janelle Sanford.
Players to watch
Logan Barefoot, Cedar Ridge, Sr.: The second-baseman was all-state.
Brittany Bucklin, Cleveland, Sr.: Committed to Methodist.
Callie Horn, Northern Durham, Jr.: Shortstop won all-state honors last year.
Ashlyn Long, Fuquay-Varina, So.: Outfielder was all-state selection.
Chandler Patterson, Sr., Lee County: All-state shortstop heading to Campbell has a career batting average of .510.
Laura Zievis, Leesville Road, Sr.: Committed to Newberry College. Meredith Bissette, Leesville Road, Sr.: Committed to South Florida.
English Dean, Broughton Jr.: Caps pitcher was all-state in 2013.
Hannah Reynolds, Athens Drive, Sr.: Furman recruit missed 2013 with an injury, but was all-conference as a freshman and sophomore.
Madison Thompson, Panther Creek, Sr.: Made all-state as an outfielder in 2013.
Kelsey Ward, Fuquay-Varina, Sr.: First baseman was all-state.
Tim Stevens: 919-829-8910