Ask any of the seven other coaches in the Classic 8 Conference, and they'll tell you that the Kettle Moraine girls softball team is the solid favorite to win the 2017 league championship.
While Catholic Memorial and Muskego shared the championship one year ago with 10-4 records, the league had some balance. Arrowhead and Kettle Moraine tied for third place at 8-6, and while those three schools figure to be talented again, the Lasers should be hard to beat if everyone stays healthy.
KM ranks as the favorite for good reason. For the first time in school history, the Lasers have all nine of their starters back from one season ago.
"It's kind of crazy to think that we have every one back," said veteran KM coach Scott Graf. "I'm sure that's pretty rare. Our kids have put in a lot of work during the offseason, so that should help a lot. We have a big group of seniors back, so we're counting on all of them to have good seasons."
Kettle Moraine finished 17-11 overall and lost to Arrowhead in the WIAA regional-title game.
KM will return this spring as the best hitting team in school history and could finish the year as one of the best hitting teams ever to play in Waukesha County.
Last season, KM set a school record for most team home runs and batted a school-best .372 for the season. Seven of the nine starters batted .327 or higher.
Senior shortstop Katelyn Yute led the KM offense with a .459 average. She was followed by senior pitcher Sommer Kunstmann at .436, senior second baseman MIchelle Salomone .403, senior center fielder Megan Abatto .400, senior third baseman Carlee Balk .390, sophomore Claudia Spencer .356 and junior Amanda Dombrowski .327.
"We've been a good hitting team for a while," Graf added. The nice thing is that we have good hitters all the way down our lineup. Obviously, we have to play good defense. In this league you just can't give the other teams too many runs and expect to win."
While the offense should be solid, so should the pitching, Kunstmann, a tall right-hander, will be KM's top pitcher for the fourth straight year. Senior Abby Varick will return as the starting catcher.
Others back for the Lasers are sophomore infielder Hannah Frett, sophomore pitcher Katie Cross, senior outfielder McKenna Macfarland senior outfielder/infielder Kaitlyn Kane, senior outfielder Ayla Gagne and sophomore outfielder/catcher Nicole Trafton.
Freshman Claudia Buchholz also could make a strong push for playing time.
"I like the looks of our team with everyone back," Graf said. "But nothing ever comes easy in this conference. There are a lot of good pitchers in the league, and that can make a big difference. If we play like we're capable of, things should be good for us."