At this time a year ago not even Timberlane Regional of Plaistow softball coach Jim Clavette was mentioning his team among the preseason favorites in Division I, but the Owls stunned Clavette - and many other people - by winning the Division I title.
It shouldn't come as a shock if Timberlane wins another championship this season.
Although the Owls must replace four starters, sophomore pitcher Kate Hoadley is among the returnees. All Hoadley did as a freshman was post a 16-3 record with a 1.90 ERA, and strike out 155 batters in 128 innings. She picked up the win when Timberlane beat Concord 4-1 in the Division I championship game.
"Last year was a surprise," Clavette said. "Kate was a surprise. She has command of her pitches and hits her spots. Her rise ball was very good last year, and she wasn't afraid to throw inside on the batter's hands."
Shortstop is the biggest hole the Owls have to fill. Masha Lange, last year's shortstop, is playing at Plymouth State University. Lange was the Division I Player of the Year last season."
Infielder Ally Collins (.460), first baseman Madison Bishop (.338) and outfielder Christina Nye (.333) are the leading hitters among returning players.
"It's hitting that I need," Clavette said. "My goal is the final four, but there are good teams out there."
Salem, Londonderry, Spaulding of Rochester and Dover are among those good teams. Londonderry may be the best of that group. The Lancers returned eight starters from last year's team, including outfielder/pitcher Leah Hunt, who has committed to play at St. Anselm College.
ConVal of Peterborough must replace five starters from a team that won last year's Division II title, but the Cougars still have one of the state's top pitchers in Courtney Fisher.
"In our program the faces may be different, but the goal is always the same," ConVal coach Jim Coppo said. "We want the championship to go through Peterborough. Having Courtney makes it a little easier."
Division II appears to be more wide open than the state's three other divisions. Kennett of Conway, Coe-Brown of Northwood, Goffstown, Hollis-Brookline, Milford, Souhegan of Amherst and Windham are all expected to field strong teams.
"They're all legitimate championship contenders," Coppo said.
Campbell of Litchfield looks like the clear favorite in Division III. First baseman Chelsea Caynon is the only player who graduated from last year's team, which beat White Mountains of Whitefield in the Division III title game. The returnees include catcher Brittany McNulla, who has committed to play at the University of Virginia.
Campbell is seeking its third state championship in the last four years, and could find itself battling White Mountains for the title again this season. White Mountains returns pitcher Erika Millett, who was the Player of the Year in Division III in 2013.
Woodsville, last year's Division IV champion, must replace five starters, but will build around catcher Julia Bowman. Junior Lottie Page, last year's No. 2 starter, will be the ace of this year's staff.
"Pitching is always a question, but it was last year as well," Woodsville coach Dana Huntington said. "I'm confident that we will be competitive."
Colebrook, Lisbon and Profile of Bethlehem are other teams that could win this year's Division IV title.