When the Suburban Big Six softball season wrapped up last year, Blue Springs was champion and Blue Springs South tied Lee’s Summit for second place. In the postseason, Lee’s Summit toppled Blue Springs and won the right to face Truman in the state quarterfinals, where it slipped past the Patriots and state player of the year Paige Parker en route to the Class 4 state title.

All three squads have a bevy of returnees this year, including 11 letter winners at Blue Springs and seven at South.

Among those longtime Blue Springs coach Roger Lower welcomed back are his entire outfield (Kaylie Gilgour, Alexis Koop, Mariah Welch), three-quarters of the regular infield (Morgan McMahan at first, Brittani Reid at second, Madison Sykes at third), the battery of catcher Darian Frost and Alexis Reid and designated hitter Erin Keeney.

Alexis Reid was one of just two pitchers (along with Lee’s Summit senior Emily Robinson) who bested Parker last year. With all that returning experience, practices have been smooth and Lower’s Wildcats have set their bar high.

“It’s been pretty good. The girls are working hard, and they came back with some expectations after last year,” Lower said. “They’ve got some goals they want to accomplish.

“Last year ended a lot sooner than they wanted it to, so they want to make sure it doesn’t happen again. All the kids worked hard over the summer, and you can see improvement in certain areas they needed to work on.”

South coach Kristi Williams also has her top pitcher back in junior Erin Griesbauer, along with infielders Chelsey Tipton (first), Julia Woelbel (second) and Mariah Bierman (third) and outfielder Hannah Tolliver, who is sliding over to replace all-stater Madi Giles in center. Josie White is the full-time catcher with Bierman moving to third, and Makenzie Musgrove takes over at shortstop.

Skyler Robinson and Bailey Fowler will help Griesbauer in the circle and are among a group of five girls competing for the corner outfield spots, “giving each other a run for their money and making us think and rethink,” Williams said.

“We have a strong group of core girls that have been around a couple years,” she said. “The seniors are doing wonderfully in bringing the younger kids along, because they were there once and they know it’s important for them to step up and fill roles on the team.”

NEW-LOOK PATRIOTS: At Truman, former junior varsity coach Mandee Berg leads a varsity team that moves on without Parker and some excellent classmates. Returning starters are shortstop Brook VunCannon, outfielders Madison Vanderlinden and Shay Tolbert and pitcher Victoria Morrow, and Annika Kessler also lettered last year.

“The girls are working really hard and trying to fill the holes left from last year,” Berg said. “They’re having fun, and that’s important.

“We have some good freshmen coming in. Brooke looks good hitting and in the field; she’s been a great leader. (The returnees) are all good leaders by example.”

Berg is looking for Morrow, an outfielder last season, to take over the bulk of duties in the pitcher’s circle, with help from Vanderlinden and possibly freshmen Hannah Ekberg and Marrissa Salinas.

Berg said while it’s impossible to compare Morrow to Parker, who will pitch at the University of Oklahoma, she isn’t worried about Morrow in the circle.

“She’s a solid pitcher,” Berg said. “She’s got a good snap and keeps the ball low.”