After winning the past two WPIAL Class A softball championships, Chartiers-Houston has moved up to Class AA this spring.
It will be the first time in program history the Buccaneers are not in the smallest WPIAL classification.
With six starters back, including senior all-state pitcher Kayla Briggs, Chartiers-Houston looks to be up for the challenge. Briggs was 25-2 with 213 strikeouts last season.
The Buccaneers are ranked No. 3 in the Post-Gazette Class AA preseason rankings behind No. 1 Deer Lakes and No. 2 Riverside. It is an unusual position for a Chartiers-Houston team that went "coast-to-coast" last year as the Post-Gazette's No. 1 Class A team in the WPIAL
"You have to play where they put you," Bucs coach Tricia Alderson said. "I think throughout the years I have been there, we were competitive at just about any level. That is just our expectation. We want to keep working hard. Obviously, it is going to be much tougher [in Class AA]."
While there are six starters back, Alderson must replace one of the most successful senior classes in program history. Catcher Colby Miller and shortstop Rachel Tucker were four-year starters, senior outfielder Kelli Dufresne was a three-year starter and senior first baseman Ashley Hall was a two-year starter.
That senior class played a role in 83 victories during its four high school seasons, including 20 postseason games. They finished with two WPIAL championships and one PIAA championship.
The Buccaneers were the class of Class A last season, finishing the regular season 19-1 and activating the mercy rule in 17 of its 20 regular-season games.
Games should be much closer this season especially in Class AA Section 2 that features Fort Cherry, McGuffey and Waynesburg Central.
Fort Cherry moves up from Class A with Chartiers-Houston. The Rangers reached the 2011 WPIAL final where it lost to Chartiers-Houston.
McGuffey was a playoff team in Class AAA last season before moving down and the Highlanders are ranked No. 5 in the Post-Gazette preseason rankings and Waynesburg Central was a Class AA playoff team a year ago.
"I honestly don't know the teams as well," Alderson said. "As the year goes on, we will continue to gather more information. Obviously this year there is more of the unknown.
"McGuffey is going to be very strong -- they have a strong nucleus of kids. Waynesburg is a nice team, well-coached and some of the teams like Bentworth and Fort Cherry, we know from Class A. I think there is some really good pitching in our section."
Chartiers-Houston has been one of the WPIAL teams fortunate enough to get some games under its belt early this season. The team escaped the snow by traveling to Myrtle Beach to play in the Ripken Experience last weekend. They won all three games they played.
"Overall everyone did a nice job," Alderson said. "It was nice that we got to see a lot of things. We were able to get those younger kids some experience and see what they had to offer. I think it worked out well."
Along with Briggs, the other returning starters are senior first baseman Piper McLaughlin, junior infielder Haley Sutton, sophomore infielder Megan Kraushaar, sophomore outfielder Kassie Kesneck and sophomore Casey Craig.
One of the more versatile players on the team, Craig has played everywhere from second base to outfield to catcher as Alderson continues to tinker with her lineup.
Exactly half of the 16 players on the roster are sophomores.
"We have a strong sophomore class," Alderson said. "Many of them are going to be starting or battling for starting positions."
Briggs is now in her fourth year as a starter and second year at full-time pitcher. She pitched in relief duty as a freshman and sophomore.
"Kayla has always been so good," Alderson said. "When she came in, I never thought of her as a freshman because she was such a talented, hitter, fielder and pitcher. She loves the competition and she feeds off that. She is just a great competitor and a great athlete."
Chartiers-Houston pitcher Kayla Briggs, who compiled a 25-2 won-lost record with 213 strikeouts last year, returns to lead the Buccaneers in Class AA this season.