There has not been a time during the offseason when the players on the Deer Lakes softball team looked around at each other and talked about being defending WPIAL champions.
But the Lancers and coach Craig Taliani are far from naïve; they are aware that even though this is a new season, their future opponents will be talking about getting ready to play the defending WPIAL champions.
Deer Lakes went 20-2 last spring, winning the first WPIAL softball title in program history. With seven starters back the Lancers are clearly the team to beat in Class AA and the No. 1 team in the Post-Gazette rankings.
"Yeah, definitely," senior shortstop Becca Babincak said when asked if there is a target on the Lancers' backs. "I guess that's what we get from winning WPIALs."
After having its first three games postponed due to weather, Deer Lakes was able to meet Knoch at Pullman Park on March 30. Deer Lakes looked every bit the part of Class AA favorite with a 7-3 win against the Knights, a Class AAA playoff team from a year ago. Deer Lakes, in its season-opener, was playing a Knoch team that had four games under its belt already thanks to a preseason tournament in Kentucky.
The Lancers have compiled a 6-0 record, including a 5-0 mark in Class AA Section 3.
"We don't talk about rankings," Taliani said. "It is all about where you are at the end of the season. I think they really understand that."
Babincak, one of the senior leaders on the team, certainly understands it.
"We need to take it game by game," she said. "We want to win the section and then we want to win WPIALs."
Deer Lakes is strong up the middle with Babincak and sophomore second baseman Katie Gozzard returning starters in the middle infield and the pitcher/catcher combination of sophomore Tiffany Edwards and senior Hannah Blinn back.
Edwards was 8-0 with a 1.20 ERA last season. She also batted .388 with four home runs. Blinn led the team with a .530 batting average.
Edwards and junior Siera Sarver will handle the pitching duties. Sarver batted .450 last season with 30 RBIs. She will play first base when she is not pitching. Edwards will pitch the bulk of the innings.
"Siera has been getting work on the side. We are happy to have two pitchers," Taliani said. "Siera is a good first baseman, she is just an all-around good player, offensively and defense. She can hit for contact and for power."
Edwards split time with pitcher Haliey Moretti last season.
Babincak was a standout on the Deer Lakes basketball team and plans to play basketball at Point Park University.
"Becca is very athletic," Taliani said. "She could even give Point Park help on the softball team."
Senior outfielder Courtney Lubik is another returning starter back for Deer Lakes.
Deer Lakes was 11-1 in Class AA Section 3 last season, with its only loss coming at Burrell. It won its section title by one game ahead of Freeport which finished 10-2. The section remains largely the same this season with the only change being the addition of Valley, which dropped from Class AAA this season.
"We can't be complacent," Taliani said. "We'll be everyone's target."