Saying goodbye to collegiate-level talent is never easy but replacing it has been getting easier for the Deer Lakes High School softball program.
The program has elevated itself over the previous three years where it has been able to replace top-level talent with more top-level talent. The Lancers will have to do that this season as they graduated four contributors from last year's WPIAL runner-up team, including Becca Babincak and Hannah Blinn.
Babincak and Blinn not only were recruited to play in college -- Babincak at Point Park and Blinn at Allegheny -- but both are already contributing to their collegiate teams.
"They are both playing already and that gives you an idea of their talent level," Deer Lakes coach Craig Taliani said. "Offensively, we are going to lose a lot of hits, a lot of runs and a lot of RBIs.
"In the past, we had some girls go on to play in college and we have been able to fill in the blanks and hopefully we do the same this year. That is a part of being a high school program."
Blinn was a starting catcher last season while Babincak started at shortstop and batted leadoff.
The cupboard is hardly bare for Deer Lakes. Siera Sarver and Tiffany Edwards are returning all-section players. Sarver starts at first base and is the lone senior on the team while Edwards is one of the top pitchers in the WPIAL.
Sarver is yet another Deer Lakes player who has attracted attention from college coaches. She has committed to Division II Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. Last season she batted .421 with 25 RBIs.
Edwards was 19-2 with a 1.60 ERA last season, helping lead Deer Lakes to the WPIAL Class AA championship game where it fell to Riverside. In her first two years, Edwards is 27-2 overall.
"Edwards will handle the lion's share of the innings," Taliani said. "She has gotten off to a heck of a start in her first two seasons. Tiff can definitely be a dominating pitcher."
With only one senior and two juniors on the roster, Deer Lakes overall is a young team even though there is plenty of postseason experience on the club.
Deer Lakes swept the 14-game Class AA Section 3 schedule last season, finishing 14-0.
"I think we will be in a dog fight again with all the usual suspects," Taliani said. "I wouldn't expect anything less from Freeport, Burrell and Ford City, they are always scrappy teams and they are very talented."
Junior Katie Gozzard will move from second base to shortstop to replace Babincak. Hannah Blinn's younger sister, sophomore Sarah Blinn, will replace her older sister and start at catcher. Sophomores Maureen Hutchinson and Rachel Tanilli are returning starters in the outfield. Hutchinson plays center field and Tanilli will be in right.
Sophomore Maria Taliani, the daughter of coach Craig Taliani, is a returning starter at third base. Freshman Shae Robson is expected to step in and start at second base with sophomore Stephanie Drapela penciled in to start in left field.
"We are looking for some of our younger players to step up this year," Taliani said.
Deer Lakes finished the regular-season undefeated last season at 16-0. Its only losses came to Riverside in the WPIAL final and Phillipsburg-Osceola in the PIAA quarterfinals.
Deer Lakes first two games were postponed due to weather.