Last season was a bit of a struggle for the big-school softball programs, while Horizon Honors had a great regular season but was upset in the playoffs.

A year later, expectations are higher, but only time will tell if the performance on the field matches those ideals.

Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista will have to up their competitiveness to match the new format that has essentially doubled the number of teams in Division I (formerly Class 5A Division I).

The format has changed as well for the state tournament, just like baseball, as the field increases from 16 to 24.

The top four from each section —12 teams — automatically qualify and the other 12 spots will be filled by power points with the top eight seeds getting byes. Once the tournament is down to the Elite Eight it becomes a double elimination tournament.

Both the Pride and Thunder have some work to do to get there if they play at a level similar to last season.

Mountain Pointe went 6-15 last season, but bring back a trio of leaders who coach Mel Wendell believes can get the Pride into a competitive position.

Senior pitcher Ciara Gonzales, senior shortstop Nyla Wambold, and junior pitcher/utility Chandler Hillman will be relied upon heavily.

Add players like Frankie Vasquez, and promising freshmen Hannah Hoben and Kristen McCann, and the Pride could make a run at a .500 regular season for the first time since the 2007-08 season.

“We are still recovering from some off season injuries but we have a lot of experience, having lost only two players from last year,” Wendell said. “We look to make it to state this year and continue where we left off from last year in terms of confidence and understanding of the game.”

Desert Vista is in a similar position after going 7-22 last year with a very young roster in Chris Crowl’s fifth season.

He is hoping those innings for the young players develops into experience they can lean on this year.

“This team can make a strong turnaround from last year,” said Crowl, who is 48-78 in his career. “With some strong pitching and a strong nucleus of returning players, we should be very competitive. If we can stay healthy this team should make the playoffs and make a nice run at the end of the season.”

The talent is strong in juniors, but the leadership comes from senior Emily Panther (.359, 20 RBI) as the team captain after leading the team in hitting while playing infield, catcher and pitcher.

How far they go will depend largely on the continued development of juniors like Danielle Block, a Southern Mississippi recruit who went 5-9 last year, Madison Bailey, Naomi Ricciotti and Rebecca Perez, a transfer from state champion Winslow.

Catcher Ali Cerminara (.326, 14 RBI), infielder Michaela Duarte (.337, 11 RBI), and pitcher Shea Koepnick will be counted on as well.

“We have an experienced pitching staff and we are a good defensive team,” Crowl said. “If the bats are strong it could make us very competitive.”

Horizon Honors would love to duplicate last year’s regular season (16-7), but the loss in the first round as the 10th seed didn’t sit well.

The Eagles bring back a solid core in Mikaela Downs (.703, 39 runs), Shelby Sims (.492, 29 runs), Bailey Volden (.360), Gina Garvey (.400, 39 runs) and pitcher Ashley Hughes (15-5).

The Division III tournament stays the same as years past, when Horizon Honors was in Class 2A, with a 24-team field and single-elimination field.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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