Following last year's 20-3 season, the Panthers look to replace eight players lost to graduation.

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Most people wouldn't envy the spot that coach Shane Walker and the Central York softball team finds itself in heading into this season.

Following last year's 20-3 season, the team lost eight players to graduation.

Even though the team will only return two starters from last year, Walker isn't worried about a falloff in expectations.

"At our particular school district we are very fortunate that we have a lot of girls that are dedicated to this game and they play on various teams year round," Walker said. "Although I have a younger group, I have a group that's pretty good.

"I've always wanted to be able to say that we reload and not rebuild and I think we're getting there."

Catcher Briannah Dobson along with pitcher Rachel Butler return to lead the Panthers.

"It's going to be hard after we lost (all those players)," Dobson said. "But, our girls are already jelling together. We have a talented group of girls and I don't think it's going to be that hard for us to get back to where we were last year."

Last year, the Panthers captured the Division I crown and secured the seventh seed in the District 3 Class AAAA tournament. With that being said, however, the team lost 5-1 to Chambersburg in the first round.

"You always hope for the best for kids and it was hard because the kids worked so hard and were very coachable," Walker said of last season. "They really bought into our philosophy of our program."

That program feel has helped Central bridge the varsity and junior varsity gap into a unified front.

"The younger girls who are coming up now have been a part of that," Walker said. "When we go to the county playoffs or districts, the whole team travels together, we take all the kids. I think it's important for them to see what it means to play the high level of competition. It's not varsity and JV, it's a softball program."

Those younger kids helped Central's JV team go undefeated last season and Walker is going to rely on them to fill some important roles this season.

"There are a lot of girls who played JV last year that if they were at some different schools they may have had some significant varsity time," Walker said. "Again, its a good problem to have."

The Panthers start the season at home Friday against Waynesboro.

Butler, a senior and second team YAIAA softball coaches all-star last season, will get the start on the mound, one of five possible pitchers the Panthers have at their disposal.

"It's really good to have all those pitching options," Dobson said. "They are all pretty similiar, but its good we have so many options."

Dobson will be the on-field general for the Panthers.

"She did a fabulous job for us last year and we are hoping for her to build on that and we look for a lot of good things from her," Walker said.

Being the catcher, Dobson already feels built-in leadership qualities.

"That's one of the biggest things about being a catcher, is being a leader," Dobson said. "I want my team to know they can depend on me on and off the field."

The Panthers could start four sophomores on Friday.

"I really want to see (our younger girls) be comfortable with who they're playing with," Dobson said. "They don't have to be nervous about being on varsity."

Whether an upperclassmen or underclassmen, a starter or reserve, everyone plays a part on the squad.

"We've gone out of our way to say there is no unimportant role on the team," Walker said. "The first batter is as strong as the ninth batter."

Laura Colberg, a junior second baseman who was also a second team all-star last year, will see more time in the field this season.

"She batted over .400 for us last year," Walker said of Colberg.

Sophomores Courtney Coppersmith (pitcher/first baseman), Erin Cabry (shortstop) and Cameryn Rothrock (third baseman) are some of the younger players that will fill the gaps of graduated all-stars Kayla Resh, Kyla Caruso and Kelsey Wisner.

Central, along with the other YAIAA teams benefited from the rather mild winter and were able to get outside to evaluate their teams.

"It's helped us to develop the players who will be filling those key positions," Walker said. "The gym is good because you get reps, but nothing beats getting on the dirt and hitting a live ball and making plays."

Following Tuesday's scrimmage, Walker could already see the early signs of the team coming together.

"The girls spent time together after the game and their starting to recognize the importance of team and getting along with one another. That's a great sign for us," Walker said.

This week's games

The 2016 YAIAA softball season openes this week. Here's a look at the upcoming schedule in and around York County: 

Thursday
Eastern at Columbia, 3:45 p.m.
Lebanon Catholic at York County Tech, 4:15 p.m.
Newport at Hanover, 4:15 p.m.
Spring Grove at Penn Manor, 4:15 p.m.
York Suburban at Northern York, 4:30 p.m.

Friday
Big Spring at Northeastern, 4:15 p.m.
Waynesboro at Central York, 4:15 p.m.

Saturday 
Fairfield at Williamsport MD tournament, 10:30 a.m.
Delone Catholic at Bishop McDevitt, 11 a.m.

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