With three teams ranked within the top seven of the preseason CHSAAnow.com softball poll, the Class 4A Tri-Valley League itself is shaping up to be a possible preview of the state tournament.
Frederick's seniors know all about getting to that point. Now, it's about finishing the job.
There's no shortage of bitterness over the way the past two seasons have ended up for four-year players Julia Wyatt and Paris Woods, both FHS outfield stars. They can thank one team in particular for the sour taste — Valor Christian — but the general feeling of "coming up short" is one both players would like to delete.
"We've had some things happen to us in the playoffs and stuff, and I think this year we're out for blood," Wyatt said as the Warriors enter the season No. 5 in the CHSAAnow.com preseason poll and on a short list of title contenders. "As seniors, we really want to come back and have a good last season, and we're working hard to be able to do that."
There is an enormous amount of pride in being a senior in the Frederick program these days. In 2014, Cheyenne Hamilton and Alex Dufour carried a large load in helping the team start off 24-0 and reach to the championship game; in 2015, as Frederick made the quarterfinals, Shea Heath and Mae Mitchell were the vocal-and-otherwise leaders.
Woods and Wyatt, along with Hanna Ellis, Brooklyn Johnson, Alicia Hernandez and Anjelee Huerta, hope to emerge as the core of players that bring the Warriors to elite heights — Frederick is still searching for that first softball state title, which would also be the first title in a girls sport for the school.
"I really see the leadership happening, and that's something I know I saw when I was younger," Woods said. "I want us to keep that reputation."
Talent-wise, this group of seniors could be Frederick's best. Hernandez pitched every single game as a sophomore and gave way to splitting time with Johnson last year (the pair combined for a 17-6 mark); Woods smacked 13 extra-base hits and stole 20 bags; Wyatt carried a .470 average in a breakthrough season; and Ellis has been steady as they come at the backstop position. Huerta will likely see an expanded role, as well.
"It's their time to shine as seniors," head coach Roger Dufour said of Woods and Wyatt. "They're great girls on and off the field, and I really expect them to be strong captains out there.
"We pride ourselves on offense, and to further that I think we are one of the better baserunning teams out there. We're going to challenge and push the envelope a little bit, be aggressive and pressure the defense. We've primed the reserves ... to be good on the basepaths."
Two years removed from that elusive TVL title, the league is going to be a challenge with two games apiece against No. 2 Erie and No. 7 Berthoud (Windsor is also getting votes). If that's not enough, Frederick will play Grandview (5A quarterfinalists) and Oklahoma power Sequoyah at the Erie Tournament of Champions — after already getting a crack at both Wheat Ridge (4A runner-up) and Valor (4A champs) at the first annual Metro State softball tournament next week.
"Every team is good in our league and we can't underestimate anyone," Woods said. "What I've taken from the past is keep working hard, always. I make sure I pass that to my teammates."
"We're going to know real early where we fit," Dufour said.