Here is a look at the area’s preseason Top 5 teams heading into today’s season openers: 1. La Mirada With experienced seniors in key spots and a group of talented youngsters filling in, the six-time league champion Matadores don’t appear ready to give up their crown easily. Three players have already signed college letters of intent – pitcher Christina Pedroza (Hawaii/Hilo), center fielder Kandis Jones (New Mexico State) and catcher Meaghan Clark (Towson State, Maryland). Other key returners include Danielle Klewein (Jr., RHP/3B), an all-CIF-Southern Section honoree last season, Dana Garcia (Soph., RF/C), Rebecca Walker (Soph., SS) and Ashley Baloun (Sr., OF). “We have seven seniors among nine returning players,” coach Rich Trujillo said, “so we are capable of putting together a pretty mature lineup. Defense will be a strong point. “Our concern right now is whether the offense can manufacture runs. If we can do that, we think our pitching will give us a chance to win games.” Key newcomers include Vanessa Alvarado (Jr., 1B), Vanessa Gutierrez (Jr., Util.), Dana Salas (Jr., OF) and Morgan Clark (Soph., Util.) 2. California Under coach Jim Kruse, who begins his ninth season , the Condors have become a perennial contender, not just for Del Rio League honors but also in the CIF-Southern Section playoffs. Four players are in their fourth year on varsity and hopefully will provide necessary leadership, including pitcher Tara Silagi (18-11, 0.53 ERA), catcher Jessica Amador (.299, 2 HRs, 18 RBIs), second baseman Cya Neal (.427, 35 hits, 15 steals) and shortstop Alex Martinez (.236, 16 runs, 2 HRs). “We are strong defensively up the middle,” Kruse said, adding center fielder Marissa Rangel (.389, 35 hits) to the equation. “And Tara keeps us in every game. “We don’t hit for power right now, and freshmen have to step up and fill their roles. If they do, I think we have the potential to be the best team I’ve had.” Outfielder Jennifer Salas (.299, 3 HRs, 16 RBIs), who also can play first base, and speedster Monica Robles are other key returners. Top newcomers include freshmen Krista Mele (IF/OF), Janelle Carasco (OF) and Ashley Beza. 3. La Serna Devin Lindsay and Holly Consterdine are arguably the area’s best one-two punch on the pitcher’s circle and the reason the Lancers will be competitive every time out. They are joined by eight other returning lettermen, including six starters. Coach Ginger Larsin, starting her 22nd season, has the nucleus for another title contender. The super middle infield combination of Ashley Ramirez (Jr., SS) and Katrina Castaneda (Jr., 2B) anchors the infield. Others expected to contribute early and often include Brooke Putich (Jr., CF), who was at catcher much of last season, Briana Arnold (Jr., RF) and versatile senior Korinne Randazzo, who can fill in anywhere on the field. Top newcomers include freshmen Ashley Holmes (C) and Danielle Cabrera (OF/Util.) and junior Brandi Rummel (3B), up from junior varsity. 4. Santa Fe Six of nine returnees were starters and give coach Annette Ledesma a solid base to build on. Junior left-hander Jessica Davis will lead the pitching with help from junior Andrea Bueno and freshman Jessica Nordyke. “Actually, we have five who are legitimate,” Ledesma says. “We should be quick in the outfield, and our middle infield covers a lot of ground. What we need is leadership from our seven seniors for our younger players. “We need to win some games early and establish our pitching, get them some quality innings.” Top returners include Jasmine Salazar (Sr., C/3B), Krissi Sylvis (Sr., CF), Jessica Gonzales (Sr., SS), Kristen Flores (Sr., RF), Natalie McCarthy (Sr., 1B/C) and Ariel Mendez (Soph., C/3B). Leading the contingent of newcomers are Courtnie Everidge (Jr., LF) and Regina Ayala (Fr., 2B). 5. St. Paul Former standout Swordsmen third baseman Cassie Morales takes the helm this season and welcomes nine returners, including seven starters, from last year’s 20-9 team that won the Del Rey League title. Heading the list of returnees are junior pitcher Kaelynn Armenta (20-6, 1.17 ERA); Ashley Larios (Jr., C, .444, 40 hits, 19 runs, 3 HRs, 29 RBIs), Tara Allis (Jr., SS, .273) and Ashley Castillo (Sr., LF, .365, 31 hits, 25 RBIs). “We have some players who don’t play year-round, so early on it’s a matter of getting our timing back,” Morales said. “The players need to know that what happened last year doesn’t mean a lot this year. We’re in a tougher league, and we have to come out with a lot of intensity.” Newcomers expected to contribute early include Alle Madrid (Jr., RHP/2B), Marisa Ayala (Fr., 2B/1B/C) and Katrina Morales (Fr., 2B). Cantwell All-CIF selections Vanessa Carrasco (Sr., 3B, .307, 23 hits, 20 RBIs) and Lauren Alvarado (Sr., 1B, .412, 35 hits, 28 RBIs) return to help lead the two-time Division VII champion Cardinals as they move up to Division VI this season. “We expect our defense to lead us,” coach Alex Blanco said. “We told our pitchers to keep it on the ground and let our infielders handle it. I think this is the best infield the school has ever had.” Joining Carrasco and Alvarado are freshman shortstop Jalisa Rock and sophomore second baseman Lauren Yao (.468, 36 hits, 24 RBIs). Michelle Sierra (Soph., RHP/2B) will handle most of the pitching and will be backed up by Yao and freshman Stephanie Alvarado. Freshmen Rudy Rivera (RF) and Candace Barba (RF/DH) also could contribute early. El Rancho All-Del Rio League performers Stephanie and Vanessa Gonzales will assume new roles this season. Stephanie Gonzales moves from shortstop to the pitcher’s circle, and Vanessa Gonzales from center field to shortstop. Nine lettermen return, five of them starters, giving the Dons solid defense in support of Stephanie’s new challenge. “She hasn’t had much experience in the circle, but she has the basics, and it’s just a matter of fine tuning,” said Senteno, the Dons’ new coach who is a former St. Paul pitcher and coach. Other returnees include Danielle Delira (Sr., 2B); Jessica Alvarez (Sr., 3B), who played for Senteno as a freshman at St. Paul; Marilyn Toriz (Soph., OF); Stephanie Sanchez (Sr., CF); and Loren Jones (Jr., C). Top newcomers include Carla Pereira (Fr., RF) and Seasha Torres (Soph.). La Habra New coach Frank Fernandez welcomes seven returning starters, including junior catcher Melanie Bensema, a first-team All-Freeway League honoree who batted .469 last season. Other key returners include senior shortstop Breeana Gomez, who batted .435 and committed just one error, and junior pitcher Paige Gomez, a second-team all-league pick. Also back are Jessica Cabrera (Sr., 3B/1B), who batted .305 in an injury-plagued season, and Julia Pecina (Soph., 2B/OF). “Our strength is in our softball experience,” Fernandez said. “The majority of our players play year-round travel ball. Our defense and speed will keep us in most games.” A major addition is Carly Goodman, an All-CIF pick after leading Whittier Christian to an Alpha League title last season, and Kate Sutherland (Jr., SS), who played on two championship JV teams. Montebello Kimberly Villalpando (Sr., C), a two-time All-CIF selection, is back to lead the Oilers in defense of the Almont League crown they shared with Schurr. “Right now, we’re just trying to solidify positions, putting players in the right places,” said coach Laurie Capps, who begins her 12th season. “We’ll probably have a lot of people playing multiple positions, and that will be our challenge. We’ll have to work for everything we get this year.” Other key returners include Jessica Martinez (Sr., RHP), Samantha Montiel (Sr., OF/SS/RHP), Julie Teran (Soph., 2B/SS), Stephanie Lopez (Jr., 1B/OF) and Katrina Murphy (Sr., 1B/3B). Faviola Garcia (Sr., 1B) is a newcomer expected to contribute early. Schurr The Spartans were 16-9 and defeated Montebello to gain a share of the Almont League title last year, but coach Amber Ackerman may have some rebuilding to do. Key returners she hopes to build around include Danielle Lugo (Jr., LHP/1B), Selina Garcia (Sr., C/SS) and Crystal Ruiz (Jr., CF). She’s looking to newcomers Nancy Rodarte (Sr., RHP/1B) and freshman catcher Lauren Herman for early contributions. “A concern is that we have a lot of girls playing a lot of different positions, and pitching is a question mark right now,” Ackerman said. “We need to find out who’s going to play where and get settled in before league begins.” Whittier Fundamentals and basics of the game are priorities as Vera takes over. “We should be solid defensively, and early on we’ll be building our confidence in our abilities,” Vera said. Top returning lettermen include Arianna Atwater (Jr., IF), Elizabeth Lopez (Soph., Util.) and Jade Cebedo (Sr., OF). Newcomers expected to make early contributions include Priscilla Licon (Soph., IF) and Jessica Hernandez (Fr., IF) Whittier Christian The Heralds hope the combination of great team chemistry, a lot of cohesion and a group of hard working athletes make up for the loss of standout pitcher Carly Goodman, who transferred to La Habra. “We have two good pitchers who have travel ball experience,” coach Joanna Hardin said. “And we have five good freshmen who will contribute.” Among the leading returnees are Courtney Grant (Soph., C), Julie Bohlen (Soph., RHP/OF) and Ashley Binion (Jr., 1B). Top newcomers include Courtney McGee (Fr., RHP/SS) and Danelle Zapien (Fr., OF). “We have to get bunts down, make plays, be fundamentally sound,” Hardin said. “We’re going to have to play small ball, execute and play smart.” [email protected] (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3046 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! La Mirada High School figures to be the team to beat – again – in Suburban League softball during a 2007 season that could be full of surprises in the area. Four teams – California, El Rancho, La Serna and Santa Fe – appear capable of contending for the Del Rio League championship, and the other two – Pioneer and Whittier – appear to be greatly improved because of young players who gained experience a year ago. There are two new coaches in the league. Stephanie Senteno is at El Rancho after leading St. Paul’s successful program the past two seasons. Sandy Vera moves up from junior varsity to take the reins at Whittier.