After winning last year’s Class 4A state title, Jackson looks to become the first program in its classification to win back-to-back state championships in nearly a decade. (Bridget Mayfield/Pescado Lago Studios)

After winning last year’s Class 4A state title, Jackson looks to become the first program in its classification to win back-to-back state championships in nearly a decade. (Bridget Mayfield/Pescado Lago Studios)

Softball season preview: 5 storylines to watch

Defending state champ Jackson looks to repeat, the new-look Wesco 3A/2A appears wide-open, and more.

Five storylines to watch from the local prep softball scene this spring:

1. Can “Ice” and the T-wolves repeat?

Jackson ace Iyanla Pennington was a dominant force last season both in the circle and at the plate. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Jackson ace Iyanla Pennington was a dominant force last season both in the circle and at the plate. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

With the return of two-way star senior Iyanla “Ice” Pennington, Jackson looks to become the first repeat Class 4A state champion since Kelso won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.

The Coastal Carolina-bound standout dominated last year as both a hard-throwing ace and fearsome power hitter, leading the Timberwolves to a 25-1 record and their first-ever state crown. Pennington allowed just seven earned runs in nearly 140 innings pitched, posting a 0.35 earned-run average while striking out more than two batters per frame. She also hit .507 with eight home runs.

“It’s a rare combination to have someone that’s a power pitcher and a power hitter, and to be so consistently great in both areas,” Jackson coach Kyle Peacocke said shortly after last season. “I’ve honestly never seen anything like it.”

The Timberwolves return six starters from their state championship team and also bring back outfielder Jillian Hampson, who started two years ago as a freshman before missing all of last season with an injury.

2. How many Wesco 4A teams will reach state under the new bi-district format?

Lake Stevens handed eventual state champion Jackson its only loss last season and won at least a share of the Wesco 4A crown for the second consecutive year. Each of the past two seasons, however, the Vikings were left on the outside looking in when it came to the state tournament. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Lake Stevens handed eventual state champion Jackson its only loss last season and won at least a share of the Wesco 4A crown for the second consecutive year. Each of the past two seasons, however, the Vikings were left on the outside looking in when it came to the state tournament. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

For the previous four seasons, Wesco 4A was allotted just two state berths per year, despite the talent-laden league continually having several elite teams. As a result, at least one seemingly worthy Wesco 4A squad was left out of the state tournament each season.

This spring, Wesco 4A has a chance to send more than two teams to state, thanks to the new bi-district agreement with KingCo 4A. Under the new postseason format, the top five finishers in the leagues’ joint bi-district tournament will advance to state.

“Hopefully we can get a few more teams to state,” Monroe coach Ashley Tuiasosopo said. “I definitely think had we had this bi-district agreement the last (several) years, you probably would’ve seen a lot of Wesco teams in state.”

Jackson is the clear-cut favorite in Wesco 4A, but several other teams figure to contend with the Timberwolves, or at least be in the mix for state berths.

Reigning Wesco 4A co-champion Lake Stevens graduated standout pitcher Sara Johnson, but returned several all-conference players. Glacier Peak brought back seven starters — including four college-bound players — and could be poised for a breakthrough season.

Monroe lost a talented senior class from last year’s state runner-up team, but could still be a factor as well.

3. No clear favorite in new-look Wesco 3A/2A

Wesco 3A/2A takes on a bit different look this season. For one, the addition of former Cascade Conference programs Cedarcrest and Archbishop Murphy make it a 15-team league. Also, the league is no longer split into North and South divisions, which means every team will face one another once for a total of 14 conference games.

While there’s no clear favorite in Wesco 3A/2A, several teams stand out entering the season.

Everett returned three all-league players, including ace pitcher Kassidy Millar. The Seagulls also should benefit from the addition of standout senior outfielder Jackie Rookaird, a transfer from Kamiak.

Marysville Pilchuck third baseman Lilianne Fischer is one of the area’s top returning sluggers. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Marysville Pilchuck third baseman Lilianne Fischer is one of the area’s top returning sluggers. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Marysville Pilchuck also returned three all-leaguers from last year’s 3A state semifinal team, including Murray State-bound senior Lilianne Fischer, who batted .623 with six homers and 22 extra-base hits last season.

Snohomish, despite graduating six all-league players from last year’s 3A state runner-up squad, showcased its offensive firepower with 32 runs in 11 innings over its first two games. The Panthers are led by senior Isabelle Hansen, who hit .507 with nine homers last season.

Meadowdale, defending Cascade Conference champion Cedarcrest, Mountlake Terrace and Edmonds-Woodway are among the other teams that could be factors in Wesco 3A/2A.

4. Can Wesco teams continue their recent state success?

Over the past three years at the 4A and 3A level, Wesco accounted for nine of the 24 state semifinalists and five of the 12 state title-game participants.

Wesco’s strength was particularly evident last season, when Jackson and Monroe squared off in the 4A championship game and Snohomish advanced to the 3A title game.

“Wesco is dominant in softball,” Tuiasosopo said. “There’s a lot of good ballclubs in this league.”

5. Lakewood looks to build on last year’s postseason run

The Lakewood softball team, pictured prior to last year’s state tournament, looks to build on its postseason run last spring. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

The Lakewood softball team, pictured prior to last year’s state tournament, looks to build on its postseason run last spring. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

The Cougars graduated just two seniors from last year’s youth-laden team, which set a fastpitch school record with 18 wins and reached state for the first time since 2001.

After starting five freshmen last season, Lakewood returned the bulk of its roster and looks to mount another strong season at the 2A level in the Northwest Conference.

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