Here are five things to keep an eye on during the 2017 softball season.
*Can two-time reigning Post-Gazette Player of the Year Morgan Ryan help Hempfield three-peat as WPIAL champions and repeat as PIAA champs? A Notre Dame recruit, Ryan is one of the top pitchers in the state. Ryan was 23-2 with a 1.11 ERA and had 188 strikeouts her junior season. She finished the season with five consecutive shutouts and also hit .333 with six home runs and 30 RBIs. Hempfield competed in Class 4A last season, but because of the PIAA realignment, the Spartans are in 6A this season. Also back for the Spartans is senior catcher Madi Stoner, a Division II Hillsdale recruit who batted .519 with five home runs and 31 RBIs.
*West Greene won its first WPIAL championship and reached the PIAA 1A final last season, and it will be no surprise if the Pioneers win both titles this spring. The Pioneers, who remained in 1A, return four all-section players, three of whom are only sophomores -- twins Madison and McKenna Lampe and Kaitlyn Rizor. Also back is Post-Gazette 1A Player of the Year Madison Renner, a junior pitcher who went 19-2 with a 1.72 ERA and 118 strikeouts last season. Her numbers at the plate were even more outstanding as she batted .565 with nine home runs and a whopping 66 RBIs in 28 games.
*In addition to Hempfield and West Greene, Mount Pleasant (3A) and Ellwood City (2A) are defending WPIAL champions and Yough (3A) is a defending PIAA champion. Mount Pleasant and Yough are now in 4A and Ellwood City in 3A. Of those three, Ellwood City likely has the best shot at repeating. The Wolverines feature senior pitcher Skyla Greco, the Post-Gazette 2A Player of the Year last season when she finished 21-1 with a 1.18 ERA and struck out 169. Greco threw a perfect game and three no-hitters. Yough graduated star pitcher Macy Mularski, who was the Post-Gazette 3A Player of the Year.
*Another highly-regarded pitcher returns in Belle Vernon junior Bailey Parshall. After committing to Penn State before her ninth-grade year, Parshall led Belle Vernon to a WPIAL title her freshman season and then had a strong sophomore season that saw her make the Post-Gazette All-Area Team for the second year in a row. Parshall went 15-5 with a 0.84 ERA to go along with 213 strikeouts, and also batted .431. Parshall hopes to help Belle Vernon make a run at the WPIAL 4A title after the Leopards failed to make the playoffs last season.
*A few other teams to keep an eye on this season are 6A Shaler, 5A West Allegheny, 3A South Park and 2A Chartiers-Houston. Shaler must replace standout pitcher Bri Dobson, but the Titans return all-section players Lauren Miller, Taylor Jones and Lyndsey Lakatos. West Allegheny brings back four players who were named all-section last season when the Indians reached the WPIAL 3A final, including pitcher Ashley Seamon. South Park, a runner-up in 2A, returns pitcher Justine Dean and Pitt recruit Katlyn Pavlick. Chartiers-Houston is a perennial power that boasts four players who were named all-section last season, a group led by pitcher Kaitlyn Dittrich.