Over the course of the past several seasons, Wallenpaupack Area's softball program has carved out a spot for itself among the PIAA elite.
With veteran skipper Dan Gumble in the dugout, the Lady Bucks have captured back-to-back Lackawanna League Division One titles.
Two years ago, Paupack went 13-1 and advanced to the District Two final before suffering a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Williamsport.
Last spring, the Lady Bucks once again posted a 13-1 regular season record and made a deep run at the D-2 tourney. This time, the local lasses came up short in the Class AAAA semis.
While Paupack was hit hard by graduation, Coach Gumble still believes his team will be right in the thick of the divisional and district championship chase.
"We're absolutely capable of challenging for a league title this year," he said. "We definitely have a real shot at winning our division. After that, though, it's anybody's guess..."
Coach Gumble went on to say that District Two's Class AAAA bracket is one of the toughest in the entire state. He believes that old nemeses like Williamsport and Hazleton will be in the hunt again this year.
"But, we're not looking ahead that far," he said with a chuckle. "We're just now getting out onto the field for the first time, so it's way too early to be thinking about that stuff."
Weather permitting, the Lady Bucks were slated to play Dunmore in a road exhibition game Tuesday.
After that, Paupack is hoping to play exhibitions against Western Wayne (Wednesday) and Montrose (Saturday), before opening up the league schedule next Thursday afternoon at North Pocono.
Any discussion about this year's edition of the varsity softball team must begin with Nicki Mann.
Page 2 of 3 - A junior shortstop who was named to the Second Team All-State squad last spring, Mann excels both in the field and at the dish.
Nicki put together some eye-popping stats in 2012, including a .377 batting average with 23 basehits and 20 runs scored.
Mann is also fresh off a trip to the PIAA tournament as a member of Paupack's varsity basketball team.
"She's one of the best all-round athletes in the region," Coach Gumble said. "Nicki can do it all."
Three battle-tested seniors will be expected to provide leadership this year for Wallenpaupack Area.
Brittany Guerrieri is a hard-throwing righty who has thrived in the role of "ace" the past two seasons.
"She's a power pitcher for the most part, but Brittany has a couple of pretty good breaking pitches too," said Coach Gumble. "She mixes things up well, throws to the edges of the plate and keeps batters off-balance."
Caitlin Donahue brings plenty of experience to the diamond. A senior lefty who plays solid defense at first base, Donahue can also hit and run the bases adeptly.
Destiny Marut will likely penciled into the starting line-up as the left fielder. A transfer student who hails from New Jersey, Marut is hoping to contribute both in the field and at the plate.
"All three of them are great kids," said Coach Gumble. "Brittany, Caitlin and Destiny know what it takes to win. They work hard and all of the younger kids look up to them."
Paupack lost star center fielder Karie Marro to graduation last June, so the hunt is on to find a credible replacement.
According to Coach Gumble, that search may have ended in the person of Irene Dispenza.
Page 3 of 3 - A fleet-footed sophomore who covers a lot of ground and possesses a solid arm, Dispenza also played a part on Paupack's Lackawanna League championship hoops team this winter.
Along with Donahue and Mann, the infield appears to be in good hands with juniors Raeann Ehrhardt at second and Emily Winkler at the Hot Corner.
Kennedy Thomas is just a sophomore, but she already owns a growing reputation as one of the area's top defensive catchers.
These players comprise the nucleus of a squad that should once again contend for a divisional crown.
In addition to those mentioned above, there are 19 freshmen in the pipeline, five of which stand to make the varsity roster.
Many of Paupack's young players will see significant action in the upcoming exhibition games against Dunmore, Western Wayne and Montrose.
"Our number one priority is to win as many of those games as we can," Coach Gumble said. "But, we also want to see and evaluate as many of the kids as we can so we can prepare for the future."