After a highly competitive 2016 season, the 2017 season of high school softball in Delaware promises to bring even more excitement.

Last year’s number one seed, Caravel Academy, enters the 2017 campaign as defending state champs, having downed the No. 2 seeded Sussex Tech Ravens in the title game.

While the top two seeds matched up in the finals, the 2016 tournament showed teams around the state that every qualifying team has a shot. Four higher seeds were upset in the opening round of the tournament and both the No. 12 seed Charter Force and No. 14 seeded Lake Forest Spartans advanced to the final four.

Below we take a look at some local squads, anxious to make their mark on the field this season.

Cape Henlopen Vikings 

The Cape Henlopen Lady Vikings are coming off a successful 2016 season which saw them go 14-4 overall and earn the No. 4 seed in the DIAA Softball State Tournament.

While expectations were high sporting a top-five seed, the Lady Vikings were knocked out of the state tournament by No. 13 Red Lion in the opening round.

Cape will be without three seniors from last year’s team, including First-Team All-State catcher Sydney Ostroski and Second-Team All-State at second base, Riley Shields.

Senior Jordyn Virden, Third-Team All-State utility player last season, leads a large group of returnees which includes fellow fourth-year players Kristine Davis, Jessica Evans, Hannah Jones and Sara Lallier. Also back for the Lady Vikings are junior Raegan Jackson and sophomores Chloe Fluharty and Savannah Reed.

“The returning players were very ready to get back on the field after the loss in the first round of the tournament last year,” said Cape Henlopen Head Coach Shannon Timmons. “The seven returning varsity players have set the bar high and want to compete for the title this year.”

Cape Henlopen opens their season with two-straight road games, first against Laurel Thursday, March 23 then against Milford Tuesday, March 28.

The Lady Vikings play their first home game of the 2017 season Thursday, March 30 at 4:15 p.m.

Indian River Indians 

The Lady Indians from Indian River posted a .500 season in 2016, finishing the year with a 9-9 record.

While that wasn’t good enough to get into the postseason, a large returning group is hoping to take another step forward this season.

IR lost only two seniors, Callie McDowell and Ky’Lesha Neal, bringing back the majority of last year’s team.

Junior Julia Bomhardt, Second-Team All-State outfielder in 2016, leads a solid group of returnees including seniors Makenzie Collins, Samantha Mumford and Madison McGee along with juniors Braydee Whitman, Damya Williams, Marley Evans and sophomores Grace Snyder, Abigail O’Shields, Nicole Patille and Samantha Mayfield.

The Lady Indians open their season Wednesday, March 22 taking on Smyrna at 4:15 p.m.

Sussex Central Golden Knights 

The Lady Golden Knights enter the 2017 season looking to rebound after an early exit in last year’s state tournament.

Sussex Central finished the season 14-3, earning the No. 3 seed in the state tournament. Poised for a deep run, the Lady Golden Knights were upset in the opening round of the tournament by No. 14 Lake Forest.

This season, with some new faces, they hope to duplicate last year’s regular season to get a chance at some redemption come playoff time.

Central lost six seniors to graduation, including First-Team All-State at second base, Brooke Stoeckel, and Third-Team All-State catcher Chelsey Ward.

First-Team All-State pitcher Hayley McCabe leads a small senior group for the Lady Golden Knights, along with Kasie Simpson and Mariah Rogers.

The rest of the squad will be made up of underclassmen and newcomers fighting for spots left behind by last year’s seniors.

Sussex Central opens their season Thursday, March 23 at home against rival Sussex Tech starting at 4:15 p.m.

Sussex Tech Ravens

Sussex Tech enters a new season fresh off an impressive run all the way to the DIAA Softball State Tournament Championship game.

The Lady Ravens went 15-2 overall, earning the No. 2 seed in the state tournament. Tech defeated No. 15 Hodgson, No. 7 Appoquinimink and No. 14 Lake Forest before falling in the state title game, 2-1, to No. 1 Caravel Academy.

Sussex Tech will be without six seniors from last year’s squad, including First-Team All-State at third base, Taylor Collins, along with Third-Team All-State shortstop Nicole Hovatter.

Despite being without several contributors from last year, the Lady Ravens should bring back an impressive group. Seniors Madison Watson, Shannon Lord and sophomore Taylor Wroten lead a solid core of returnees for Sussex Tech.

Watson was named Second-Team All-State at second base, Wroten was a Second-Team All-State pitcher and Lord was named Third-Team All-State at catcher.

Sussex Tech will open their schedule with two-straight road games, Thursday, March 23 at Sussex Central and Saturday, March 25 at Concord.

The Lady Ravens open their home schedule Tuesday, March 28 hosting Middletown at 4:15 p.m.