There are now two spring traditions on the Quimper Peninsula.
Rhododendrons bloom each April on Rhody Drive, and the Chimacum High School fastpitch softball team goes to the state tournament in May.
The real mystery on the North Olympic Peninsula softball scene is whether any of the other five schools will join it.
Chimacum has reached the promise land each of the last six seasons.
It’s an almost unheard of run for this area, especially when one considers that the Peninsula’s other softball programs (Port Angeles, Sequim, Port Townsend, Forks and Quilcene) have visited state eight times combined.
That includes zero state appearances for Forks and Port Angeles — perennial district contenders that have yet to break through.
Of course, that’s not to say the area is devoid of competitive programs.
Only Port Townsend has missed postseason play during the last two seasons.
And while Sequim and Quilcene have each been to state three times since 2004, Chimacum remains the gold standard.
The Cowboys return nine players from a team that came within a win of a top-four finish in Class 1A last seasons, so another state run may be in the cards.
Port Angeles brings back a potent offensive lineup and a host of solid pitchers, but not its staff ace (Aly Rae).
The Sequim Wolves are in almost the same boat with a number of powerful bats but an unproven stable of pitchers following Carly Swingle’s departure.
Meanwhile, the Spartans must deal with the loss of all-league catcher Madison Justus.
Port Townsend is hoping a move down to 1A might lead to its first postseason appearance since it moved to the Olympic League.
The following are preview capsules for each of the Peninsula’s softball teams (excluding Quilcene):
Port Angeles (3A)
• Head coach: Buddy Bear (first year)
• Last year: 12-4 in Olympic League (second), 14-7 overall; eliminated at bi-districts.
• Returning contributors: Sonja Elofson (Sr., RHP/INF), Molly Ward (Sr., C/OF), Dani Craver (Sr., RHP/3B), Chelsea Rambin (Sr., OF), Miranda Pitz (Jr., SS), Neeya Hansen (Jr., OF/C), Jamie Curtis (Jr., 2B), Sade Pimentel (Soph., OF).
• Top newcomers: Stacy Webb (Soph., RHP/1B), Jayden Hoover (Soph., OF), Kelsey Hinsdale (Soph., INF), Amanda Wasnock (Jr., RHP/1B), Sasha Zichella (Sr., OF), Janessa Scott (Sr., INF).
• Player to watch: Sonja Elofson.
Elofson is entering her fourth season on the varsity, having been a front-line pitcher each year.
The first baseman/pitcher hits with some pop, having led the Riders in batting average (.441), doubles (seven) and RBIs (27) last year.
• Outlook: The Riders boast a fair amount of experience and a deep pitching staff.
That’s usually a good combination for a team looking to get past the district playoffs, where the Rides have gone to die the past two years.
“We are strong in several areas: catcher, infield, outfield, and we have a stable of pitchers,” first-year coach Buddy Bear said. “My expectations are high.
“I’ve set the bar for these players to shoot for the state playoffs and not just the district tournament. This means we have to play big and not be surprised at our success.
“I’ve told the girls something I tell every team I have coached, ‘We have to play better, longer than our opponents . . . all day, every day.'”
• Head coach: Mel Hendrickson
• Last year: 9-7 in Olympic League (fifth), 11-9 overall; eliminated at districts.
• Returning contributors: Maddy Zbaraschuk (Soph., C), Lea Hopson (Soph., SS), Kathryn Roeber (Sr., OF), Chelsea Winfield (Jr., P/INF), Lauren Hendrickson (Jr., P/OF), Kenzi Rhodefer (Sr., OF), Beverly Buck (Sr., OF).
• Top newcomers: Demiree Briones (Fr., P/1B), Cindy Miller (Soph., 2B/OF), Kinzie Winfield (Fr., C/3B).
• Player to watch: Maddy Zbaraschuk.
Zbaraschuk belted a Peninsula-best four home runs with a .501 batting average as a freshman last season, and has already knocked two out of the park this year.
• Outlook: The Wolves are quite young this season with only three seniors making significant contributions this season.
Both Maddy Zbaraschuk and Lea Hopson bring potent bats to the lineup. Finding a way to replace since-graduated pitcher Carly Swingle — now playing for Peninsula College — will be key, as well as limiting errors in the field.
“I think we have a good chance of making the playoffs this season,” longtime coach Mel Hendrickson said.
Port Townsend (1A)
• Head coach: Lynn Hamlin-LeMaster
• Last year: 2-13 in Olympic League (eighth), 2-13 overall; missed playoffs.
• Returning contributors: Holly Newton (Sr., 3B), Jordyn Holbrook (Jr., SS/P), Teslin LeMaster (Soph., P).
• Top newcomers: Briel Kilham (Fr., LF/P), Chelsea Whipple (Fr., C/2B), Kaihle Philips (Fr., 2B/OF).
• Player to watch: Holly Newton.
The Redskins’ lone returning senior will be counted on as a team leader this season.
• Outlook: The move down to Class 1A means all the Redskins have to do is avoid last place — something they’ve done the last two seasons — to reach the playoffs.
That being, said they have some big shoes to full with the departures of Jesse Holbrook and Ashley Sly. The former was Port Townsend’s top pitcher last year, while the latter was its biggest bat.
“It’s a new team,” coach Lynn Hamlin-LeMaster said. “We’re stilling building our cohesiveness.”
• Head coach: Bobby Cossell
• Last year: 10-0 in 1A Nisqually League (first), 19-7 overall; 2-2 at 1A state (did not place).
• Returning contributors: Robyn Garing (Sr., P/INF), Samantha Benner (Jr., OF), Kaycee Hathaway (Sr., 1B), Brittany Nelson (Jr., P/C), Arlie Petrick (Jr., PP/SS), Tara Peters (Jr., 2B/OF), Cece Dietz (Jr., INF), Natasha Kiesel (Jr., OF), Lacey Carter (Jr., UTIL)
• Top newcomers: Cailey Snyder (Soph., OF/3B), Kaylie Castillo (Soph., C/3B), Hanna Baird (Soph., P/OF), Paige Eldridge (Sr., 2B).
• Player to watch: Robyn Garing.
Garing was named the co-MVP of the 1A Nisqually League as the Cowboys’ dual threat from the mound (4-0 with a 1.88 ERA) and the plate (.366 average) last season. No doubt she’ll be even more dangerous in her senior season.
• Outlook: The Cowboys are looking to keep alive a streak of six straight state tournament appearances.
That should be more than attainable considering the Cowboys return last year’s 1A Nisqually League MVP (Benner) as well as their leader in batting average and runs scored (Samantha Benner).
Chimacum should once again rely on its pitching and defense, a combination that has worked well in the past, to win games.
Perhaps this year that will even lead to a top four state finish, something the Cowboys have pulled off just once.
• Head coach: Scott Justus
• Last year: 7-5 in Evergreen Division of SWL (tied for third), 13-10 overall; eliminated at districts.
• Returning contributors: Alexa Justus (Sr., INF/P), Gwen Gillett (Jr., C/P), Darlene Obi (Sr., OF), Katelyn Klahn (Jr., INF), Kylea Jo Allen (Jr., OF), Kendra Zellar (Jr., 1B), Jordan Grahn (Jr., 3B).
• Top newcomers: Taylor Morris (Soph., OF/INF), Raven McCann (Soph., OF), Abby McIrvin (Soph., P), Whitney Fairbanks (Soph., UTIL).
• Player to watch: Alexa Justus.
The basketball star isn’t too bad on the diamond either. She was named a first-team All-Evergreen Division player last spring after leading the Spartans in batting average (.440), extra base hits (16), runs (12), RBIs (22) and stolen bases (15).
• Outlook: The Spartans return everyone but first team all-league starting catcher Madison Justus from last year’s squad, which fell just short of state.
Forks has reached districts each of the last three years, but has failed to take the next step each time. With state-champion Montesano also residing in their league, the Spartans will have their work cut out for them.