Last year offered the perfect example of what should be expected at the state softball tournament and that is the unexpected.
In Class A, top-seeded Millard West was upset by Omaha Benson in the first round. No, it didn't carry the weight of how it would feel in the NCAA basketball tournament if a No. 16-seed shocked a No. 1-seed, but that game made things clear that anything could happen, and every team has a chance at winning a state championship.
If you're filling out a bracket, good luck. The state softball tournament, which opens today at the Smith Softball complex, is a task to predict, but here are some teams and players to watch for in each class:
There's a familiar name at the top of the bracket this season — Papillion La-Vista.
The Monarchs (30-1) haven't reached the state championship game since 2010, which ended a 15-year dynasty of 13 state titles and two runner-up finishes.
Ironically enough, there opener this morning was against Millard West. The Wildcats (15-11) have a chance to reverse what happened to them in the first round in last year's tournament. But that could be a tough task, as Papillion La-Vista boasts one of the state's best players in Julia Andersen. The junior leads her team's potent offense (the Monarchs have outscored their competition this season 268-42) with 35 RBIs. On top of that, she boasts a 17-1 record in the circle with an ERA at 1.003. The only loss the team suffered this season was to Lincoln Southwest, 8-7. The Silver Hawks (25-6) are the No. 4 seed.
Don't forget Millard South in this conversation, either, at the No. 2-seed. That was the exact same spot the Patriots (28-3) were in last year before they ended up winning the whole thing.
Millard South has outscored its competition 254-56, as seven significant contributors have a batting average over .400, led by freshman phenom Rylie Unzicker. She has a team-high .538 average thanks to 35 hits in 65 at bats. Madison Unzicker, a senior, leads the squad with 10 homeruns, only one other player in the whole bracket has that many.
The Patriots also feature an ace in the circle: Junior Jordan Johnson is 22-3 this season.
If having a good pitcher puts a team in the conversation, then don't forget No. 3 Lincoln Southeast. Senior Jaylee Hinrichs is 26-3 on the year, and the Knights' also have junior Erin Lockhart (.537 average, 10 homeruns) as a threat at the plate.
The story in the Class B bracket this season is all the new faces. Only No. 1 York (32-1), No. 4 Northwest (29-3), No. 5 Blair (22-6) and No. 3 Elkhorn South (25-5) are returning to the state tournament this season.
There is guaranteed to be a new state champion, as last year's winner Lincoln Pius X didn't qualify. Can the Dukes be the new champion?
In just the school's second-ever trip to state, they may have the tools to do it. Senior Taylor Kadavy boasts a 27-1 record with a 1.29 ERA, as well as a team-leading .544 batting average. Sophomore Jordan Stearns has a .520 batting average and a team-highs with 54 hits, 46 RBIs and four homeruns. York has 19 shutouts this season, and its only loss is to Class C qualifier Fillmore Central/Exeter-Milligan.
Ask Tribland teams like Hastings High and Adams Central about the No. 4-seeded Northwest. They'll tell you how difficult it is to beat the Vikings, who deserve to be in the competition with their talented roster. Sophomore pitcher Alyssa Vanosdall is 20-2 with a 1.95 ERA this fall, while senior Shelby Schacher has more homeruns (11) than anybody else in the bracket.
Northwest's losses have all come against other Class B qualifiers, including an 8-0 decision to No. 8 Beatrice. It's other two losses were to the Dukes, 12-4 and 2-1. York and Northwest could meet up with each other in the second round.
A talented player in the field to keep an eye on is Omaha Skutt senior Kaylan Jablonski. She is everything for the Skyhawks. In the circle, she has a 19-2 record and an even more impressive .82 ERA. At the plate, she has a .603 average with 44 hits, 27 runs scored, 31 doubles and eight homeruns.
There is one thing certain in Class C, and that is there will be a new state champion. Arlington, the 2012 winner, didn't make it back to Hastings.
At first glance, there isn't exactly one dominant team. Wahoo (25-6) is seeded No. 1 thanks to the pitching of senior Michaela Miller (22-6, 3.04 ERA).
Fillmore Central/Exeter-Milligan, the Tribland's only representative at this year's tournament, has to be a team to watch. It's win over the top seed in Class B, York, is impressive.
No. 6 Guardian Angels Central Catholic is another team to watch considering the run the Bluejays put together at state in 2012. They went from the No. 7 spot all the way to the title before losing. Junior pitcher Maci Hunke is back (20-4, 2.33 ERA) as well as an offense that has produced 247 runs this season.
No. 3 Southern (23-4) is making the school's first trip to the state tournament, so its hard to get an idea of how the Raiders will do in the spotlight. They have three good pitchers led by junior Ellie Marie Edmond, who has a 16-3 record and 1.54 ERA. The offense has a combined .324 batting average and the team has fought its way to Hastings after starting 0-2 this season.