BARSTOW Last year, they made it a threepeat. Will this year be four in a row?


That's the question for the Barstow High School softball team as the 2013 season gets underway. The Lady Aztecs have taken the Desert Sky League championship the last three years, bettering their record each time. The first title, in 2010, was won with a 15-12 record, which next season improved to 18-11, and last year was 21-11.


That's a lot to live up to for this year's squad. Head coach Richard Johannsen has been around for the winning, as he took over the team after the '09 season. Although Barstow suffered some losses in the departure of seniors who were big contributors to the success of the last few years, between the returning talent, along with new players up from the JV squad, Johannsen again has high hopes and expectations.


"Our goal this year is to win the league again for the fourth year in a row. We have the defense and the hitting in place and we are very confident that our pitchers will do the job and get us there," said the coach. "No one person is going to replace the power that we lost from the seniors that graduated, but each one of our players has improved and we plan on putting up the same team numbers as we did last year."


There are two players in particular that will be hard to replace. Taylor Purdy was a two-time first-team All-CIF slugger who was a threat to go deep every time she stepped to the plate, and Hannah Ulibarri was a four-time all-league player and the Aztecs' number-one pitcher. The pair also held school records, Purdy the all-time leader in home runs, doubles and RBI, and Ulibarri in career wins.


"We lost two of the best players in the area and they are definitely going to be missed," said coach Johannsen. "But we do have some very talented girls returning."


Jordan Neal returns to bat first and play right field. Seniors Miranda Peralta and Marissa Dado (a team captain) will play second base and center field, respectively, and bat second and third, while junior Aleesha Rodriguez will bat clean-up.


"Neal came on strong at the end of last season and is a perfect combination of power and speed. Peralta and Dado are both all-area players who are the best at their positions in the high desert," said Johannsen. "Rodriguez has all of the tools to dominate a game and has moved up in the line-up every year. This is her third year starting for us and we expect a lot of our power production to come from her."


Both Peralta and Dado have 97 career hits, with both likely to surpass 100 early this season.


Meagan Alvarez, a team captain, is a two-time all-league third baseman who will bat fifth, with first baseman Teren Hedberg, also a captain, batting sixth. Chelsea Phillips, a catcher last year, will be moving over to shortstop, and will bat seventh.


"Alvarez and Hedberg are four-year starters," said coach Johannsen. "Phillips is the best catcher in the area, but has been freed up to play short. She's a player we need to get on the field and into the line-up this year."


Phillips is moving because of the arrival of freshman Gabby Rodriguez, who will take over behind the plate and bat eighth. Larissa Arrizaga will bat ninth and DP to start the season, with senior DeAnna Lopez back as a utility player.


"Gabby has steadily improved throughout the preseason and will be given the chance to stay at catcher all year," Johannsen said. "Larissa is off to an amazing start so far and I expect her to hit near .500 this year. She'll get time in the outfield as well as DP, and Lopez can play in the infield or outfield and always gives us solid play."


Arrizaga has committed to Friends University in Kansas, where she'll play against Peralta, who has signed with Kansas Wesleyan.


There are two newcomers who will look to contribute in the hunt for another DSL title. Freshman Destiny Robles and sophomore Lexyss Aviles are both aggressive at the plate and will be given the opportunity to show what they have this season, as well as fine-tuning their skills for the future.


With Ulibarri gone, there's some competition in the circle. Hannah Abeita is getting the nod as number-one starter, though Alexis York and Jessica Donovan can both pitch, as well as Peralta.


"Abeita has a year of varsity experience under her belt and has been the most consistent so far in practice. York and Donovan are both doing well and will be throwing their first varsity innings this weekend," Johannsen said. "Miranda is also available and has been our second-string pitcher for the last three years. Everyone is going to get a chance, and we'll see who performs best."


As for the DSL, Johannsen knows it will be a challenge to earn that fourth consecutive title, but he thinks his team is up to the task.


"Burroughs is a huge threat because they return two dominant pitchers in Bailey Walters and Becca Bell. Victor Valley has the most dominant bats in the league, led by Jackie Belcher. And Silverado is full of speedy contact hitters, led by Lopez and the Nino's, and Granite has improved," he said. "We feel we are the best team overall, though, and I feel this is by far the deepest and most talented team I've had since I've been here."


The Lady Aztecs are taking part in a couple of tournaments before the DSL schedule begins. This weekend is the Colorado River Invitational, and next week brings the Quartz Hill Tournament. The first home game is March 22 against Burroughs.