It's about time.
For years the majority of Arizona softball coaches discussed and desired a change inside the circle.
It finally happened last summer, when the National High School Federation passed legislation that required all states to adopt a universal 43-feet distance from the pitching rubber to home plate.
States were free to make the change starting in 2010, and all states have to comply for the start of 2011 season.
Arizona chose not to wait (as did California, where a couple area teams will play tournaments during Spring Break), and the extra three feet could make an even bigger differenceon the field and the scoresheet.
"It was insane," Chaparral coach Wes Little said. "Hitters had no time to react."
For some of the elite pitchers (Dallas Escobedo at St. Mary's, Mel Willadsen at Red Mountain, Rae Ball at Chaparral), the change could be noticeable but not significant. There's more reaction time to catch up with the hard-throwing hurlers' pitches (for the above that might mean a batter's chances go from none to slim). Finesse pitchers will benefit by having a couple extra feet for their pitches to move.
If nothing else, the high school game finally conforms to the club ball and college distances, and offers a chance to see more offense (at pitchers' and defenses' expense, of course).
It may also increase the "small ball" of bunting and slapping, because the pitcher and third baseman will have a couple extra feet of ground to cover.
"High-level pitches is really not a big deal," Basha coach Scott Hoffmeyer said. "If you have a mediocre pitcher and she's doing her best to throw at 40 feet, then you're stuck. If it's tough at 40, it's going to be worse at 43 and hurt more."
Pitchers seem to like the rules for consistency sake, even if there's an uptick in ERA. Adjustment periods (and struggles) were often necessary early in the high school season until they re-acclimated to a 40-foot distance. Then they'd have to adjust again when they went back to club ball.
Softball has always been pitcher-dominated and, to a degree, that part won't change. But hitters will feel like they have a fighting chance, and a little more action in the field and on the base paths isn't a bad thing.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Rae Ball, Chaparral: The senior ace/hitter gets her chance to shine full-time with Mackenzie Popescue graduated.
Olivia Bergman, Seton Catholic: Jr., P; 19-1, 1.39 ERA and 131 K for 4A-II champs; allowed zero runs in '09 postseason.
Dallas Escobedo, St. Mary's: The senior has 1,417 strikeouts in 3 years and is headed to ASU next year.
Mary Spiel, Corona del Sol: Center fielder with power and speed combo as good as anyone in the E.V.
Mel Willadsen, Red Mountain: Terrific 2009 postseason, could become first RM pitcher to be 1st-team all-region all four years.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Apache Junction: Shelby Olson, Sr., P; Lindsay Skinner, Jr., C; Chelsey Streibich, Sr., IF
Arcadia: Andrea Gomez, Sr., IF; Brandi Heimburg, Jr., OF; Jessica Whitis, Sr., OF
Basha: Desiree Mejia, Sr., C; Kailey Regester, So., P; Lauren Regester, Jr., IF; Sierra Rodriguez, Sr., IF
Chandler: Jordan Blakesley, So., C; Alexis Leonard, Jr., IF; Amber Smith, Sr., IF
Chaparral: Taylor Benally, Sr., OF; Samantha Davis, Jr., IF; Kerry Durnan, Jr., IF; Jen Schellenberg, Sr., IF
Corona del Sol: Madison Edwards, Sr., IF; Christy Farrell, Fr., P; McKenna Isenberg, Fr., P
Desert Mountain: Dillan Firestone, Jr., IF; Maddie Francis, Jr., IF; Andy Wellins, Fr., P
Desert Ridge: Lexi Large, So., P; Megan Steffensmeier, Sr., IF; Jasmine Zaker, Jr., IF
Dobson: Jacklin Lewis, Jr., P; Donna Lavigne, Sr., IF; Nicole Rodriguez, Jr., IF
Gilbert: Michelle Duncan, Jr., P; Alex Vela, Jr., IF; Cassie Vela, Jr., IF
Highland: Morgan Cook, Sr., IF; Christine Napodano, Sr., P; Chelsea Rodriguez, Sr., IF; Ashleigh Seipel, Sr., IF
Marcos de Niza: Julia Dyer, Sr., P; Kalea Kakuta, Sr., IF; Adriana Tirado, Sr., IF
McClintock: Lindsey Edgerton, Sr., IF; Dynasty Lauvai, Jr., P; Kendi Nordstrom, Jr., C
Mesquite: Caylie Harmen, Sr., IF; Breona Peralta, So., OF; Casey Roberts, Jr. OF
Mountain Pointe: Ariel Cano, Sr., IF; Holly Phillips, Sr., OF
Mountain View: Cece Evans, Sr., IF; Jenna Hudson, Jr., P; Heather Shomperlen, So., IF
Perry: Mariah Konicke, Jr., IF; Erycka Ruiz, Jr., OF; Chelsea Tate, Sr., IF; Jessica Wilkinson, Jr., P
Pinnacle: Makenzie Dallas, Jr., IF; Kale Gahn, Sr., OF; Jenna Makis, Jr., P
Queen Creek: Amanda Baldwin, So., P; Raianna Dobbs, So., IF; Kelsey Montgomery, So., IF
Saguaro: Shannon Grossman, So., OF; Elise Oldham, So., IF; Taylor Secemski, So., P; Dominique Shupe, Sr., OF
Salt River: Ellyse Andreas, Jr., IF; Dashia Enos, Sr., OF; Cristina Valadez, Jr., P
Seton Catholic: Megan Johnson, Sr., IF; Courtney Rodriguez, So., IF; Kelsey Rodriguez, Sr., IF; Madison Austin, So., OF
Skyline: JaLaina Brown, Sr., IF; Reba Depriest, Jr., P; Simone Diaz, Jr., IF; Jenny Willis, Jr., IF
St. Mary's: Ariel Armendariz, Jr., C; Kerrisa Burruel, Jr., IF; Bianca Fajardo, Jr., IF; Keanna Lomeli, Jr., IF
Tempe Prep: Dana Fischer, So., IF; Caroline Libsock, Fr., P; Marissa Rich, So., C; Monica LeBeau, So., IF
Valley Christian: Ashley Elmer, Sr., IF; Stefi Frank, Jr., OF; Tana Kenner, Fr., P; Heather Olinger, Sr., IF
Xavier: Katie Appelbe, Jr., C; Emma Bogart, Jr., IF; Courtney Martin, Sr., P; Sarah Stengel, Jr., IF; Amity Tello, Jr., IF
DID YOU KNOW
-- As usual, new coaches dot the landscape. Desert Ridge has a new staff at all levels, led by Todd O'Brien at the top. O'Brien spent the past five years as an assistant at Gilbert. Ben Wick has large shoes to fill at Horizon, Jerry Burch takes over at Higley and Kerry Reader is the new coach at McClintock.
-- Basha (5A Division I), Sunrise Mountain (5A-II) and Canyon del Oro (4A-I) are each trying to uphold mini-dynasties. The Bears and Mustangs are each going for a third consecutive championship (Sunrise Mountain moved down from 5A-II to 4A-I), while CDO is shooting for its fourth straight title. Seton Catholic is the defending 4A-II champion.
-- Perry made a two-fold leap from 4A-II to 5A-II, but despite a significant leap in competition, Allison Robinson's Pumas have high hopes after reaching the state 4A-II semifinals last year and returning eight regulars. They could easily crack and stick in the rankings soon.
-- Chandler has two sets of sisters on the team. Vanessa Ybarra is a junior and her sister, Alexus, is a freshman. Jordan Blakesley is a sophomore and her sister, Tori, is a freshman.
-- Blaize Gatti called it a career at Horizon. For the better part of this past decade he captained the Huskies ship that was a regular visitor to Rose Mofford Softball Complex for state tournament quarterfinals and semifinals. A popular club coach, Gatti was a wealth of knowledge, insight, energy and class. One of the few who knew the ins and outs of practically every other conference's teams in the state, he'd grown weary of off-the-field and playing time issues between coaches and parents the past two years. He'll be missed.
Lion Country Classic: Thursday through Saturday hosted by Red Mountain at Cooley Park.
Marcos de Niza-Dobson Invitational: Thursday through Saturday at Marcos de Niza and Dobson high schools.
Corona del Sol/Marcos de Niza Tournament: March 13 through March 17 at Marcos de Niza and Corona del Sol high schools.
Desert Mountain Invitational: March 23 through March 27 at Horizon Park.
State tournaments: May 1 through May 14 (5A-I); May 1 through May 15 (5A-II); May 8 through May 15 (4A-I); May 8 through May 14 (4A-II); May 7 through May 15 (3A); May 7 through May 15 (2A); May 7 through May 15 (1A)