Being a guy who has never been fond of making predictions — don't enjoy being wrong or reminded when I am — I'm still willing to make one bold guess about the 21st season of high school softball in Nebraska.
The top level of talent across the state, and especially in eastern Nebraska, is shaping up to rank among the best ever in the state.
With so many Division I commitments already made — and seven returning All-Nebraska first team players — don't let the seven-week regular season slip by without attending at least a few games.
The team title chases always are intriguing, but with the growing success of club teams on national stages, things again are trending toward special when it comes to individual talent.
Let's go around the diamond with a few thoughts before the first pitches of the season:
» Millard South, Elkhorn and Arlington begin the season ranked No. 1 in their respective classes, but all three will be tested every week. Class B appears especially wide open — there are at least a half-dozen teams that, on paper, make a strong case for playing in the title game on Oct. 18 in Hastings.
» Speaking of Hastings, the state tournament also will be held at the Smith Complex in 2014. Bellevue's bid to host the tournament has been set aside because the Champions Village Complex wasn't upgraded to accommodate the event.
No press facilities, inadequate seating for state tournament-sized crowds, only three fields together — how do you decide which teams have to go to the other end of the complex to play a game in relative isolation?
You don't. It's not broken in Hastings, so no fixes required. Omaha still hasn't stepped up to build a comparable facility, so the three-class tournament is in the best possible place.
» There's only one new school added to the mix this season. Platteview is fielding its first-ever softball and baseball teams this school year. Is Boys Town next?
» This point will continue to be made every year in every sport it affects until it finally gets done — create serpentine district tournaments in all three classes.
Not just softball, but volleyball and soccer as well. Some talented squads won't reach the Class B state tournament because of the antiquated, predetermined districts based on geography. Switching to the Class A model of seeding based on in-season results is long overdue.
There are other issues being pushed by NSAA leadership that aren't as important as getting things right for athletes now competing. Yes, the process is broken and the member schools have to fix it.
Something is wrong when there are four teams in the preseason top eight in Class B — Elkhorn, Omaha Skutt, Elkhorn South and Ralston — already stuck in the same district before an inning has been played.
The right thing has been done for Class A. You shouldn't get a state tournament berth just because your team is located in a certain region of the state.
» The three Millard schools finally will be able to host night games. The fields at Millard South, Millard North and Millard West all now have lights, new backstops, fencing and bullpens.
New fence liners have been put in at North and West, and West now has a 200-foot permanent fence installed to make it a softball-first facility. The infield also has new sod.
These changes also are good news for the junior varsity programs at all three schools. Previously, later in the season, varsity games would go first, and the JVs might get in a few innings before it got too dark to play.