CANTON, Mo. -- Losing an all-state pitcher and two hitters at the top of the batting order typically makes a team take a step back.
That's not expected to be the case with the Canton softball team.
The Tigers return seven players who all played a role in a 21-5 season that ended with the school's first Class 1 state championship last fall. Those returning players are confident Canton won't have a rebuilding year.
"We're definitely reloading," sophomore Abby Jarvis said. "We've got some freshmen who will step up. We've got sophomores who can fill some spots. It's nice having the people we can trust and know we can get the job done."
Senior shortstop Laken Hugenberg returns after hitting .465 with five home runs and 47 RBIs. More important, Canton coach Jonathan Bastian said Hugenberg already is at full speed in practices this preseason after suffering a knee injury during basketball.
"It's really incredible how she quickly she was able to get her knee up to this point," said Bastian, who's in his second season with the Tigers. "When that happened in the winter, there was the thought there was no way she was going to be ready by the beginning of the season, let alone play shortstop and hit every day.
"Just to have her as a threat in the lineup every day is going to put pressure on the pitcher and the defense."
Canton returns four other players who hit better than .300 on the season. Jarvis hit .408 while hitting two home runs -- including a two-run homer in a quarterfinal victory over Salisbury -- and drove in 15 runs.
"We can be a better hitting team than we were last year," Jarvis said. "I'm really excited to see how we can hit."
The Tigers know winning a state championship means becoming the team to beat this year. They're not concerned with the target on their back.
"We're just going to go out and play," Jarvis said. "We aren't worrying about that pressure."
Jarvis and Abbey Hultz will take over the pitching duties after the graduation to all-state pitcher Olivia Jarvis, now pitching at Maryville University.
Olivia Jarvis went 15-4 last season with a 1.34 ERA in 1091/3 innings along with 108 strikeouts to just 21 walks. Her younger sister went 3-0 with a 1.84 ERA in just 19 innings, while Hultz went 2-1 with a 2.27 ERA in 272/3 innings.
Bastian doesn't expect to get the same production that Olivia Jarvis had in her four-year career, but he believes the pitchers he has will give the Tigers a chance to win.
"They're different pitchers than what Olivia was," Bastian said. "They have a good understanding of how to pitch and work really hard. I would never put it on them to be just like Olivia, because that would be unfair to everybody."
It's that same no-pressure attitude the Tigers are using to defend their state championship. Abby Jarvis said the season won't be a bust if Canton doesn't reach their fourth state tournament in five seasons, but she wouldn't mind getting back there and repeating, either.
"We're just thinking about getting better," Jarvis said. "It'd be really awesome to go back-to-back."