QUINCY -- Kennady Fleer feels there's a different vibe around the Quincy High School softball team this season. It's made for a sense of optimism.
"I think we have a lot of potential," said Fleer, a senior second baseman. "Yeah, we lost some talent, but we gained some talent. I think we could surprise a lot of people."
That's the growing consensus around the Blue Devils after going 17-19 last season. Quincy returns six starters, and several of them are in their third season in the starting lineup for coach Darrell Henze.
However, the Blue Devils have won only two Western Big Six Conference games in the last two seasons.
That's where Quincy thinks it can be a surprise.
"From what I've seen so far in practices, we've got the potential," Henze said. "I really like what I've seen in our hitting. The expectation is to come out and win."
The pieces could be there to do that and more.
The Blue Devils lost their top two hitters in Roni Wingerter (.488) and Hannah Fuglaar (.375) to graduation, but return two plus-.300 hitters in senior shortstop Kiley Espinoza (.343) and Fleer (.308).
Espinoza and Fleer combined for nine doubles, 37 RBIs and 42 runs scored last spring.
Quincy also returns its top two pitchers in senior right-hander MaKayla Wand and junior left-hander Abbie Neally.
Neally, who recently committed to Central Methodist, led the Blue Devils in innings with 113 2/3, going 10-9 with a 4.00 ERA with 81 strikeouts. Wand threw 74 1/3 innings, going 5-8 with a 4.14 ERA.
"I think we need to take advantage of two pitchers with varsity experience," Neally said. "Our defense knows what we can do, and they know how to play behind us."
Each pitcher is capable of handling heightened expectations.
"Experience is a big part of pitching, and big part of that experience is the nerves," Wand said. "I think knowing we can rely on each other if we aren't having a big game, that's huge for myself and Abbie."
How that translates onto the field, especially in WB6 play, remains to be seen. The conference has the reigning Class 4A state champions in Rock Island, while Rock Island Alleman won a Class 3A regional last season.
"I think we'll be able to compete," Fleer said. "I think since we won a couple games last year, we're coming back with a lot more confidence than we have in the past because it showed we can compete in the Western Big Six."
Quincy definitely possesses that confidence.
"We just have to go in with an open mindset," Wand said. "We can sell ourselves short. We haven't been a top contender in the conference for some time, but what's not to say we can't be this year?"
QHS at a glance
Coach: Darrell Henze (47-80 at QHS, fourth season)
2018 record: 17-19 (2-8 in Western Big Six Conference)
Returning starters: SS Kiley Espinoza, Sr.; 2B Kennady Fleer, Sr.; P MaKayla Wand, Sr.; OF Taylor Frink, Sr.; P Abbie Neally, Jr.; INF Lauren Kroeger, Jr.
Key losses: C Roni Wingerter; 1B Hannah Fuglaar; CF Kailey Owsley; 3B Kendall Gramke