This year, the turnout at tryouts was small compared to recent seasons, so there will be no freshman team. But Peabody obtained a middle school waiver, so there are several 7th and 8th graders in the program, many who have been a part of Peabody teams that won state and regional Little League softball championships, which may help cultivate the culture of a winning program.
More good news is the Tanners lost only three starters to graduation in third baseman Kaitlyn Thibodeau-Corey, left fielder Lexie Zammer and NEC all-star shortstop Alyssa Alperen. Thibodeau-Corey is now playing at Mitchell College and has gotten off to a terrific start in her rookie season, batting .333 in the four games she has played.
The Tanners will be led by their tri-captains -- senior 4-year veteran Mallory LeBlanc, junior 3-year starter and NEC all-star Tianna Dawe and junior 2-year starter Kristina Rossignol.
LeBlanc, an outfielder who also logged a few innings in the circle, is slated to move over to shortstop, while Dawe returns as the ace of the pitching staff. Rossignol had a breakout season last year and returns as Dawe's battery mate behind the plate for a second year.
"Kristina was a diamond in the rough and has really matured as a catcher," said Butch Melanaphy, now in his 12th year at the helm. "She and Tianna have been working at SportsPlex in the off season and Kristina will be calling all the games this year. They work really well together."
Mikayla Iannalfo returns for a second year as the Tanners' starting second baseman, while Sydney Lowery returns as starting first baseman and Kelsey Blake returns for another season in the outfield.
Melanaphy said the most pressing vacancy is that left by Thibodeau-Corey at third.
"We won't know until we get outside who will end up at third, but the middle part of our infield should be solid. We are solid at pitcher and catcher and have some girls who will fill the gaps in the outfield."
One such player who, no doubt, will help in the outfield is Fenwick senior transfer Lucianna Mastromatteo.
"She is a great player who did a great job at Fenwick for three years, and will be a huge bonus for us this year," said Melanaphy. "She is a great kid, and a very good hitter who could help us solve our hitting woes that proved to be our downfall last year. I'm just disappointed to have her for only one year as she is a great player.
"Starting-wise, we have a very tight infield and return some players who played very good defense last year, but hitting just killed us at times, that was our bugaboo. Luci will help us with that."
Melanaphy said he expects Danvers, Beverly and Marblehead will be the class of the conference.
"I don't know too much about Revere, but Marblehead is bringing back two good pitchers, so they will be good," he said. "Classical lost their pitcher so they might be down a little, but overall the pitching will be good within the conference. It's going to be tough as there are no cupcake games in our conference.
"We have a good pitcher, too, so we could be in the mix somewhere. We will have to step up our games if we want to compete for a league championship, but we have a strong nucleus of returners with lots of experience, and God knows, with this weather there is zero likelihood we will be playing the first week of April, so we will have plenty of time indoors to work on it."
Weather permitting, the Tanners aren't wasting any time testing the waters this season as they will be tested right out of the gate in their first game of the season, playing perennial Middlesex League powerhouse Reading on April 5 at the Kiley School.
"We can't shy away from anyone this year and with the NEC being so tough this year, we need to see what the girls can do right away, so playing a strong team like Reading will be a test for us," Melanaphy said. "Hopefully, the girls be ready to play. We may be at a disadvantage if the game is played as scheduled as who knows when we will get outside on our field. We've been told even without the latest bad weather that we won't get outside until after April 1 at the earliest, so I'm hoping that our experience will carry us through the early part of the season."
The Tanners' first conference game is scheduled for Monday, April 9 at home against Revere (4).