Three Santa Clarita Valley softball teams land on CIF-SS preseason watchlist

Hart Indians Juliette Owen is mobbed at the plate after hitting a solo home in the fourth inning against Patriot of Riverside. Hart won 9-8 in the CIF-SS third-round game. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/For The Signal

When longtime Hart softball coach Steve Calendo found out his team made it on the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 preseason watchlist, he had to chuckle a bit.

Not that Calendo doesn’t believe his squad, which made it to the Division 3 championship last season. It also had nothing to do with team’s jump from Division 3 to Division 1 this season. The Indians had played in Division 1 for the first 11 years of Calendo’s tenure leading into last season.

He’s just acutely aware of the team’s shortcomings inside the circle to open the season.

“I don’t know who makes these lists,” Calendo said with a laugh. “It just shows you they go off last year. It’s going to be interesting to see what we get out of our pitching in the preleague.

Hart was one of three Santa Clarita Valley teams on the softball watchlist, joining Valencia (Division 1) and Golden Valley (Division 3). None of the area’s baseball teams landed on the watchlist for their respective divisions.

Calendo also got a kick of some teams that didn’t make the cut, specifically Saugus.

MORE: Hart softball makes jump to Division 1, other CIF-SS playoff groupings announced

The Centurions — who compete in Division 1 as well — add a loaded freshman class to a team that finished second in the Foothill League behind Valencia last year. McKenna Gibson (Tennessee), Gracie Keene (Tennessee) and Hayley Mihut (Ole Miss) have already committed to Southeastern Conference schools before even suiting up for Saugus.

Libbie McMahan — a UC Davis commit — will be a welcomed addition once Saugus’ basketball playoff run concludes. The team also returns San Diego State commit Jessica Cordola and Valparaiso commit Taylor Tonoian.

“I’m expecting them to make a serious run this year,” Calendo said. “It’s funny because me and (Saugus coach Julie Archer) were trading messages this morning and she was pretty happy that they’re sort of under the radar right now.”

Saugus will be without right-hander Amanda Souza after a transfer to Hart. Calendo expects Souza to assume the team’s No. 1 starter role once eligible on April 2. Until then, the Indians will lean on the services position players such as Notre Dame commit Brooke Marquez, Brooke Dragoloski, Sarah Backer and Owen Juliette.

Hart will have a familiar face behind the plate, though, in UC Davis commit Aly Kaneshiro.

“They all really trust Aly,” Calendo said of his pitching contingent. “She’s an asset for us back there.”

When it comes to a favorite in the Foothill League, it’s tough to pick against Valencia. The Vikings went 10-0 in league play and return one of the Southern Section’s best batteries in catcher Alyssa Shipman (Tennessee signee) and right-hander Shea O’Leary (Texas signee). Vikings coach Donna Lee is hoping to ease in last season’s Foothill League Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively, as O’Leary is still working her way back from an offseason injury.

Valencia catcher Alyssa Shipman, left, and pitcher Shea O’Leary, right, stand in the batting cages at the Vikings’ home field on Monday. Katharine Lotze/The Signal.

“It’s going to be a pretty manic March for us with all the tournaments we play in,” Lee said. “The goal is to have them refreshed going into league and the postseason.”

Golden Valley coach Daniel Soto was told his first year with the Grizzlies, which came last season, would be a rebuilding year. But they came a win away from a third-place league finish and subsequent postseason appearance last year and won a program-best 12 games.

The Grizzlies also return Boise State signee Cassidy Cangemi as their ace and Stanford commit Sophia Medellin at shortstop.

“They know they can’t sneak up on anybody anymore,” Soto said. “To be competitive and right there for a playoff spot last year, that was new to them. I think this second time around they’ll know what’s coming.”

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