Head coach: Lindsey Gage, 3rd year

2017 record: 6-18-1, 0-10; sixth place, District 11-4A

District mates: Melissa, Bonham, Princeton, Aubrey, Celina

Key returning players: Hannah Howell, Grace Price, Madison Davis, Shelby Dombrowski

Key newcomers: Amber Thille, Madison Gaston, Kallie Harris

Season-opener: Monday, Feb. 12, versus Van Alstyne

District-opener: Tuesday, March 13, at Melissa

ANNA — Though winless in district last season, there was way more to that Lady Coyotes campaign than Ws and Ls reveal. They were in plenty of ball games late, giving some top teams unexpected headaches before coming up just short. Sure it was trying, but Anna head coach Lindsey Gage says she observed real progress — progress that bodes well for 2018.

“Our record didn’t really show it but we improved a lot from the year before. And we played a lot of close games. We had, like, eight 1-run games that we lost. We were right there. We just couldn’t come up with the big hit or the big play. We improved tremendously and we were satisfied with that. It’s always disappointing when you don’t make the playoffs, but as far as improvement, it was there.

“Really, our goal this year is to put runs on the board. We’d get people on base and we couldn’t get the hit last year. I’m hoping we can put all of that together this year. Some of our younger girls play year ‘round, so that will help us a lot. We didn’t have a lot of that last year.”

Junior Hannah Howell returns to anchor the pitching circle. A first-team all-district selection last season, she also brings a big stick to the plate. “Her bat has always been good,” Gage says. “She’s a great one to have back.”

Senior Grace Price, a second-team all-district pick last year, is the team’s No. 2 pitcher and will also hold down first base. Gage says she looks forward to seeing her two seasoned hurlers working together. “I think now that they’re older and have more experience, it’s going to be good. Hannah and Grace throw very differently. Hannah throws hard, she throws up. Grace doesn’t throw as hard but she spins the ball really well. I think they complement each other.”

Left-handed sophomore Amber Thille should also see time in the rotation. “We’ll have a pitching trio, I guess,” Gage says. “That’ll be nice. She’s young and has a lot to work on but she’ll help give some relief when we need it — especially in tournaments.”

In the infield, second-team all-district senior Madison Davis is back at second base and will likely return to the top of Anna’s batting order. “She batted lead-off most of the year for us,” Gage says, “and did a really good job in that position.”

Sophomore Shelby Dombrowski, the Lady Coyotes’ clean-up hitter last season, will see plenty of time at shortstop and also play catcher. Gage says key freshmen are vying for infield spots as well. “Madison Gaston is expected to contend for a spot at third base and Kallie Harris will see a lot of time behind the plate.”

Sophomore Lauren Kerns moves to centerfield from left where she roamed last season and senior Chastity Brown-Littleton is back in right. Left field, Gage says, is still “up for grabs” at the moment. “We have a few girls out there working in that position who are doing really well.”

As for potential team strengths, Gage says experience should be one. “We were really young last year. We’re going to be young again but some of those girls that were considered young last year have a year of experience on the varsity level under their belt. I’m hoping that will help us.”

“I think this year, building off of last year, we should be better at every position. The hitting will come the older we get and the more we play as a team. That’s the hard part right now — we won’t have half of our starters until basketball is over.”

Three teams finished tied atop District 11-4A in 2017: Celina, Aubrey and Bonham. Melissa was next, one game back. “This year I feel like it could be anybody’s game again,” Gage says. “Our district is unbelievably good at softball. … I feel like that’s an advantage. If you can get out of district, for the first couple of rounds, these are going to be the best teams that you play.”

Gage says the Lady Coyotes thoroughly enjoyed competing last season on the new turf field at the Anna Sports Complex. “It was awesome. We loved it. It’s just really nice to go out to practice, put the bases in and start.”

“I feel like we have a lot of energy,” Gage says of her team’s preparation to date. “The girls are excited. Our first week of practice was really good. I think they know we’re there.”