After capturing the Potomac Valley Athletic Conference softball title last spring, Burke comes into this season with a target on its back.

It’s a position that would cause most teams to feel pressure. But Bengals coach Scott Reynolds has established a culture that won’t allow that sentiment to seep in.

“People want to play you now that you are the team to beat,” he said. “We have the attitude of playing loose and having a good time. We are not putting a lot of pressure on ourselves.”

The Bengals graduated four seniors from their PVAC-winning roster, including last year’s starting pitcher. But sophomore Vera Walsh-Alker has embraced the starting pitching role and is excelling so far this spring.

“She was our starting left fielder,” said Reynolds. “She worked hard over the summer, and she has performed well. … She is definitely the go-to girl this year.”

The team’s new ace has quickly formed a strong chemistry with starting catcher Sofia Ohanian.

“She has been really good,” Ohanian said of Walsh-Alker. “I’ll call most of the pitches, but if there is an outstanding situation our coach will let us know what he wants us to do.”

“People want to play you now that you are the team to beat”

The coach also has plenty of confidence in Ohanian behind the plate. “I feel that she’s the best catcher in the league,” Reynolds said. “She really holds runners and helps to not give up stolen bases. She works with Vera, and they have a good rapport.”

The team will also look to Ohanian to supply a big bat in the lineup. In addition, the Bengals will lean on senior Hunter Hawkins to run the bases.

“She’s the real spark plug of the team,” the coach said. “Hunter tends to get on base any way she can.”

Hawkins, who was an All-Northwest basketball player during the winter, is known for stealing bases.

“It’s a big part of my game,” said the senior. “I don’t usually hit the ball as well as I would like to. The way to make it up for my team is to get on base and just get home. I love stealing bases. I don’t think teams know how to deal with my speed.”

While the Bengals have several talented upperclassmen to lead the way, the team also has 19 freshmen and sophomores on the roster.

“It’s definitely a change because last year we had so many seniors,” said senior Mimi Thomas. “Being a senior this year makes me need to step up. There are a lot of talented younger players.”

The youthful roster hasn’t stopped the team from focusing on its goal: winning the PVAC for the second straight year.

“We could definitely win the banner,” said Thomas. “I would hope not only the tournament banner but the regular-season banner as well. We are solid at all the spots and have a really good pitcher again.”