After a highly competitive 2016 season, the 2017 season of high school softball in Delaware promises to bring even more excitement.

Last year’s number one seed, Caravel Academy, enters the 2017 campaign as defending state champs, having downed the No. 2 seeded Sussex Tech Ravens in the title game.

While the top two seeds matched up in the finals, the 2016 tournament showed teams around the state that every qualifying team has a shot. Four higher seeds were upset in the opening round of the tournament and both the No. 12 seed Charter Force and No. 14 seeded Lake Forest Spartans advanced to the final four.

One of the teams looking to get back into the playoff hunt in 2017 are the Milford Buccaneers.

The Lady Bucs went 10-8 last season, finishing just outside of a tournament berth.  Playing within the crowded Henlopen Conference, Milford was lost in the shuffle.

Seven teams from the Henlopen Conference, Polytech, Caesar Rodney, Cape Henlopen, Sussex Tech, Sussex Central, Smyrna and Lake Forest, made the postseason in 2016, taking up nearly half of the 16-team bracket.

After going 2-7 in their first nine games last season, the Lady Bucs won eight of their last nine games to close out the season. While that wasn’t enough to send them to the state tournament, they’re looking to keep that momentum going into this season.

“We’re super excited to get this season started,” said Milford Head Coach Sean Brennan. “We felt like we had things moving in the right direction at the end of the season and really came together as a family. Missing out on the tournament was heartbreaking, but through that disappointment a hunger for success this season was definitely created.”

Nine of 11 players from last year’s roster are back this season, as the team had zero seniors a year ago.

First-Team All-State outfielder Rajene Bowe leads a small but solid group of seniors including Nia Bowe and Genesis Chamberlayne.

Juniors Morgan Abbott, Darby Brennan and Kalaysia Reynolds are also back for the Lady Bucs, along with sophomores Courtney Kohel, Julia Reed and Khya Reynolds.

Having virtually the entire team from last year back gives Milford a chance to build on what they accomplished last season.

“Their enthusiasm for the game of softball and one another is infectious,” said Brennan. “Having everyone back this year and seeing the maturity, leadership, enthusiasm, work ethic and love for one another has been something special.”

Though, as mentioned before, Milford plays within the extremely competitive Henlopen Conference. With that in mind, the Lady Bucs know they’re in for a battle this season.

“We have to keep getting one percent better everyday and keep believing in one another to achieve our dreams,” Brennan said. “The willingness to compete has been amazing so far this season and I’m proud of them. We know it’s going to be a grind with so many great teams in our conference but with our experience the girls look forward to the challenge.”

Milford opens their season Thursday, March 23 on the road against Caesar Rodney starting at 4:15 p.m

The Lady Bucs play their first home game of the season Friday, March 24 hosting Christiana, also at 4:15 p.m.