One of Ohio's most highly regarded baseball leagues in recent years, the Northern Lakes League has gotten even stronger with the addition of Napoleon.
The Wildcats of third-year coach Justin Firks are coming off a 20-6 season, and an 8-2 mark in the former Greater Buckeye Conference, which was good enough for a title share.
Napoleon replaces Rossford (5-21, 1-13 NLL), which joined the Northern Buckeye Conference after a last-place finish in the NLL.
But the Wildcats may find negotiating their new league a tall order, with teams like defending champion Perrysburg (26-4, 13-1), which finished as Division I state runner-up last season, and this season's league favorite Anthony Wayne (21-8, 9-5).
Maumee (18-9, 9-5) and Bowling Green (15-13, 6-8) also look to factor into the title chase along with Northview (19-9, 10-4).
Anthony Wayne coach Mark Nell begins his 12th season guiding the Generals with 13 seniors, the most he's ever had.
That group is led by University of Toledo-bound Deion Tansel (SS-P), Matt Olsavsky (P-CF), Reed Allen (LF-P), Jordan Nell (C), and Jake Chipka (P-2B).
Allen won the NLL batting title in 2011 at .470 with 16 RBIs, and Nell hit .364, and Tansel .330. Chipka was 6-1 pitching with a 3.00 ERA, Olsavsky 4-3 with a 3.32 ERA.
Nick Reiter returns to the mound coming off a 4-1 season with a 1.06 ERA, and others who bring experience include Josh Lindke (P-1B) and Hunter Lonseth (RF-DH).
"I don't know that there is any such thing as a favorite in this league," coach Nell said. "Our goal is just to come out and play hard. We have experience, and the expectations are that they know how to play the game and know how to prepare themselves.
"We're looking forward to seeing how it all shakes out. This is an unbelievable league to compete in, and it just got stronger with Napoleon being added in. We're going to go out and compete."
Perrysburg graduated eight starters, including their top three pitchers from 2011 who combined for a 22-1 record and 1.00 collective ERA.
The only returnees with significant experience for 26th-year Perrysburg coach Dave Hall (488-267 record) are seniors Pete Munger (P), who was the No. 4 starter, and Hunter Smith (3B), who was the DH last season, and juniors Steve Slocum (CF, .367), who moves over from right field, and Austin Lee (OF-P), who was also a DH in 2011. Promising sophomore Mark Delas (LF-P) should be the No. 2 or 3 starter when he returns from an injury.
"Last year was obviously one of those special years," Hall said. "We had eight seniors who we knew were very good and who had bought into the program. Five of them are playing college baseball now.
"We knew we could have a special season if things broke the right way, and we got a lot of luck with a lot of hard work and had one of those great years that you dream about. It was special. Hopefully that tradition carries over.
"We are not anywhere near that, and we don't talk about last year with these guys. We talk about getting better every day and playing within our ability and reaching goals. We're very young. We hope that the work ethic that our kids have established will pay off."
Northview will be counting on four returning seniors as coach Kevin Danzeisen begins his 11th season. That group includes Donnie Nagle (IF-P, .308 average), Dalton Carter (C, .300), Brandyn Hall (P-IF, 4-3, 3.15 ERA), Joey DiPofi (SS). Adding to the pitching depth will be senior Jeff Small (P, 1-2, 2.33).
"We should compete for the title," Danzeisen said. "Our pitching and defense are strong, and the key will be putting up runs. We lost a lot of quality hitters to graduation."
Maumee returns four starters as Cam Coutcher starts his 11th season as coach.
Back are seniors Billy Laranga (SS-P, 3-3, 3.47 ERA), Evan Karchner (LF), and Kurt Weber (1B-C, .343 average), and junior Steve Duby (P-SS-3B), who is an early commit to West Virginia. Lineup newcomers showing promise include junior David McCrum (CF), who is the Panthers' leadoff hitter, and sophomore Joe Szymanski (1B-3B).
"This league is very good," Coutcher said. "It's a great league to play in because your kids have to compete day in and day out, and it really prepares teams for the tournament. I think we're a contender. We've got a good pitching staff and it's deep. The defense is sharp and our hitting is starting to come around."
Bowling Green (15-13, 6-8) will rely on five returning senior starters, led by University of Michigan signee Daniel McKinney (P-3B, 4-5, 2.26 ERA. Also back are Nathan Mayberry (1B-P), Cody Lang (2B-OF), Jake Ireland (SS-P, .328 average), and Reid Mankowski (P).
"We've got a lot of [pitching] arms and I see our pitching and defense doing very well," said third-year Bobcats coach Josh Iler. "Our hitting may be a little suspect, but we should contend in the league. We have to continue to play as a team, and another key will be hitting with runners in scoring position."
Napoleon also returns five starters from its GBC title team. Back are seniors Collin Parcher (1B, .420 average), Ross Huber (C-P, .315), Tyler Miller (IF-P, .360) and Dylan Glass (P-OF, .300), and junior Charlie Harris (IF-OF). An emerging newcomer is junior Brian Flowers (P).
"The biggest challenge we face is the three league games in a week and the double rounds," Firks said. "You have to have a deep pitching staff because there's a lot of top-notch programs with great players and great coaching. We're going to have grind some games out."
Southview (6-18, 5-9) and fourth-year coach Ed Mouch return three senior starters in Daniel Barnes (C), Chris Esprel (3B-P), and Adam Klepzig (OF-P). They will get a boost from senior Jon Barker (P-OF), a transfer from St. John's, senior Parker Wall (P), and junior Ian Segall (2B).
"I think we have to pitch well and field the ball," Mouch said. "If we do, we'll be OK. The question mark is what we do offensively. We're not going to be overpowering anybody with our bats."
Springfield (9-15, 3-11) should be improved, but fourth-year coach Dave Whitmire sees his young group, with its six sophomore starters, as perhaps another year away from serious title contention.
His three returning starters are all sophomores -- Devin Burns (CF, .388 average in 2011), Blake Rudolph (SS-P), and Kory Petiniot (P-OF). Another returning letterman, junior Codie Cullum (P-DH), is also expected to contribute.
"We're about a year or two away from being pretty good," Whitmire said. "Starting six sophomores, we're real young. But we had a real good summer, winning the Junior ACME state championship, so the future is bright. They want to win, they compete, they play the game hard, and they get along great."