WEBSTER CITY – Kaylee Schnathorst was a first-team all-North Central Conference catcher for the Webster City softball team a season ago but, as crazy as it sounds, she probably wasn’t the best catcher in the team’s dugout.

Maddie Anderson, now a sophomore who was the league’s first-team catcher as an eighth grader in 2011, missed all of last season while recovering from a torn ACL in her left knee. She’s back now though, as are the Lynx expectations of reclaiming the conference championship they relinquished to Iowa Falls-Alden a season ago.

Throw Schnathorst back to center field, where she was a first-teamer two years ago, and it’s like WCHS gained two players instead of one.

“It’s great to have Maddie back and it’s like she didn’t have any time off,” WCHS head coach Jess Howard said. “Kaylee did a phenomenal job catching for us last year with just a few months to get ready, but now we can put her back in the field.”

In all, WCHS returns six players with past all-NCC accolades, including three first-team members off last year’s 20-14 team that finished third in the league.

Oh yeah, one of them is Division I pitching recruit Kaitlyn Biere, who has four first-team all-league certificates. With a 73-39 career record, Biere – who will pitch at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne next year – will toe the rubber with 778 career strikeouts and a 1.25 earned run average.

And having Anderson back has only added to Biere’s enthusiasm.

“It’s awesome to have her back and she has improved so much,” Biere said. “We can be really good (this year). All of the girls put in a lot of time in the offseason and playing spring ball together, you can see how much each girl has improved.”

Anderson says her nerves are sure to be churning tonight when WCHS opens the season at home against Fort Dodge Senior at 7 p.m., but the season in street clothes gave her a new appreciation for the game.

“Watching someone else play your position is really hard, so I learned that you can’t take anything for granted,” Anderson said. “I’m nervous, but I’m really excited to play because I have a new understanding of softball now.”

Utility player Mikaleh McCoy joined Biere and Schnathorst on the NCC first team last summer. Second baseman Abbey Fuhs was a second-team pick, and third baseman Tiffany Constable made the third team.

Other starters back include Erin Anderson (first base), Hannah Myers (shortstop), Allie Flaws (left field) and Kenady Highland (right field).

“Whenever you can return a good nucleus of girls it makes going into the season a little bit easier,” Howard said. “You just hope they can build off where they ended last season.”

Improving power, particularly at the plate, was a point of emphasis in the offseason. The Lynx hit just .264 as a team and ranked sixth in the league last summer, and too often relied on Biere to toss shutouts to get in the win column.

So the question has to be asked: Can the Lynx hit?

“We’ll see,” Howard said. “One thing we hit hard was girls putting on some muscle weight, so we were in the weight room a lot in the offseason. And we’ve also had some girls who have matured into their bodies, so we’ll see in the next couple of weeks if the things we’ve been working on have helped.”

Iowa Falls-Alden and Fort Dodge St. Edmond appear to be the biggest threats to the Lynx run at the conference championship. Both teams finished ahead of WCHS in 2012, and they return the majority of their lineups as well.

“It’s going to be tough,” Howard said. “Those two teams are going to be tough competition for us.”

WCHS will travel to a tournament in Ogden on Saturday before opening up the NCC at home against Clear Lake next Tuesday.