When Olivia May prepared for her senior season at Notre Dame the all-state softball player from Ridgebury wasn't sure what to expect.

Every team loses players to graduation.

Every year new players make their way into the varsity lineup.

But, few have had the type of turnover that Notre Dame had after last season.

Gone are six of the nine starters from last year's team, including two players -- Becca Saggiomo and Sydney Dimon - who are playing Division I softball.

"At the beginning of the year to be honest I underestimated the talent coming in," May said. "I thought this would be a building year for the future, but now I know we have the talent to be a championship type team."

The reason for the uncertainty is that the Crusaders not only return just three starters from last year's team, they return just three players with varsity experience.

While May is a senior, a multiple-time all-state player and a state player of the year as a sophomore, the other two returning players are much younger.

Alivia Clark is one of Section IV's best hitters as a sophomore, while Mackenzie Maloney is a returning starter as an eighth-grader.

While both have experience, it's different for them in eighth and ninth grade to be looked at as leaders on the team.

"I know I have to step up this year," Maloney said. "I thought we could pull together and work as a team."

The biggest adjustment for Maloney is her role with the team. Last year she was a seventh-grader batting at the bottom of the lineup, now she is batting third behind May and Clark in the lineup.

"It was a little scary at first," Maloney said. "It was a big step up from hitting ninth."

It might be a big change, but Maloney has been up to the challenge, hitting .458 so far this year.

The top of the Notre Dame lineup this year has been nearly impossible for people to get past.

A year ago May, Clark and Dimon formed one of the most fearsome top of the lineups in the state, and now May and Clark are keeping that going.

May is hitting .692 this year, while Clark is at .586. The two have combined for eight home runs and 10 doubles in just eight games.

For May it's been fun watching Clark develop into a dominant player.

"I couldn't be more proud of Alivia," she said. "In basketball she was one of the youngest players on the team. Now, on this team she's one of the most experienced people."

For Clark the experience she had the past couple years in softball, along with playing with many of the girls in basketball, is making her more comfortable.

"It's a lot easier," she said. "I know the girls and we are not afraid to talk to each other and we all get along."

While Clark, Maloney and May have all been dominant at the plate, it's the newcomers who have put up some impressive numbers this year.

The rest of the Notre Dame lineup includes a junior, three sophomores and, along with Maloney, three other eighth graders, along with a seventh grader.

Brooke Smith, the youngest of the group in seventh grade, is not only hitting .348, she is also the replacement for All-American Dimon behind the plate.

"Sydney caught me for four years, so it's a big change," May said. "But, with Brooke Smith it's night and day from the beginning of the season to where she is now."

It's the development of Smith. The hitting of eighth-graders Allie Wichtowski (.429) and Monica Cox (.364) and the play of the other girls (Ali Raupers, Brooke Harvey, Alena Steadman, Monica Jerzak and Mary Claire Spaulding) that has helped the Crusaders remain among the IAC elite.

"I was very worried at the beginning, I had no idea in the first game what to expect," May said. "They all have stepped up."

For the younger veterans, all these new faces are pretty familiar.

"We all played together, we all have experience together and we are all friends," Maloney said.

The one big difference this year was that no one really even knew who was going to be playing where when the year began.

"In the past almost all the infield and outfield positions were set on the first day," May said. "This year we had tryouts, we had people trying out for spots and no one knew who was going to be playing where."

The Crusaders may not have known what they had when the year began, but they are beginning to realize now this can be a pretty special team.

"I was sure that we would have people step up, but everyone has done a great job," Clark said.

"I did not realize we had this kind of talent at the beginning of the year, but now I see that we have the talent that we can go really far."

And, if the team can compete for league and sectional titles, it would be the perfect way for May to end her career.

"That would be amazing, I think this team is capable of being a championship type team," she said.