While the players change each year, there is little variation in the success of the O'Fallon Panthers baseball program.
Since coach Jason Portz took over in 2003, the Panthers have never won less than 22 games and have topped the 30-win mark five times, including a 31-8 mark last season.
The run includes two third-place finishes at the state tournament, seven regional championships, three sectional titles and five Southwestern Conference championships.
O'Fallon dropped to 1-4 Tuesday following a 2-1 loss to Columbia, but history says that win total will rise significantly before the season ends.
"This year has been so cold and so wet, there hasn't been many days where we could get outside," Portz said "Everybody's behind from where we've been in the past."
O'Fallon lost its first SWC game to Granite City last spring, then won 13 league contests in a row on the way to another regional title. It was the Panthers third straight conference championship, but a lot of that talent has graduated led by News-Democrat Player of the Year Sam Hopkins (pitching for Southern Illinois University Edwardsville), shortstop Logan Reno, lefty Kyle Wilson and Cory Beyersdorfer.
The top returning pitcher is senior Ethan Wild, who has signed with Oakton Community College near Chicago. Wild was 8-0 with a 0.93 ERA last season, striking out 46 in 60 innings with just nine walks.
He's won 15 of 16 starts on the varsity.
"He's increased his velocity a little over the winter," Portz said. "He's come in with three years of varsity baseball under his belt. He's got a lot of confidence and he's been a good leader for us."
Also back for the Panthers are senior third baseman Tanner Hudson (.323, 20 RBIs), junior center fielder Jeff Hahs (.358, six doubles 22 RBIs) and senior first baseman Jake Jarvis (.233, 14 RBIs).
Portz believes Hahs could be ready to blossom into one of the region's top players.
"I don't think he necessarily knows how talented he really is," Portz said. "He's a really fun kid to coach. As far as his quick hands and his overall athletic ability, he's second to none. He's got the big body and the ability to run with a big strong arm."
Junior Collin Holton (.303, 11 RBIs) is moving from second base to shortstop.
"He plays the game as hard as anybody you'll see in our conference," Portz said. "He's really the heart and soul to our group."
Senior catcher Brenndon Tindall also figures to improve on the .274 average and 12 RBIs he had last year.
New starters include senior Isaiah Sarpy a second and senior Robert Guithues in left field. Several players are battling for time in right, with Blake Deatherage, a junior transfer from Belleville East, competing against freshman Bradley Harrison and senior Jake Warren.
"Most of our pitchers also play positions, so it really puts us in a spot where we've got to have some depth in our outfield and middle infield," Portz said.
O'Fallon rarely uses freshmen on the varsity, so the presence of Harrison and middle infielder Camden Bauer is intriguing.
"Both of those kids possess a lot of tools," Portz said. "They have the size and the knowledge to certainly contribute."
The pitching should be more than adequate led by Wild, Herbert, Hahs and Deatherage. Guithues and Harrison also figure in the mound equation.
"It's not a lot different than any other year," Portz said. "Wild was somewhat of a question mark last year and he emerged, just like Sam Hopkins did."