* Capistrano Valley: 8-15-1, 3-7 in 1997. Coach: Joe LaMasa (first year). Prospects: LaMasa can't complain that he doesn't have a smart team; its combined grade-point average is 3.56. There are seven starters returning, but only sophomore center fielder Alexis Smith received all-league honors, being named to the second team. Classmate Melissa Hara returns at second base, along with seniors Sarina Kissel (shortstop/outfielder) and Vanessa LaTorre (first/third baseman), and juniors Jen Cohen (third baseman/shortstop), Kristen Mullen (pitcher/utility) and Katie Smith (first baseman/outfielder). Capistrano Valley's strength is its defense. LaMasa takes over for Ron Willms, who compiled a 153-162 record over 13 seasons.
* Dana Hills: 9-15, 5-5 in 1997. Coach: Margo Melendrez (second year, 9-15). Prospects: Senior pitcher Jennifer Carlisle (7-4) and junior outfielder Kiana Bessa (.326) lead six starters who return from the third-place Dolphins. Carlisle was a first-team all-league player and Bessa a second-team selection. Senior first baseman Carissa Reiswig and senior outfielder Teresa Conboy, a transfer from Michigan, could excel.
* Mater Dei: 28-6, 10-0 in 1997. Coach: Doug Myers (fifth year, 104-18). Prospects: This group of seniors reached the Southern Section Division I final as freshmen, and it would be surprising if they did not match that performance this season. Eight players started, including freshman Tia Bollinger (16-3, county-best 0.06 ERA) and junior Marissa Young (10-2, 0.50). Young, hampered by injuries much of last season, was a Times all-county first-team player as a designated hitter; she batted .429 with 19 runs and 26 RBIs in 27 games. She was the 1996 player of the year. Bollinger, too, was a Times' first-team player. Senior Kelsey Kollen (.452, 37 runs), a first-teamer as a sophomore, was a second-teamer last year, along with first baseman Monica Lucatero (.411, 32 RBIs). They lead a group of three others who played for the section title as freshmen only to lose to Marina: shortstop Robin Walker, center fielder Jodi Schicker and catcher Courtney Ryan (.431, 18 RBIs).
* Mission Viejo: 11-13, 3-7 in 1997. Coaches: Patty Kleinschmidt/Denise Downs (first year). Prospects: First-team all-league center fielder Alyssa Mauro (.403, 17 runs, 18 RBIs, 18 stolen bases) leads five returning starters: seniors Kerry Neely (first baseman) and Suzanne Erickson (third baseman, 15 stolen bases) and juniors Nicki Marian (pitcher) and Kristy Halagarda (second baseman). Erickson will be counted on heavily to help Mission Viejo get to the playoffs.
* San Clemente: 16-10, 7-3 in 1997. Coach: Bill Everhart (third year, 38-42). Prospects: Among the seven starters returning to the Tritons, who finished second, are infielder Lisa Neff and outfielder Nicole Henry, two seniors who were second-team all-league players. Senior outfielder Tara Frazer and junior infielder Christie Bennett also return, but pitching duties are up in the air. Everhart will be looking to junior catcher Sasha Budde to have an impact this season.
* Trabuco Hills: 11-13, 2-8 in 1997. Coach: Paul Beidler (second year, 11-13). Prospects: The Mustangs are poised to improve dramatically, especially with the return of a senior battery that received all-league honors. Catcher Megan Kirby was a first-teamer, and Jessica Jarnigan (8-7, 1.00 ERA) was a second-teamer. Helping Trabuco Hills compete for a playoff spot are five starters: senior Lori Kwiatkowski (second baseman), juniors Haley Glover (outfielder), Morgan Maslowski (outfielder) and Stephanie Walsh (first baseman), and sophomore Nicolette La Flamme (third baseman).