VALLEY CENTER, Kan. (KSNW) — The Valley Center high school gymnasium is full of state banners, but only one hangs for the Hornets softball team. Last year’s class 5A state title win was the first in program history and the first for any girl’s sport since 1978.

The Hornets are no longer the underdog in class 5A, but it comes with a price.

“We have seen respect, but we also have a big target on our back being the state champions last year,” explained senior shortstop Lucy Hooper. “Everyone wants to beat us. Everyone wants to beat the team that won state last year.”

The pressure can build or break a team, and head coach Corey Jones set the record straight when the season started.

“You may have done it last year, but there is no guarantee this year, and I think that hit home to all the seniors here,” said Sykora Smith, Valley Center’s senior infielder and pitcher. “This is our last opportunity, so do the best you can and leave it all on the field.”

The Hornets returned nine seniors, all contributing to the team’s 18-2 regular season record.

“I am extremely proud, and you think back to sophomore year, they were a part of the team that won regionals and lost on a walk-off in the first round of state,” explained Coach Jones. “That made us hungry for junior year, and now they realize how sweet it is to win a state tournament.”

And just how sweet it could feel to hang another state banner.