WHEELING - The same question seemed to follow John Marshall softball coach Ed West all offseason.
How good are you going to be this year?
While it may sound like a typical inquiry for any coach, it was a particularly intriguing one for West.
After all, no other program in the state had the type of success the Monarchs experienced in the last two seasons.
JM won 65 of its 73 games during that span, which included a pair of OVAC Class 5A crowns, as well as two sectionals, a regional title and, of course, the 2012 state title.
But the ending didn't fit the fairy tale the Monarchs were living. They were robbed of a chance to repeat as state champions by Wheeling Park in the Region One championship game.
Add the sting of a defeat like that to the fact that West lost three of the best players in the state in Amy Rotriga, Kylie Howard and Kristin Lewicki, and it makes for a pretty long offseason.
So the questions began.
West and his Monarchs have replied in the only way they seem to know. They keep winning.
''That's what everyone was saying, "How good is John Marshall going to be this year with everyone they lost?" And we did lose a ton,'' West said. ''But the girls who stepped up have been waiting their turn. And they've been performing very well.''
Indeed they have.
John Marshall has rolled to victories in 19 of its 24 games, including a 12-game streak as well as wins against AAA No. 10 Hedgesville, along with sweeping the regular season series against No. 7 Wheeling Park.
That makes the Monarchs 84-14 in just under three full seasons.
Think West is surprised by this?
''I didn't figure we would be undefeated this season by any means, but I thought we would be a contender,'' he said. ''I thought we could contend with anyone in the OVAC. We'll see after that.''
Talk about confidence.
Six of the players in the Monarchs' lineup are underclassmen. The club's three seniors - Alexis Benline, Hannah Rogerson and Sissy George - anchor the infield, which contributes a lot to JM's success.
''Our third, second and short are all seniors,'' West said. ''That makes most of our infield all seniors. Everyone else is underclass. We'll have a pretty good nucleus for next year.''
Forget about next year. This squad is turning heads now.
The Monarchs have climbed to No. 6 in this week's poll and are currently the No. 4 seed in the OVAC tournament.
''We've won some close games, we've won some nail bitters,'' West said. ''We keep getting better. The thing that keeps us in games is our defense. As long as we play good defense, we're always going to be in the game. Then if we hit the ball and score some runs, we have a good chance of winning.''
Another impressive aspect the Monarchs have accomplished this season is the fact they've found a way to replace Rotriga, one of the best, if not the best pitchers in the state during her final two seasons.
The burden hasn't fallen on just one, but several players in sophomores Alyssa Blake, Jessica Kinnick and Megan Wise, all of whom have had impressive outings this spring.
Add those arms to the power hitting of Rogerson and George, who West will argue is the best shortstop in the state, and there really is no question as to why the Monarchs keep rolling.
''We have a pretty solid lineup,'' West said. ''I guess I have a lot of good players.''
From the looks of it, I think the Monarchs faithful would settle for two out of three.
Tony Viola can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.