There's no denying it, the Carson High softball team in recent years has been in the category of also-rans, a club just contending to make the Northern 4A playoffs, but really not expected to make any noise.
But the Senators hope this year will be different. Carson believes it can challenge the Northern 4A's traditional elite teams in Spanish Springs, McQueen and Reno High.
Carson took a step toward reaching elite status last year with a team that had no seniors, finishing second behind Reno in the Sierra League to advance to zone. With everybody coming back and seven seniors, the Senators are looking to make it to the next level.
Senator coach Scott Vickrey said all of his players were active during the summer and that he hopes the extra work will pay off.
"Everyone just looks a lot stronger than what we looked like last year," Vickrey said.
Vickrey also said he believed last year's team was close to taking it "to the next level.
"The chemistry is a lot better. There's a lot more enthusiasm. This is the year we've been kind of looking for."
It's time, Vickrey said, for his team to improve "to compete against Reno, Spanish Springs and McQueen. They're more experienced and more confident."
The team looked decent in a scrimmage with Fallon, Dayton and Galena on Saturday, Vickrey said. Among the highlights was returning starting shortstop Christa Casci, a junior, who hit a grand slam home run.
"We were a little rusty," Vickrey said. "We hit the ball well. We didn't hit the ball as well as we wanted to."
Carson returns both of its pitchers, sophomore Cassie Vondrak, a second team all-Sierra League selection last year, and Nikki Keller. Carson has Keller, who missed much of last season with an injury, healthy at the start of this year.
"The pitchers are throwing a little harder this year," Vickrey said. "They've got a lot more confidence."
Vickrey also said Vondrak and Keller have more movement on their pitches. Carson has also added freshman Daria Leid to the pitching staff. "She throws right now probably as hard as the other two," Vickrey said.
With the addition of Leid that means Casci, who pitched as a freshman, should be able to focus just on shortstop. "She has so much range," Vickrey said.
Dacey Hassey, who was Carson's leading hitter last year, returns at catcher. Candice Rutledge returns at second and Abby Rankl returns at third.
Vickrey said he's been impressed with Rutledge. "Candice I'm pretty excited about," he said. "I think she's going to have a big year."
Carson also returns all three of its starting outfielders in Sarah Evans in left, Kaitlin Burroughs in center and Desiree Clampitt in right. "We've got lots and lots of speed in the outfield," Vickrey said.
But there should be plenty of competition in the outfield as well as Elysa Guterrez, Loretta Cagle, Krista Mattice and Katie McEwan will all look for playing time. Leid can also play in the infield and the outfield.
Vickrey said he'll need to find ways to put Mattice's and McEwan's speed in the lineup, so they could be used as the designated hitter as well. "There's a lot of competition for playing time in the outfield," Vickrey said.
Mattice and Jessica Leonard will compete for playing time at first.
"Our lineup's going to be pretty fluid," Vickrey said. But Vickrey also said Casci, Rutledge and Hassey will be at the top of the lineup.
"This is the strongest lineup that I've seen for Carson softball in quite a while. But we're not going to look past anybody.
"We're going to fo our and try to be a player this year. I think they've got a fire in their eyes this year."
Vickrey said he also likes the foundation for the future. "I'm pretty excited for the next couple of years," he said.
Carson will open the year on March 16 at the Lassen (Calif.) Tournament.