A year ago, Carson High's softball team finished one win shy of making the NIAA 4A state tournament.
Entering the 2011 season, the Senators' goal remains the same. First and foremost, the Senators want to make the zone playoffs again. Making state would be icing on the proverbial cake.
With nine returnees - pitcher Lou Ashbaugh, shortstop Emily Collins, first baseman Lauren Knorzer, second baseman Moriah Lane, third baseman Lisa Yamamoto, outfielder Morgan Kleine, catcher K.C. Withrow, pitcher-outfielder Christina Gallegos and infielder Marissa Lucido - Carson is in great shape to improve on last year's 14-7 league record.
"The potential is there to have success," said coach Scott Vickrey, whose team opens play Thursday night at the Tournament of Champions in Sacramento. "Nobody remembers what you did last year. If we perform at the level I think we can, we'll be pretty good.
"The chemistry has to come through. They have to play together as a unit. I don't see any easy W's. There is going to be a dogfight (for the playoffs)."
One of the first things that stand out about the Senators is their offense.
"We're going to keep the bats in the lineup (somehow)," said coach Scott Vickrey. "Mo (Lane) wants to be an impact player, and she had a great season last year. Lisa has been working on her swing to get it more level. Lauren was a tough out (last year)."
Lane, who played both first and second base a year ago, hit eight homers overall (two in league). She drove in 32 runs and hit a whopping .463. When teams pitched to her, she more often than not, made them pay.
Yamamoto hit .452 with a homer and six RBIs in league play. Knorzer hit .358 in league with 18 extra-base hits and 18 RBI in 21 games. Collins scored 22 run and drove in eight in hitting .353. Withrow, who started in center last year, hit .314 with eight RBI.
Throw in junior Christa McGahuey, who hit the ball well after being called up for the zone playoffs, and you have six pretty tough outs. Freshman Jennifer Purcell has hit well in travel ball, and Vickrey is hoping that translates into a good high school season.
The hitters will get a longer time to see pitches this year, as the pitching distance has been moved from 40 to 43 feet.
"I'm not sure what affect it will have," Vickrey said. "The girls that have been playing summer ball are used to it by now. From a pitching point of view, it will help somebody who has late movement on their pitches. We won't really know until we start playing games."
Vickrey believes he has more pitching depth this year.
Ashbaugh and Gallegos return, and both will be pushed by McGahuey, who was dominant at the JV level. Vickrey said the left-handed Purcell also has indicated a desire to pitch.
"Christina and Lou have about the same amount of velocity," Vickrey said. "Christa may have a little more movement."
The group will throw to Withrow, who has moved behind the plate to replace the graduated Megan Hein. Purcell and Danielle Morrow also have experience behind the plate.
"K.C. has established that she can play behind the dish," Vickrey said. "I think we'll be strong up the middle."
Strong up the middle means catcher, short, second and center field. Lane enters the season as the starting second baseman with Collins, whose best position is second base, starting at short. In center, it could be Kleine (.289 last year) or Gallegos.
"With Mo we may give up a bit of range, but she does a good job," Vickrey said. "Emily looked good at short during tryouts."
Knorzer and Yamamoto round out the infield starters. Morrow, McGahuey, Purcell and Hannah Winder will be battling for playing time in the outfield. McGahuey also can play first, giving Vickrey some flexibility. Lucido and Ellise McGowan will battle for back-up roles in the infield. Ashbaugh, who hit .204 in league, can play third and the outfield.