Eastern New Mexico University softball coach Lauren Sigwing isn't that surprised her team was picked for last place this season in the 10-team Lone Star Conference.
That said, she'll be disappointed if the Zias actually finish 10th.
"We've got a good team," said Sigwing, beginning her fourth season at ENMU. "We're still young, but (with a number of players) having a year of experience, there's a huge difference. I can see it in practice and I can see it in the leadership."
The Zias (15-34, 7-20 LSC last year) open their season this weekend in the Division II College Classic at San Antonio, hosted by St. Mary's. ENMU's first game is at 8 a.m. (MST) today against Lubbock Christian.
Sigwing said she'll use this weekend to have a good look at her squad.
"I think one of our strengths this year is we're versatile," she said. "We have players competing at most positions."
Sophomore catcher Aurelia Sandoval of Farmington, who hit two grand slams in a doubleheader and finished second on the team with 25 RBIs, said the year's experience will make a difference.
"As a freshman, I knew there were some good teams in the Lone Star Conference, but I didn't really know what I was going up against," she said. "We have more confidence in ourselves, and I think we've matured."
The Zias essentially return their pitching staff intact with sophomores Katie Ramsay (3-13, 7.33 ERA) of Pasadena, Texas; Amy Smith (9-19, 4.75) of Keller, Texas, and Alberta Medina (3-2, 6.48) of Las Cruces, all right-handers. Ramsay (.331 average, six HRs, 29 RBIs) and Smith (.282, 2, 18) are among the team's better hitters and will also see time at first base and designated player, while Medina should carry more of the pitching load after missing much of last season with an arm injury.
The infield is mostly new, Sigwing said. Sophomore Lizzy Velasquez of Las Cruces played mainly shortstop last year and hit .310 with four homers, but could see time at second, short or third this year.
Meantime, juco transfer Erica Armedarez, a junior from Odessa, Texas, will likely play first or third, Sigwing said; freshman Jackie Candelaria of Los Lunas and sophomore Kuuleiokealoaha "Ke" VonShriltz are competing at second, and junior transfer Betty Caporal of Paramount, Calif., is also getting a look at short.
Sophomore Savannah Chavez (.262, 14 RBIs) of Albuquerque returns in center field. Other top outfield candidates include freshmen Kyra Sirag of Garden Grove, Calif.; Hannah Tush of Bonner Springs, Kan., and Tylor Romero of Albuquerque, and the team's only senior, Rebecca Marrujo of Roswell.
"Defensively, we're more athletic," Sigwing said. "The Lone Star Conference is tough, but I'll be really disappointed if we don't make the conference tournament (top eight). I don't think we're a last-place team at all."
Sandoval believes the Zias are challenged by the last-place prognostication.
"A lot of people don't expect much because of how young we are," she said. "But it's going to be a dogfight every game.
"We're a young team, and honestly I think we should take it a game at a time. But I think we're ready."
1-3 — NCAA Division II College Classic at San Antonio (1 — vs. Lubbock Christian, 8 a.m., and St. Edward's, 10 a.m.; 2 — vs. Texas-Permian Basin, 10 a.m., and St. Mary's, 4 p.m.; 3 — vs. Texas A&M International, 7:30 a.m.); 8-10 — at Abilene Christian Classic (8 — vs. Abilene Christian, 2 p.m.; 9 — vs. Central Oklahoma, 11 a.m., and Colorado State-Pueblo, 1 p.m.; 10 — vs. Central Oklahoma, 9 a.m.); 13 — University of the Southwest (2), 12:30 p.m.; 15-16 — Midwestern State tournament (15 — vs. Arkansas Tech, 10 a.m., and Texas A&M International, noon; 16 — vs. Arkansas Tech, 8 a.m., and Texas A&M International, 4 p.m.); 20 — New Mexico Highlands (2), 1 p.m.; 27 — Oklahoma Panhandle State (2), 1 p.m.
1 — Texas-Permian Basin (2), 1 p.m.; 2 — St. Edward's (2), TBA; 8 — Midwestern State (2), 1 p.m.-x; 9 — Midwestern State, noon-x; 15 — at Angelo State (2), 5 p.m.-x; 16 — at Angelo State, noon-x; 19 — at Oklahoma Panhandle State (2), 1 p.m.; 22 — Incarnate Word (2), 2 p.m.-x; 23 — Incarnate Word, noon–x; 28 — at Texas Woman's (2), 4 p.m.-x; 29 — at Texas Woman's, 11 a.m.-x.
3 — at New Mexico Highlands (2), 1 p.m.; 5 — Tarleton State (2), 2 p.m.-x; 6 — Tarleton State, noon-x; 10 — at University of the Southwest (2), 2 p.m.; 12 — at Texas A&M-Kingsville (2), 4 p.m.-x; 13 — at Texas A&M-Kingsville, noon-x; 17 — at West Texas A&M (2), 2 p.m.-x; 19 — Abilene Christian (2), 2 p.m.-x; 20 — Abilene Christian, noon-x; 23 — West Texas A&M, 3 p.m.-x; 26 — at Cameron (2), noon-x; 27 — at Cameron, 11 a.m.-x.
All Times Mountain. x-Denotes Lone Star Conference games.
Coach: Lauren Sigwing (4th year, 44-112). Grad assistants: Angel Castro, Kristine Samaniego.