After back-to-back losing seasons, the Gavilan College softball team has a bright outlook on 2013.
But that doesn’t mean the team won’t see its fair share of turnover. Only three players return from last season’s 14-23-1 team, and the squad is littered with nine first-year players.
With a high talent level, this year’s success will depend on how the young faces deal with the greater talent of college-level softball, Gavilan head coach Nikki Dequin said.
“We have a lot of growing to do,” Dequin said. “A lot of new faces, absolutely. But that’s OK. It’s all a learning process. We’ve had a rough start, but again, in terms of growing, we are getting a little better every day.”
That rough start has included losses to Reedley, San Mateo and Shasta. Through the season’s first three games, the Rams have been outscored 46-10.
It’s early, though, Dequin said.
“We can hit. We can definitely hit – which is great – but you are going to have to not give up too many runs,” she said. “You can’t put yourself in a hole. We have good quality kids on the team. Their willingness and want to learn is really a big thing. If we have a kid who is not being that successful that day – and if she is struggling a bit – we want there to be willingness to learn.”
For now, Dequin will play her youth and hope for the best. So far, despite their talent, the challenge has been for them to show their best qualities during a game and not at practice.
“We are getting them to produce come game time,” she said.
For that to happen, Dequin will rely on her three returning players: Elaina Vasquez, Danielle Vallejo and Abby Holtzclaw.
“We use some of the experiences from last year with them,” Dequin said.
Vasquez, a sophomore outfielder from Gilroy High, already sees a difference with the 2013 squad.
“I do see a lot of skill here,” Vasquez said. “I just think once we put it together, we can really impress people, so that we aren’t the underdogs. I think we can do that once we figure out the key of our team.”
And the sophomores expect to use last year’s struggles as an example of what to avoid, she said.
“The hardest part is trying to teach everyone what we’ve already known for a year,” Vasquez said. “Since there are a lot more freshmen than sophomores, it’s just much more difficult to explain it all to everyone. We have to show what we expect from our team.”
And a lot of the team’s success will rely on its young starting pitching, Dequin said.
“Pitching wise, mentally we have to get a little bit tougher,” she said. “We have to adjust and prepare ourselves for an opponent. It’s one thing to pitch and practice, but it’s another thing once you get into a game. We are looking to develop in the circle. We have the physical skill. That’s very apparent.”
A lot of that skill comes from freshman Justine Armento, who graduated from Salinas High last year. Armento is already labeled the Rams’ ace and will play an important role in the team’s success, Dequin said.
“If we could get her to develop mentally, she is going to do well,” Dequin said. “Physically, she has the skill. She has some great pitches. It’s learning to be consistent and being in the circle and carrying the team.”
To get her to that level, Armento is working with former San Benito High star and Cabrillo College transfer Paige Miguel, who is redshirting for the Rams this year. Miguel works with Armento at nearly every practice on the mental side of pitching.
“She is really helping our freshman pitcher learn a lot about the game,” Dequin said.
It’s been an adjustment for Armento, she said.
“From high school, there are better hitters in the college level,” Armento said. “I’m just trying to improve on getting better every day. Mentally, she just helps me out on that. It’s really important in everything.”
Because of that development, the Rams have brighter days ahead.
“I love this team,” Vasquez said. “The girls are great. There is nothing I would change about any of the girls here.”