With 10 new freshmen on the roster, the 2014 Glendale Community College softball team will look dramatically different when it steps between the lines for the first game of the season.
But the most notable absence this season will be felt in the dugout.
The Vaqueros’ season opener against Cerritos at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Glendale Sports Complex will be the first time in 13 years that the team takes the field without longtime head coach Dave “Hawk” Wilder.
“He will always be remembered and we make sure his legacy does live on through what we do,” Glendale sophomore pitcher Cassandra Soto said of Wilder, who passed away on June 2 of natural causes at age 70. “It’s a new program now that he’s not here. We don’t want to forget what he’s done, but we just have to keep going.”
From the renaming of the Vaqueros’ annual tournament in his honor to the patches the players will wear on the uniforms throughout the season in tribute, reminders of Wilder, who coached the team since 2000, will be everywhere.
“He will be in the forefront and the back of our minds all the time,” said Vaqueros Coach Sal Pizzo, who served as an assistant under Wilder for the past six seasons.
Glendale finished 17-21, 7-11 in its division of the Western State Conference last season, but is just two years removed from a 30-15 season that included the first postseason appearance since 2002 and the first California Community College Athletic Assn. Southern California Super Regionals berth in the program’s history.
As a redshirt sophomore, Soto is the last on-field link to that team and she feels like this year’s squad has the potential to be just as successful.
“Regionals is a big thing,” Soto said. “I keep telling the girls it’s fun to compete, but you want to go as far as you can. It’s fun once you reach regionals. I’ve been there and we did it as a team and I want to do that this year.”
Soto was primarily a first baseman in her last season with GCC, but this time around will be asked to split pitching duties with freshman Myrna Gonzalez due to a season-ending hand injury to the team’s projected No. 1 starter, sophomore Katie Bakhshian. Bakhshian is one of two returning starters who will redshirt this season, as second baseman Amanda Zepeda will also miss the season due to illness.
“It gives the freshmen a chance to step up,” Pizzo said. “[The freshman class] looks really good and that’s the blessing that we have with all of this. I think we have the best recruiting class that we’ve had since I’ve been there, in terms of depth and pure numbers.”
Pizzo expects to field a nearly all-freshman lineup on opening day, with right fielder Kelsie Ange the lone player in the starting lineup with college experience.
The infield will consist of Cassidy Clark behind the plate, Crescenta Valley High graduate Jessica Morena at first, Jasmine Hernandez at second, Jocelyn Zavala at shortstop and Kaily Cobian at third.
Pizzo touts the outfield as an area of strength and Ari Rea and Rebecca Hernandez will be the opening day starters at left and center field, respectively.
By the conclusion of the winter season, the lineup could look fairly different. That’s when Pizzo hopes to get sophomores Vivian Topete and Ashley Suarez eligible again and back in their starting spots at center field and third base, respectively.
Pizzo said Topete, who was an all-conference selection at L.A. Valley in 2012, is a five-tool player who will be slotted right into the No. 3 batting spot when she returns.
Until then, the Vaqueros will be thin on power, for the most part, but flush with speed up and down the order with Hernandez and Rea setting the table at the top.
“Our speed is going to be a big factor,” Soto said. “We have a lot of fast girls on our team this year, so I think small ball is going to work the best.”
The Vaqueros open with a homestand that includes the Hawk Wilder Memorial Classic Jan. 31-Feb. 1 at the Glendale Sports Complex. From Feb. 8-March 1, all the team’s games will be on the road until it returns home for the conference opener against Santa Monica on March 6.
“We feel like we can compete and be in the mix,” said Pizzo, who cites perennial power and College of the Canyons and up-and-coming Citrus as the teams to beat in conference. “It’s our goal for us to make regionals, whether it’s by winning the conference or coming in second.”