The Cal State Fullerton softball team was one victory away from advancing to the NCAA World Series last year.
The Titans have 13 new players this season, including an entirely new pitching staff, going into their season opener at home at 1 p.m. Sunday against Stanford, but Fullerton is expected to again be a contender for national honors.
The coaches’ preseason poll has Fullerton ranked 12th, ahead of such top programs as Long Beach State, Cal State Northridge and Nevada Las Vegas. Coach Judi Garman says that might be a bit generous with so many new faces around, but she’s encouraged by the prospects.
“For the first time since I’ve been at Fullerton, we don’t have a senior on the team,” Garman said. “We’re a real young team, and we’ll make some mistakes, but we’re looking better than we expected at this point in the season.”
Four regulars are back from a team that was 41-28 but missed a berth in the World Series when it lost twice to UCLA on the final day of the NCAA regional tournament at Fullerton. The Titans would have advanced to the World Series with a victory in either game.
The top returning player is shortstop Julie Williams, who has started 127 of the team’s 130 games over the last two seasons. She has a career .287 average after batting .274 last season.
Garman said Williams probably will miss the season-opening doubleheader because of a registration problem that can’t be resolved until next week, but Garman said she expects Williams to be eligible after that.
The Titans lost their top three run producers when Senetha Thomas, Traci Fischer and Chris Zboril completed their eligibility.
Pitcher Liza Brown, who was 18-13 as a freshman, transferred to DePaul to be closer to her parents after their move to the Midwest, but Garman is still pleased with the new pitching staff.
Junior Donna Coombes is a transfer from Tallahassee (Fla.) Community College and sophomore Jan Oetgen was at Oklahoma State last year. A freshman, Dannielle Ferreira, is the third pitcher.
“Our pitching definitely has been better than we might have expected,” Garman said. “All three of them have been effective so far and all three will be important to us this season.”
Garman enters her 18th season at Fullerton as the winningest active Division I coach with 816 victories.
She doesn’t expect this team to have the power that last year’s did when Thomas hit 13 homers and Zboril had 11, but she says this team has better speed. “We won’t have the power, so we’ll have to make things happen on the bases,” Garman said.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Feb. 9 STANFORD, 1 p.m.; 14-16 at Arizona State Tournament; 21-23 at Florida Tournament.
March 2 at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, noon; 14 CAL STATE SACRAMENTO, 4 p.m.; 15 PACIFIC, 1 p.m.; 19-23 PONY INVITATIONAL; 27 TENNESSEE, 5 p.m.; 29 at Long Beach State, 1 p.m.; 30 at UC Santa Barbara.
April 5 NEW MEXICO STATE, 1 p.m.; 6 at Cal State Northridge, 1 p.m.; 9 UTAH STATE, 5 p.m.; 12 at Cal State Sacramento, 1 p.m.; 13 at Pacific, noon; 16 LOYOLA MARYMOUNT, 5 p.m.; 18 at New Mexico State, 4 p.m.; 20 at Utah State, noon; 26 NEVADA LAS VEGAS, 1 p.m.; 27 LONG BEACH STATE, 1 p.m.; 30 CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE, 7 p.m.
May 2 UC SANTA BARBARA, 7 p.m.; 3 CAL POLY SAN LUIS OBISPO, 1 p.m.; 16-18 NCAA Regionals; 22-26 College World Series at Oklahoma City.
All dates doubleheaders except for tournaments. All times Pacific.