Nothing like a full complement of returning starters to brighten your season outlook.
Stay in coaching long enough and it's bound to happen. But when it does, expect a healthy dose of pressure to keep a coach from enjoying it too much.
For at least the second time in 17 years of coaching at Simi Valley High, Coach Suzanne Manlet heads into the softball season with a lineup full of experience--and expectations to match.
Nine starters return--including pitchers Lori Tande and Brittney Green--from a talented 21-8 team, which finished the season ranked No. 4 in the region by The Times.
Manlet is no stranger to good fortune. In 1992, 10 returning starters paved the way to a section final where the Pioneers lost to Cypress, 1-0.
Expectations are soaring again for Simi Valley six years later.
But it isn't all victories and trophies.
Thousand Oaks Coach Gary Walin found himself in a similar situation last season when all 14 players returned. In the beginning, Walin said he felt no pressure to succeed. But as the season wore on, so did Walin.
"It was a lot tougher than I thought it would be. The expectations are so high," said Walin, whose Lancers won the Marmonte League title and lost in the semifinals of the Division I playoffs.
"Everyone was after us from Day 1. Now Simi has got the bull's-eyes on their backs."
A softball team is only as solid as its pitcher and Simi Valley has two capable of shouldering the load.
Tande (10-6, 0.87 earned-run average), who also plays shortstop, is a junk pitcher who keeps the ball down and relies on offspeed stuff.
Green has more velocity, but less control. Green (10-2) struck out 59 in 79 innings, walked 22 and had a 0.80 ERA as a freshman.
The pair, among the best sluggers on the team who combined on 34 RBIs, are surrounded by talent. Junior shortstop Tracie Hall (.345) and senior first baseman Dawn Carifi (.333) were All-Marmonte League selections last season.
Considering its lineup--and its top ranking in the region by The Times--Simi Valley certainly won't be sneaking up on anybody. At least not in the Marmonte League, the most competitive in the region.
Simi Valley will find it a challenge to live up to expectations this season because the Pioneers aren't the region's only team loaded with experience. All nine Southern Section teams in the The Times' top 10 return six or more starters and all but No. 5 Saugus feature a tested ace pitcher.
There are at least a dozen other unranked teams with more than half its team back. La Reina, Glendale and Westlake each have its entire lineup returning.
Other teams to watch:
* Quartz Hill (Golden League)--Seven starters return from a 18-8 team that lost to Camarillo, 2-1, in the second round of Division I playoffs.
Jodie Cox is to the Rebels what Nicole Giordano was to Saugus last season. Cox, a left-hander who struck out 178 in 123 innings last season, is also the league's reigning batting champion. Cox batted .481, third among the area's Southern Section large schools, had seven doubles, five home runs and 23 runs batted in.
* Saugus (Foothill)--Giordano has graduated on to Arizona, but the Centurions, with a strong tradition of winning in the 1990s, are sure to field another top-notch team. Six starters return from a 25-6 team that lost to Righetti, 2-1, in the semifinals of the Division II playoffs.
* Hoover (Pacific)--The Tornadoes were the surprise hit of 1997, edging favorite Crescenta Valley for the league title. Six starters return for what could be a repeat performance.
Sophomore right-hander Cori Herbert established herself as one of the region's finest last season with 246 strikeouts in 153 innings and a 0.59 ERA.
* Crescenta Valley (Pacific)--Junior ace Melinda Moulden is one of six returning starters for the Falcons, who lost to Simi Valley, 2-1, in a first-round game of the Division I playoffs.
Moulden is a double threat. She batted .403 with seven doubles and 19 RBIs and ranked No. 2 among the region's large school pitchers last season.
* Westlake (Marmonte)--The time has come for Westlake, which finished 12-12 last year: Nine starters return from a team that lacked maturity a year ago.
The Warriors have all the pieces to make them a contender, starting with sophomore ace Erin Voeltz, who struck out 135 in 144 innings.
"She's throwing harder than last year," Coach Darwin Tolzin said.
* Camarillo (Marmonte)--Ace Cindy Ball and infielder Jessica Mendoza return for a fourth season at Camarillo and headline a cast of six returning starters. The Scorpions missed the league title by one game last year and lost to Thousand Oaks, 2-0, in the quarterfinals of the Division I playoffs.
Ball (13-4), who is headed to University of the Pacific on scholarship, had a 0.45 ERA against the toughest opponents.
Mendoza, bound for Stanford, can play anywhere and is one of the most exciting players in the area.
* La Reina (Tri-Valley)--Anything less than a Division IV section title-game appearance would be a shame for La Reina, which returns 10 starters.
Pitchers Kristen Ward and Danielle Field combined on 15 wins last season and throw to MacKenzie Vandergeest, among the best catchers in the region.