PORTALES — Third-year Eastern New Mexico University softball coach Lauren Sigwing was philosophical after her team was picked for last place in the revised 10-team Lone Star Conference's preseason poll last week.
"I'd have been really surprised if we'd been picked any higher," she said.
The Zias (13-41, 3-18 LSC South last year) know they have to do it on the field. ENMU opens its season on Thursday, facing Texas-Permian Basin and host St. Mary's in a tournament in San Antonio.
"I'm pretty sure we'll be better than last year," said 4-foot-10 1/2 senior left fielder Melanie Alderette, who played center for the Zias last season and started all 54 games, batting .291. "We're young, but we've got a lot of heart and drive."
This year's squad will certainly be young — nine of the 20 players are freshmen, including the four pitchers and the probable starters at shortstop and second base.
"I think we know we're still trying to figure things out as a team," Sigwing said. "We don't expect to jell until later on. We just need to play hard and get better as the season goes."
The pitchers include right-handers Amy Smith, Albie Medina and Katie Ramsey, and lefty Vanessa Ramierez. Sigwing, who expects to use Ramierez in relief, said each one brings a little something different to the table.
Sophomore Morgan Miller, who started 24 games last season and missed part of the year with injuries, and freshman Aurelia Sandoval are competing behind the plate. Kate Medrano, who hit .323 with five homers in 2011, will move from second base to first while senior Emily Livingston, who started every game at third last year, is being challenged by transfer Cassie Beene.
The middle infielders should be freshmen Kuuleiokealoaha "Ke" VonSchriltz at second base and Melissa Reynosa at short, Sigwing said. Another freshman, Lizzy Velasquez, is also a possibility and could wind up as a utility player.
While Alderette is expected to start in left, candidates in center and right field include Velasquez, freshman Savannah Chavez and seniors Devin Higgins, Sarah Spencer and Josette Aguirre.
"I think everybody knows their roles," said Alderette, who is from Albuquerque. "Everybody knows what they're expected to do."
Sigwing said junior Amanda Lale, who split time in the circle, at first base and at designated player last year, is the top candidate to fill the DP role.
The LSC race should be interesting. Defending South champion Angelo State is favored, but three others are close behind, including last year's North champion Midwestern State, which was fourth in the poll despite earning nine first-place votes to eight for ASU.
ENMU AT A GLANCE
2-4 — at St. Mary's tournament (2 vs. Texas-Permian Basin, 2 p.m., and St. Mary's, 4 p.m.; 3 vs. St. Edward's, 1 p.m., and Texas A&M International, 3 p.m.; 4 vs. Abilene Christian, 9 a.m., and Southeastern Oklahoma, 11 a.m.); 10-12 — at West Texas A&M tournament (10 vs. St. Edward's, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.; 11 vs. Texas-Permian Basin, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.; 12 vs. Oklahoma Panhandle State, 10 a.m. and noon); 17-19 — at West Texas A&M Lady Buff Classic (17 vs. New Mexico Highlands, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.; 18 vs. Colorado School of Mines, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.; 19 vs. Regis College, 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.); 29 — Texas-Permian Basin (2), 1 p.m.
2 — at Midwestern State (2), 2 p.m.-x; 3 — at Midwestern State, 11 a.m.-x; 7 — at Texas-Permian Basin (2), 1 p.m.; 9 — Angelo State (2), 1 p.m.-x; 10 — Angelo State, noon–x; 14 — Adams State (2), 2 p.m.; 16 — at Incarnate Word (2), 3 p.m.-x; 17 — at Incarnate Word, 11 a.m.-x; 23 — Texas Woman's (2), 2 p.m.-x; 24 — Texas Woman's, 11 a.m.-x; 28 — at New Mexico Highlands (2), 2 p.m.; 30 — at Tarleton State (2), 4 p.m.-x; 31 — at Tarleton State, 11 a.m.-x.
3 — Oklahoma Panhandle State (2), 2 p.m.; 5 — Texas A&M-Kingsville, 4 p.m.-x; 6 — Texas A&M-Kingsville (2), 2 p.m.-x; 10 — West Texas A&M (2), 2 p.m.-x; 13 — at Abilene Christian, 6 p.m.-x; 14 — at Abilene Christian (2), 11 a.m.-x; 17 — at West Texas A&M, 4 p.m.-x; 20 — Cameron (2), 2 p.m.-x; 21 — Cameron, 11 a.m.-x.
All times Mountain. x-Denotes Lone Star Conference games.
1 Melanie Alderette, Sr., OF, Albuquerque; 2. Amanda Marquez, So., OF, Portales; 3 Ke VonSchriltz, Fr., 2B, Las Cruces; 4 Aurelia Sandoval, Fr., C, Farmington; 5 Lizzy Velasquez, Fr., IF/OF, Las Cruces; 6 Savannah Chavez, Fr., OF, Albuquerque; 7 Amanda Lale, Jr., 1B/DP, Mesquite, Texas; 8 Sarah Spencer, Sr., OF, Las Cruces; 9 Cassie Beene, Sr., UT, Seminole, Okla.; 10 Amy Smith, Fr., RHP/1B, Pasadena, Texas.
12 Emily Livingston, Sr., 3B, Corinth, Texas; 13 Morgan Miller, So., C, Bay City, Texas; 14 Devin Higgins, Sr., OF, Reno, Nevada; 15 Melissa Reynosa, Fr., SS, North Hollywood, Calif.; 16 Kate Medrano, Sr., 1B, Tecumseh, Kan.; 17 Katie Ramsay, Fr., RHP/1B, Keller, Texas; 18 Albie Medina, Fr., RHP, Las Cruces; 20 Josette Aguirre, Sr., OF, Moriarty; 21 Vanessa Ramierez, Fr., LHP, Lubbock; 22 Rebecca Marruio, Jr., OF, Roswell.
Coach: Lauren Sigwing (3rd season, 29-78). Graduate assistants: Megan Cairns, Ryan Pruitt.