For Cal Poly softball pitcher Anna Cahn, success came freely when she was comfortably insulated at the center of a championship team.
A sophomore standout on a 2009 squad that also included five seniors and the program’s all-time leader in home runs, RBI and slugging percentage, Cahn stood out, but it was easy for her to feel like just one of the cogs.
The results speak for themselves. The left-hander set single-season program records for victories (28-7), complete games (30), innings pitched (252 2⁄3) and starts (33) and ranked second among Big West Conference players with 160 strikeouts and third with a 1.80 ERA.
A dual threat, Cahn also batted .338 and was second in the conference only to teammate Krysten Cary with 41 RBI, leading the Mustangs to a Big West title and the first postseason wins in program history.
Cahn also landed on the USA softball player of the year watch list heading into 2010.
The challenge for Cahn this season — which starts with an appearance in UCLA’s Winsberg Invitational today against Portland State — will be to follow up her previous success on a team where she is the unquestioned star, one being counted on to produce as her new supporting cast is expected to wade through some growing pains.
Cahn also has to reconcile the situation with her own comfort level.
“For me, if I get too serious in a situation, I don’t do as well,” Cahn said. “I get more tense, and if I focus way too much, it’s not good. For me, I have to have that fun aspect. I feel like I need that kid inside me.”
Still, it appears Cahn will be relied upon more this season. She and Cary, who led the Big West with 14 home runs, 42 RBI and a .592 slugging percentage, are the only returners who hit better than .260 last season.
“Can she replicate? I don’t know. It’s tough to do. She had a great year,” Cal Poly head coach Jenny Condon said. “Is she capable? Absolutely.”
Opponents “have to look at Krysten and Anna,” Condon said, “and they’ll take an approach like we do with any other teams that have a big hitter: Don’t let them beat you. And so they’re probably not going to see great pitches. So, they’re going to have to be selective. And if they get walks, they get walks.”
Defensively, the team could receive a makeover after the graduation of four-year starters Melissa Pura, Cristen Lee and Stephanie Tam at shortstop, third base and second base, respectively.
Junior catcher Stephanie Correia is a fixture at catcher, where she is set to start for the third straight season, but after that, there could be new starters at every position.
Cary could find herself playing third base for the first time since high school. Sophomore outfielder Nora Sobczack is facing a move to shortstop, and Cahn could land at first base when she is not pitching. All the other spots will be filled by first-year starters, freshmen and sophomores getting their first regular playing time.
“We’re going to be pleasantly surprised by the freshmen and sophomores in our lineup,” Cary said. “I think they’re going to be able to step in. The one good things we have over other teams is the young girls are eager.”
Sophomore Kendal Hennings is being penciled in to start at second base, while freshmen Dana Perez and Trista Thomas are expected to each play a role in both the infield and the outfield.
Thomas and fellow freshman Rebecca Patton will also be counted on to spell Cahn and returning senior left-hander Helen Peña in the circle.
Condon said the first few weeks will be trial and error as she tries out different lineups, but the new players have not lowered the expectations for a program that has won two of the past three Big West titles and aims to become a perennial postseason participant.
“The word on the street is that it’s a rebuilding year for us,” Condon said. “That’s fine. Good. We’re happy to be in that position where people think that, but people that know the program and know the people in it know we’re going to be ready to go come conference time.”