Besides eventual league champion Righetti High, the PAC 7 softball picture was slow to come into focus a year ago.
The Warriors finished with a 20-8 overall mark that included a 12-0 run against PAC 7 opponents.
Beneath them, no one else in the league posted a winning overall record, and only two victories separated the runner-up, Atascadero, from the fourth and final playoff team, Arroyo Grande.
But if the group’s early-season showings are any indication, the contenders may not be as patient to hit their strides this year. The top six from 2009 have gotten off to a combined 10-0 nonleague start this time.
“Looking at the early scores,” 10th-year San Luis Obispo coach Mike Lee said, “this conference is up for grabs. It’s anybody’s for the taking. I don’t think anybody can put a thumb on the pulse (of how the league standings will play out) right now. Everybody is going to have a chance to be successful.”
A preview look at prep softball teams throughout San Luis Obispo County:
Atascadero (11-13, 8-4 PAC 7 in 2009)
Outlook: The Greyhounds, who clicked late last season, winning four of their final five league contests, return one of the most balanced squads in the PAC 7.
Players to watch: Junior pitcher Jill Johnson was a first-team all-league choice last season after posting a 1.23 ERA, while senior catcher Ashley Dooley earned the same distinction, batting .370 with a team-best 28 RBI. Infielders Brigit Godfrey and Ashlee Reusche are also back after second-team all-league campaigns as underclassmen.
Arroyo Grande (10-14-1, 6-6 PAC 7 in 2009)
Outlook: The Eagles have welcomed first-year head coach Kristin Ciecek, who played for the program in the late 1990s.“I think Righetti will be the team to beat again this year,” Ciecek said, “but I feel really confident that we can compete.”
Players to watch: Senior Katie Brooks is back after maintaining a 1.87 ERA and holding opposing batters to a .212 average in 1381⁄3 innings last season. Infielders Alexa Wetmore (who batted a team-best .304 a year ago) and Kasie Craig (.286) figure to make strong contributions at the plate.
San Luis Obispo (11-15, 4-8 PAC 7 in 2009)
Outlook: The Tigers, who boast the county’s only Division I signee thus far, Seattle-bound senior catcher Karina Smyth, have hopes of returning to the CIF-Southern Section divisional postseason after a seven-year streak of appearances was snapped a season ago.Players to watch: Smyth, a fourth-year starter, batted .299 as a junior, totaling team highs of 23 runs, seven doubles, two triples and 11 walks drawn. Kelli Lewelling, Taryn Kalman and Leah O’Reilly will also be relied upon in the batter’s box.
In the circle, senior Kelsey Gibbs is a returning starter, while promising freshman Andrea Reynolds will likely see key innings, as well.
Paso Robles (11-17, 3-9 PAC 7 in 2009)
Outlook: Former Templeton coach Val Reynolds came out of retirement this offseason to take over the program.
Reynolds coached at Templeton from 1993 to 2004, directing the Eagles to five Central Section divisional titles.
“It’s coming along well so far,” Reynolds said of returning to the dugout. “I’m getting used to the girls and they’re getting used to me.”
Players to watch: Paso Robles features one of the best all-around talents in the area in senior outfielder Lauren Redberg, who batted .439 last year with four home runs en route to picking up all-PAC 7 first-team accolades.
“Lauren is definitely a leader,” Reynolds said. “She gets up at 5 in the morning every day and hits and pitches before she goes to class. No one else works as hard as she does.”
Junior third baseman Alexa Muñoz is also back, after batting .408 as a sophomore. The pitching staff will centerpiece junior Amanda Searcy (who compiled a 2.57 ERA in 651⁄3 innings a season ago) and sophomore Kellie Reynolds (2.7 ERA in 621⁄3).
Nipomo (7-19, 2-10 PAC 7 in 2009)
Outlook: The Titans are looking for their offense to offset a young pitching rotation.
Players to watch: Junior pitcher Tessa Underwood had a 1.84 ERA in 38 innings as a sophomore. Senior third baseman Cami Castillo, meanwhile, should make an impact as a power hitter, having led the squad with 19 hits, 12 RBI, five doubles, four triples and three homers a year ago.
Morro Bay (20-5, 10-2 Los Padres League in 2009)
Outlook: The Pirates, the LPL runner-up a year ago, opened the season with the task of making up for the graduation of star pitcher Kim Dauer, who went 14-3 while collecting a 1.01 ERA and 227 strikeouts in 2009.
Players to watch: Sophomore Kylie Gacad was a team-best 3 for 5 with three stolen bases in the Pirates’ season-opening 9-4 win over Nipomo. Senior first baseman Ciara Ramos is one of the area’s most imposing power hitters, amassing a .303 batting average as a junior, yielding team bests of 18 RBI, five doubles, three triples and two home runs. Senior Candace Milbourne has inherited No. 1 pitcher duties.
Templeton (8-13, 4-8 LPL in 2009)
Outlook: The Eagles will pride themselves on their team speed, second-year coach Stony Humphries said.
Players to watch: Junior pitcher Danita Hinton had a 3.57 ERA while holding the opposition to a .263 batting average in 49 innings last year. Senior catcher Haley Mosher garnered all-LPL honorable-mention status last season after batting .333.
Coast Union (7-6 in 2009)
Outlook: Coach Rocky Fordyce has returned, picking up where he left off after a 14-year stint from 1983 to 1997. The Broncos have 27 players this season, the most the program has had in several years.Players to watch: Senior pitcher Ashlyn Silva is back after being No. 1 in the rotation as a junior. At the plate, Coast Union figures to be led by sophomore catcher Sophie Flemion, junior infielder and lead-off candidate Autumn Raethke and senior utility player Josie Poulos.
Mission Prep (7-7 in 2009)
Outlook: The Royals’ experienced bats will have to compensate for a young pitching rotation.
Players to watch: The lone returner in the circle, senior Amanda Souchek, is a third-year starter. Senior infielders Cat Hall and Ally Kersthold, meanwhile, both earned all-county first-team distinction as juniors.
North County Christian (14-5, 13-2 Coast Valley League in 2009)
Outlook: The Crusaders appear in good position to defend their CVL title under second-year coach Crystal Layton.
Players to watch: Senior infielder Leanne Villalba batted .552 while driving in a team-leading 27 runs a year ago. Cheyenne Ricks (who hit .441) and Kelsey Paulus (.415) are also back.
Coastal Christian (8-10, 8-7 CVL in 2009)
Outlook: Soon after the school was unable to field a girls basketball team becasue of low turnout, the Conquerors list a 10-player roster entering this season, including three freshmen.
Players to watch: Junior third baseman Grace Napier, who played on the Conquerors’ boys basketball team this year, earned all-county second-team accolades as a sophomore, batting .603 with 35 RBI.
Shandon (3-15, 3-12 CVL in 2009)
Outlook: The Outlaws are young, as sixth-year coach Dayna Sciocchetti is quick to point out, with nine of their 16 players being underclassmen.
Players to watch: Senior first baseman Jeannette Barrera (who batted .692 as a junior), junior infielder Ashley DeBruler (.294) and sophomore outfielder Lucina Lopez (.378 with a team-leading nine RBI) are back after strong seasons in 2009.