MORAGA, Calif. -- The future is now for the Saint Mary's softball team.
One year after winning the Pacific Coast Softball Conference Coastal Division, head coach Jessica Hanaseth-Rodgers welcomes 10 freshmen to the fold for 2013, introducing a group of new players that will join with a small but accomplished returning core to bring an air of excitement to Cottrell Field.
"It's a lot more teaching," Hanaseth-Rodgers said. "Even before the skills, it's establishing what we're about, them learning that foundation and building upon that."
That the team is young is only one part of the equation. There won't be any shortage of talent, and with returners in some of the key spots, competing for a conference title remains the expectation.
Leadership will come from many areas, but it will start with a returning battery of seniors Jessica Lemmon and Megan Smith. Lemmon earned PCSC Coastal Division Pitcher of the Year honors last season, and Smith has seen plenty of action behind the plate over the last three years.
Add returning All-PCSC first teamer Brittany Sabatini in center field and All-PCSC honorable mention Christine Torrise on the infield and the Gaels do have some building blocks to provide a foundation for their new talent.
"The kids that are back have a lot of experience," Hanaseth-Rodgers said. "Jessica, in her fifth year, has been on both teams that won our division and won our championship and she's played in a Regional. Megan has also played in a Regional. So, there are kids that have been a part of it and that share that through their leadership. That stuff will only get picked up on by the young kids and they can pass it on as well. It gets filtered pretty well."
Some of that foundation will come simply through the influx of new talent Hanaseth-Rodgers has brought in. As the newcomers adjust to playing on the Division I level, the learning curve could be shortened considerably by the skills and athleticism they bring with them.
"They've got to learn their positions quick and get good at their positions quick, but they do have a great foundation," Hanaseth-Rodgers said. "They're very athletic and they provide a lot. It's easier with their athleticism."
There won't be any easing into the season for a youthful group of Gaels. They'll open the season against No. 16-ranked Washington at the Oceanic Time Warner Cable Paradise Classic in Hawaii. The host Warriors are ranked No. 23.
In total, Saint Mary's will play five teams that begin the 2013 campaign in the USA Today/NFCA Top 25. BYU joins the PCSC this year as well, making the schedule perhaps as tough as it has been in recent memory.
"I think this team is more than capable of some upsets and I think it would be great to knock off a couple Pac-12 teams, which we have a lot of on our schedule," Hanaseth-Rodgers said. "It's exciting to get out there and go play those teams because, especially with young kids, sometimes they don't know any different."
Even with a tough schedule and a host of new faces, the goal remains the same for the Gaels -- compete for the PCSC title and, ultimately, a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
"We can't settle for anything less than conference champions. There's nothing else to play for besides that," Hanaseth-Rodgers said. "Yeah, we're transitioning out of the PCSC to the West Coast Conference, which I think will help for at-large bids down the line, but it's something for us where I think it's important that's our goal and that's what we set to achieve. Anything less, it's tough to get in."
Check SMCGaels.com over the next two weeks for a position-by-position breakdown of the 2013 Gaels. The season gets underway Feb. 7 when SMC takes on Washington in Hawaii. For a full schedule and roster, visit SMCGaels.com.