MORAGA, Calif. -- Competition is the name of the game when it comes to the infield for the 2013 Saint Mary's softball team.
The Gaels enter the season with no full-time returners to pencil into the infield. That's not to say there aren't returning players, but the task for head coach Jessica Hanaseth-Rodgers, at least to start, is identifying where all the new pieces fit when it comes to who will see the bulk of the playing time.
"We have general ideas," Hanaseth-Rodgers said. "Usually, the general ideas define whether they're going to be corners or middle (infielders)."
Where the Gaels do have experience is behind the plate. Megan Smith returns for her senior season, and will be counted on to be a team leader and run producer. As a sophomore, Smith was named to the Pacific Coast Softball Conference All-Coastal Division Second Team, and then split time between catcher and designated player as a junior.
Smith is joined at catcher by incoming freshman Andrea Hazel. The native of Yuba City, Calif. was a two-sport star at Yuba City High School, and has impressed coaches so far with her ability to shorten the learning curve of college softball.
"I think it'll be a strong duo. I think they benefit each other," Hanaseth-Rodgers said. "Dre has learned a lot from Megan and I think Megan has learned a lot from Dre. Dre is fresh, she's picked up well on the speed of the position given our level and everything. Could she fine-tune it? Of course, but I definitely see her putting a lot of time in behind the plate."
On the corners, the Gaels will look to a mix of new and returning talent to determine playing time. Junior Christine Torrise, redshirt freshman Kaitlyn Mamizuka, sophomore Sarah Lira and freshman Taylor McClanahan are all vying for time, and Hanaseth-Rodgers said that all four could see the field at points this season.
Up the middle, Saint Mary's youth will be on full display as junior second baseman Alexis Konstantinopoulos is the veteran presence in a group that includes freshmen Loralie Fitzpatrick and Erica Musgrave.
Musgrave has impressed in early practices, and the product of Lodi, Calif. drew praise from her coach as the season gets closer.
"She has some of the best hands I've seen in a long time, especially from a true freshman," Hanaseth-Rodgers said. "She fields balls so cleanly, so routinely and makes routine plays look so easy, which is nice because up the middle, they're going to get the most ground balls and the most action."
No matter who takes the field for the season opener on Feb. 7, competition for playing time will continue for some time. That will give a young squad plenty of chances to impress as the Gaels look to capture another PCSC title.