Considering more than half of the 2006 Rams softball team is made up of underclassmen, it would be easy to label them as a young team. But head coach Mari Yori doesn't see them that way.
"I don't think we're that young," Yori said. "We have strong leadership from seniors like Jen Gardner and Katie Dean, and some of the freshmen are contributing already. We have a nice mix of youth and veterans."
Last weekend, that mix of both young and experienced Rams played in five games in the Hilton Las Cruces Classic in Las Cruces, NM. After a rough start, CSU battled back to win their last two games on Sunday, beating Portland State 5-1 before defeating the host school New Mexico State University 7-4. Sunday's strong finish boosted the team to 3-3.
Though impressed with the team's strong finish in New Mexico, coach Yori has bigger things in mind.
"Our goal is to compete for a conference championship every year, but we also want to be one of the top 64 teams advancing into the NCAA tournament."
Some of last year's NCAA tournament teams will meet up with the Rams this Friday in Las Vegas, where they will play in the Desert Classic. CSU will have five games over three days against what coach Yori describes as tough competition.
"I think three of the five teams we're playing this weekend qualified for the NCAA tournament last year," she said. "We're playing Oregon and Oregon State from the PAC-10, and that conference is always very strong in softball."
This weekend is a chance for the Rams to get an idea of how they match up against top programs. It's also an opportunity for the Rams to build on the momentum they started last week. To coach Yori, momentum is important because the Rams travel so much during the early part of their schedule.
"Since we're a northern team, it's hard to get teams to come here in February because of the weather. That's why we play in all these early-season tournaments," Yori said.
In fact, most softball teams in the northern part of the country have this type of scheduling problem, forcing them to play a lot of road games. Some see this as a distinct advantage for teams located in the south.
"We just gonna have to deal with the schedule and the travel we have."
The Rams' first home contest will be March 4 against Utah State.