What a difference a year can make for the CSU softball team.
Last season the Rams played with a first-year coach and a predominately first-year team ailed by key injuries to veteran players.
The Rams look to bounce back from their down year (8-43 in 2011) as play begins Friday when CSU takes on University of Texas at San Antonio at 10 a.m in the first game of the Texas Classic, followed by match-up with Cal State Fullerton 1 p.m.
Saturday the Rams will take on host and No. 18/19 Texas featured on the Longhorn Network at noon. Games four and five will be determined by seeding of the round robin games.
CSU will look for performances more than wins and losses as the team has little practice time outside coming into this weekend and will be facing some of the best competition in the nation.
â€œWe want to go out there and win every game, but we need to focus on playing hard and giving it all we have,â€ senior Lyssa Roberts said.
An even mix of returners with game experience and a class of fresh faces give the Rams depth in the pitching circle, something they lacked in 2011.
â€œThose girls got valuable game experience and are a year older into the system,â€ coach Jen Fisher said.
The Rams have a strong amount of veteran leadership, but none might be better than getting senior ace pitcher Kelli Eubanks back from a season ending injury on her pitching arm in 2011.
Losing Eubanks after just three starts as the teamâ€™s ace was costly for a young CSU team that was looking for her to continue from 2010, where she went an impressive 23-13 with a 3.55 ERA.
Fisher will look to her senior ace to help the Rams bounce back from a down year.
â€œIt is huge that we have (Kelli) back and she is much more strong mentally than she was a year ago,â€ Fisher said.
Another leader is Roberts, who is a utility infielder and was second on the team in hits with 38 and fourth in RBI with 22. Fisher will look for Roberts to take her veteran experience and work ethic to be a team leader all season long.
â€œ(Roberts) has tremendous work ethic, and is a leader on and off the field,â€ Fisher said.
CSU will face another very tough schedule with nine opponents ranked or receiving votes as opposed to 10 in 2011. Those games include No. 9/10 Stanford, 18/19 Texas and Mountain West opponent 18/19 San Diego State, which the Rams will open conferences games against on April 14.
Regardless of the opponent, the Rams are just looking to compete in every game.
â€œWeâ€™re a much different team than we were last year, this year is going to be much different,â€ Eubanks said.
Softball Beat Reporter David de Besche can be reached at email@example.com.
What: Texas Classic
Who: CSU vs. UTSA, CSU vs. Cal State Fullerton
Where: Austin, Texas
When: 10 a.m. (UTSA), 1 p.m. (Cal State Fullerton)