For OBU softball coach Pam Fink, flipping the calendar to January 2005 couldn't happen soon enough. The nine-win 2004 season is now just a bad memory and the 2005 squad hopes to regain the form that saw the team reach the NAIA Tournament in 2002 and 2003.
"We've worked really hard and all of these girls want to be at OBU and want to play softball," said Fink. "We're a lot more focused."
The 12-player roster includes just three returners from last season's squad - third baseman Katy Thurber, pitcher Amanda Zahara and catcher Brett Swofford.
Zahara was 2-9 last season with a 2.73 earned run average, improving as the season progressed.
"We didn't play much defense behind Amanda last year (111 errors) and we didn't get to a lot of balls," said Fink. "Amanda is the leader this year. She's going to get the bulk of the pitching duty."
Spelling Zahara will be freshman Ashley Howard, who will also see time in the outfield.
"Ashley needs to make some adjustments for the college level, but she's improving all the time," said Fink.
Swofford tops the depth chart at catcher, having started 38 games last season for OBU and hitting two home runs. Freshman Brooke Stevens will see time behind the plate as well.
"With Brett and Brooke, we have two pretty good catchers," Fink said.
The infield looks solid with Thurber at third, Cathy Nitz at first and a California combo of Melissa Martinez and Sandralina Rones up the middle.
"I'm excited about our infield," said Fink. "We've made a big improvement there."
Cathy Nitz, a junior transfer from Seminole State College, will play first base.
"She's a power hitter," Fink said. "She's a left-hander with some pop and she works hard. I'm looking forward to seeing what she can do."
Melissa Martinez transfers from Palomar Junior College and will play second base.
"Melissa has great hands and she moves to the ball well," said Fink. "Second base is her spot. She's very comfortable there."
Fink hopes Thurber returns to the form that saw her land on the 2003 All-America team.
"Katy is solid," Fink said. "She's worked hard to make her senior year a great one. She wants to go out on top. She's this team's leader and I expect great things from her this year."
At shortstop, Rones will be the team's defensive cornerstone.
"She practiced in the fall and she's going to be a big improvement at short," Fink said. "She might be the best shortstop we've ever had. She just has to believe in herself."
The outfield is young, but it too is improved. Four freshmen and a junior will vie for playing time.
Catherine Eimen and Allison Ramzy are two freshmen who could have immediate impacts.
"Catherine is all out all the time," Fink said. "She makes plays and you're going to get everything she's got. Allison is a speedy outfielder and she's probably going to be our lead-off hitter."
Howard will compete for time in the outfield when she isn't pitching and walk-on Andi Little, a goalkeeper on the OBU soccer team, will be used primarily as a runner.
Michelle Asmundson, a transfer from Mount San Antonio College, is a left-hander hitter who can slap and occasionally hits for power.
"We will be better," Fink said. "We're more cohesive and more focused. We're more team-oriented and when you have that, you have people picking each other up. We will not miss the conference tournament this year."