The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.

Although the community college basketball season still has about three weeks left in the regular season, the calendar slows for no sport.

The College of San Mateo softball team — yes, softball — kicks off the 2012 season at noon Saturday against Yuba College at Foothill. The Bulldogs will begin their quest to win the first outright Coast Conference championship for coach Nicole Borg, who enters her seventh at the Bulldogs’ helm.

Borg has put together an impressive record since taking over the CSM program, finishing with two co-championships and four second-place finishes in the Coast Conference.

Borg doesn’t see it that way.

“Second place is the worst place to be,” Borg.

None of those runner-up finishes hurt more than last year’s, when the Bulldogs lost a 1-0 decision in the bottom of the seventh inning against nemesis Ohlone in the final game of the regular season.

This year’s squad returns four members from the 2011 team and added an influx of top local talent that has Borg and her coaching staff believing this year’s squad will, once again, be in the mix for the conference title.

“I think the talent level is the best since I’ve been here,” Borg said.

The big question for the Bulldogs this season is pitching. Alyssa Jepsen, who started 31 games last season, took her 14-9, 2.35 ERA to Santa Clara University, leaving a gaping hole in the pitcher’s circle. Borg hope to fill that with a number of candidates this season — all freshmen. Ashley Miller (Woodside), Michele Pilster (Capuchino), Jenn Davidson (Carlmont) and Amelia Shales (Notre Dame-Belmont) will all get their chance during the preseason to show what they can do. Borg anticipates any number of the four getting the call, depending on the opponent and the matchup.

“Ashley, Jenn and Michele split time in fall ball,” Borg said, adding Shales did not come out for the team until after the fall-ball season. “The nice thing is, we don’t have to run one pitcher into the ground. There are so many preseason games, they’ll have a chance to show what they can do. I don’t plan on just riding one pitcher all year. I think there will be one or two who stand out above the rest (by the time conference play rolls around).”

While the starting pitching may still be up in the air, the offense should hit the ground running. Lindsay Handy (sophomore, Hillsdale) and Annabel Hertz (sophomore, Lincoln-SF) are the only returning full-time starters. The other two sophomore returners — Vika Kafoa (Capuchino) and Mary Ganal (Lincoln-SF) saw plenty of action last season.

“I hope Vika plays a much bigger role this year. She had a great fall,” Borg said.

Handy is the Bulldogs’ best returning hitter. After a standout career at Hillsdale, she had little dropoff in her first year at the college level, hitting .378 with 14 doubles, three home runs and 26 runs batted in.

“She is the strongest player coming back,” Borg said. “She had a great freshman year. I’m looking forward to see what she can do this year.”

The Bulldogs also landed some of the top talent from the Peninsula in this year’s freshmen class, including Jamie Navarro (Capuchino) and Kaylin Stewart (Hillsdale). Other newcomers include Kristin Petrini (Hillsdale), Jaycee McDaid (Capuchino) and Selina Rodriguez (El Camino).

“Navarro is going to have an impact for us,” Borg said, adding she went 7 for 7 in fall ball games against San Francisco State University. “She is a raw talent.

“They all mesh really well together.”

Katie Tam (freshman, Lowell-SF) and freshman Mikayla Conlin, out of Southern California power Mater Dei, round out the roster.

As usual, Borg and the Bulldogs are setting high goals and, considering the level of talent, they shouldn’t be far fetched. The first is to capture that elusive conference title by themselves.

“With the talent (we have), expectations are high,” Borg said.