The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
For a program that prides itself on setting high expectations year in and year out, the College of San Mateo softball team has entered uncharted territory.
For the first time under head coach Nicole Borg, the Bulldogs enter a season as the lone, defending Coast Conference champions after finally unseating rival Ohlone College from atop the standings last season.
But if you think Borg and her Bulldogs are content with finally getting over the proverbial hump last year and resting on those laurels, you have another thing coming.
“The expectation this year is to win another conference championship,” Borg said. “I think that’s what every single one of us has on our plate. We don’t set an expectation to lose. We set an expectation to win every game. And so yeah, there’s a lot of pressure there. But life is pressure. To be successful in life, you have to be able to thrive under pressure. The thing I want so much for this group is to say they were the first under myself and my coaching staff to win two conference championship. Because that’s hard to do, win back-to-back champsionships. And they have the talent to do it. Hopefully, we do what we need to do on game day.”
The 2013 softball Bulldogs are indeed loaded — at least it would appear that way on paper. Of the 13 players listed on Borg’s roster, nine are returners giving them more than twice as many sophomores (four) as last year — a season that saw CSM go 39-6 for one of the year’s in school history.
“You always want to be the top dog,” Borg said. “And it feels great. And the fact that we have so many returners is even better. And they have a great understanding of what it took to get that championship last year and hopefully they have a real sour taste in their mouth of what it’s like not to get to the state championship.”
Talks of making serious noise at the state level aren’t far-fetched if you consider the talent returning to don a CSM uniform in 2013.
First and foremost is the presence of former Capuchino superstar and Central Coast Section champion Michele Pilster, who had a breakout first year for the Bulldogs going 29-5 from the circle with a 1.43 ERA. San Mateo also returns the second-best pitcher in the conference with former Notre Dame-Belmont Amelia Shales and her 1.73 ERA supporting Pilster and a staff that posted a 1.68 team ERA last season.
“Doing the same thing I did last year,” Pilster said when asked how she will go about duplicating such a fantastic statistical season. “Just practice and get all my pitches to work. Communicate with coach and my catcher on what I want to do.”
Her battery mate is Jamie Navarro, a former Mustang teammate and arguably CSM’s best offensive weapon in 2013. Navarro’s average was a powerful .414 (19 extra-base hits, 36 RBIs, 17 stolen bases) and it’ll probably anchor the middle of the Bulldog lineup.
“Our lineup should be strong. Should be strong,” Borg said. “I always use that because you never what you’re going to get.”
Borg jokingly acknowledged the actual lineup isn’t set in stone just yet. But no one can argue with the luxury of players she has at her disposal.
Expect Jenn Davidson (Carlmont) and her .446 average to hover somewhere near the top of the lineup along with Mikayla Conlin (.361, 36 RBIs) and Kaylin Stewart (.315, 14 stolen bases).
Stewart will play a huge role on defense, moving over from second base to shortstop. Her old spot will be occupied by Talisa Fiame (Terra Nova) who has proven a pleasant surprise in fall ball for the Bulldogs. Selina Rodriguez (El Camino, 31 RBIs) returns to play third base and her role in the lineup — most likely somewhere in the middle of it — will be huge according to Borg.
“Everything is on the sophomores’ shoulders,” Borg said. “For the sophomores, every day you have to be clutch. You have to come through and really understand what this is about. It’s not, ‘We’ll get it tomorrow.’ It has to get done today. And we’re going to get this done today.”
Key newcomers for the Bulldogs include another Mustang in Kelly McDaid who will most likely man centerfield and former Burlingame Panther Natalie Saucedo, one of the Peninsula Athletic League’s most complete hitters the past couple of seasons.
No doubt CSM’s roster is stacked. But Borg acknowledged the biggest task for the Bulldogs this year, if they’re going to repeat as conference champions and make noise in the playoffs, is mentally playing with the chip on their shoulders that typified the College of San Mateo teams that had yet to win an outright conference title.
“That’s been the biggest challenge, as far as coaching, we’ve never been here,” Borg said. “And it’s on us to make sure we’re motivating our athletes to stay hungry and to keep that fire lit and to understand that this doesn’t always come around. This is something special. But that proverbial chip that’s always on my shoulder is a lot bigger this year.
“Now that chip is really, ‘Hey, we’re going to win a conference championship.’ That’s the ultimate goal. That’s number one. And now hopefully, after we get past that, how do we get past that super regional round? How do we get over that hump? Because we always get to the top, but we can never get over it. And that’s really what it’s all about. When you are the defending champions, you probably have a bigger target on your back than you did the year before. And, we just have to understand that people are probably going to play their best game against us. And we can’t falter in any which way.”