Out with the old and in with the new. A simple yet scary statement, especially for those who fear change. And there are a lot of changes for the University of New Mexico softball team. But fortunately, fear is not in its nature.
The 2005 Lobos are returning just seven letterwinners, including four starters, after losing 10 from last year's team.
"This year our players have a commitment to softball, a commitment to the program and a desire for excellence that we share," Newbern said. "I think that will trickle down into consistency and we did not have that last year."
The 2004 season did not turn out as expected. Going into the year, New Mexico was returning 10 letterwinners, including seven starters.
But the talent and experience wasn't enough. At their highest point, the Lobos were 25-15. They finished the year 30-35.
This year is different.
"These girls are here for the right reason," Newbern said. "They want to play the game and they really enjoy softball. We've got 21 people moving in the same direction and that makes it fun."
With more newcomers than returners, one would have to question the team's ability to perform as a solid unit.
"We have had the most positive transition this year that we have ever had," Newbern said. "Just from listening to their comments and watching them interact, they are more of a team than they have ever been. Team unity is strong and the chemistry is great."
The coaching staff has changed from last year with the addition of pitching coach Tom Horton.
"The staff is all on the same page now," Newbern said. "Tom provides a great work ethic and makes pitchers work hard and demands a lot from them. He gives a lot to these kids and it will come through on the field."
Speaking of the field, it will experience the biggest change of all.
Longhorn Construction broke ground Jan. 20 on the 2,835- square-foot of renovations for the new softball facilities. The estimated $850,000 project, which is scheduled to be completed approximately April 25, will result in a new 1,740-square-foot fieldhouse, a 565-square-foot home dugout and a 530-square-foot visiting dugout.
The home dugout will be attached to the fieldhouse for easy access. The visitors dugout will be located on the first base side of the field. Both the home and visitors' dugouts will sit 15 inches below ground.
The current building that houses the coaches office, located down the right field line, will be used as an officials changing room.
Gregory T. Hicks & Assoc., p.c., the designers of the schematic floor plan for the new fieldhouse and dugouts, are currently working on a proposed plan for a new batting cage and bullpen.
Perkins, the lone returner from last year's staff, is ready to accept the leadership roll according to Newbern.
"Ashley is excited and ready for her senior year," Newbern said. "She is a seasoned veteran whose very competitive and has worked extremely hard over the summer and winter."
Perkins had an active fall, appearing in six of the seven games. She threw five complete games including two shutouts. In 33.1 innings pitched, Perkins gave up 28 hits, 14 earned runs, struck out 22 and finished with a 3.78 earned run average. Last year, Perkins went 12-8 after starting the season 8-0 and had a 3.03 ERA, the second best on the team.
Gregg, a transfer from Washburn University, will make her debut for New Mexico this year after sitting out the 2004 season to recover from elbow surgery that rerouted her ulnar nerve.
"Katie is almost 100 percent," Newbern said. "We just need her to be solid. When she is throwing her game, she complements Ashley very well."
Peterson joins the team this semester after a year and a half at Arizona Western.
"We expect Caley to contribute immediately," Newbern said. "She pretty much handcuffed us when we faced her in the fall. She does a good job of keeping hitters off balance and that is her greatest strength."
If things do not go as smoothly as planned, Newbern does have one more pitching option in senior first baseman Ashley Shartzer.
"Shartzer is available to pitch but it all depends on the other three," Newbern said. "She has told me she is willing to do whatever it takes to win and is ready to go if we need her."
Shartzer did toss two innings in the fall, allowing two hits and one earned run. She did not pitch once last season, but did make 16 appearances in 2003 with an ERA of 3.69.
Transferring to New Mexico for the spring semester, sophomore Liz Young assumes the starting role.
"Liz is going to be such a huge impact," Newbern said. "She is very intense and very softball oriented. Liz is very intelligent and fundamentally sound. She is very outspoken and I think the pitchers are going to work well with her because she will fire them up and keep them in line."
Young saw action in 15 games, including seven starts, while at Kent State University. She hit .217, drew three walks and had a perfect fielding percentage, which is a rarity among catchers.
Also vying for playing time is freshman Whitney Galindo, a native of Carlsbad, N.M., whom Newbern says is "really coming along" in the transition from high school to collegiate softball.
The infielders are arguably the Lobos most talented group. They are anchored by Shartzer at first base and junior Cassie Chavez at third with a very young and talented middle. Shartzer and Chavez are expected to calm the underclassmen down and keep the infield under control according to Newbern.
"In the few years that we have had her, Cassie has come such a long way," Newbern said. "It is amazing to see how much she has progressed and now she is very confident in her game and she can help run the infield. So far, she has been a great mentor for the younger kids.
"Shartzer is a natural born leader. I think she has been consistent as a leader verbally and now she really leads by example. She was working out hard over break and is very positive."
At shortstop will be freshman Christina Rios. Rios had a terrific fall and got the starting nod in all seven games.
"It is hard to believe she is a true freshman," Newbern said. "She is far beyond her years maturity wise."
"Both girls are fundamentally sound," Newbern said. "Ashley hit extremely well last fall and played great defensively. Kristina is a little more seasoned but with her versatility, could be an excellent outfielder for us. She was an All-American in junior college so she should make an immediate impact."
The lone returner from last year's outfield is sophomore Ryanne Hodgins.
"Ryanne should do a great job in center leading the team and handling the outfield," Newbern said.
Sophomore Amy Ray will see more playing time in the outfield as she makes her case for a starting roll.
"Amy got in a limited amount and was able to contribute at times last year," Newbern said. "This year she has the chance to step up and contribute right away."
Senior Kelli Edelbrock is currently unavailable to play due to an injury but may return late in the season according to Newbern. Her presence not only provides leadership, but also experience and depth.
"Overall, the outfield has really come along for not having worked together for very long," Newbern said. "They are really learning to communicate well and they have a good sense of the outfield and each other."
If the fall is any indication of what the offense will produce this spring, expect a plentiful season. As a team, the Lobos hit .328, racked up 60 hits and scored 30 runs in 65 games. Six different players who appeared in more than one game hit over .300.
"The hitting is fundamentally sound all the way through the team and they are very athletic and disciplined hitters," Newbern said. "They are going to be really fun to watch."
Leading the way in the fall was Shartzer with a .450 batting average. Allen was a close second with a .409 average while Chavez rounded out the top three at .391.
Chavez has already made it known that she is good with a bat. After just two years, Chavez has belted 15 home runs to move into a tie for third place in the New Mexico career record book. She has a career batting average of .291, which is just shy of making the top-10 list.
Freshman Lindsey Elcess, a first baseman, is a real power hitter from the left side according to Newbern.
"Lindsey is going to contribute immediately at the plate," Newbern said. "She is going to add the power we need right in the middle of the lineup and should be able to push a lot of runs across for us.
"Becky Dover (sophomore, third baseman) came back really strong and her swing is reaping the benefits of that. I can see her competing in the designated player position and providing a lot of power somewhere in the middle of the lineup, preferably around Lindsey so they are a threat."
The Lobos kick off the season on Feb. 4 at the UC Santa Barbara Tournament where they will play three games against the Gauchos and two against Oregon State.
Oregon State finished the 2004 season ranked 15th in the nation with a 44-28 record. Nebraska is the only other opponent this year that finished in the top-25 rankings, placing 14th, but Texas A&M and Arizona State were both ranked at times last year.
One change from last year's schedule is the hosting of the Lobo Softball Classic. UNM will host Liberty, New Mexico State and Texas Tech, March 18-20.
"We have been trying for a couple years to host a tournament and we actually were able to put it together this year," Newbern said. "Every chance we get to bring people to the University of New Mexico and Albuquerque is just huge for our program and great exposure for the university."
The tournament is not the first home game though. After playing at home just nine times including conference games, the Lobos will play at home 11 different days starting with a doubleheader against Indiana State on March 12.
"The travel is so hard on the kids and we want to keep them in school as much as possible," Newbern said. "We want our fans to have as many opportunities as they can to see us play."
Mountain West Conference action begins April 1 in Albuquerque with a twinbill against UNLV. Last year the Lobos were 3-16 in conference play but had a strong showing at the conference championship, upsetting third-seeded BYU in the first game and then came up just shy of knocking off second-seeded San Diego State.
"I feel like our conference is pretty even across the board," Newbern said. "There are a lot of high-quality teams and anyone can win at any moment."