WALLA WALLA - A flurry of activity has surrounded the WWCC softball pitch over the last few weeks.
The team and coaching staff, led by returning sophomore Alexis Bobadilla, have been prepping the field for Friday's season opener when the Warriors host Chemeketa in a 3 p.m. doubleheader.
Although Bobadilla is the only full-time Warrior returning to black and gold, she's far from the only talent on the young team.
"Athletically, we're good enough to compete in the East Region," said head coach Mike Staudenmaier, who is in his 14th year at the helm of the Warriors. "I want to instill in the team that no matter what, we're good enough to beat anybody, any day."
Part of that is aspiring to tournament titles, he said.
"Our goal is to compete for the East Region title and compete in the NWAACC tournament," Staudenmaier said.
The Warriors' 2010 squad finished 28-17 and three women were selected NWAACC All-American players, including Bobadilla, a right-handed pitcher. Bobadilla started for the Warriors last year and had a 2.44 ERA in 120 innings. She also led the NWAACC with 58 RBI, batting .493 on the year. This season, she'll bat third.
Bobadilla, a Wa-Hi grad, is joined by three more Blue Devils.
Sophomore Abbey Reardon is new to the team. She transfered home after a season at North Idaho College and will play infield.
Freshmen Jill McDaniels and Alicia Baker played to two consecutive third-place Class 4A state finishes with Wa-Hi's softball team.
Leading the sophomores is catcher Oshana Sampson, a Weston-McEwen product who had limited time last season.
Ramey Chambers, a Richland product, played limited time in outfield last season after a knee injury sidelined her in her promising freshmen year, Staudenmaier said. She now wears a brace and is adjusting to it, he said.
Chambers batted .235 last season in 14 games.
Sampson and fellow sophomore Alaura Seley are already helping provide leadership to the dozen freshmen, Staudenmaier said.
"This is a young team, but they're better and better every day," he said. "They look more mature every day."
Three freshmen from Wa-Hi's Big Nine competition are also playing for the Warriors.
Kaylie Winston (Pasco), Katie Martell (Kamiakin) and Courtney Hancock (Southridge) join their former rivals in the infield.
Players from across the Northwest round out the freshmen class.
Sophomore Shelbi King, freshmen sisters Josi Verity and Sami Verity, sophomore Sarah Weekes and freshman Mercedes Pearson are Idaho products, while freshmen Summer DeSpain and Dara Kosanke are from Oregon.
Determining the starters with a squad of relative unknowns will take a few weeks to work out, Staudenmaier said.
"A lot of our athletes can play different positions, and that helps," he said. "We'll be moving them around. ... We'll have starters, but we'll try to get kids in that can play. We want to have a lot of depth so that if we reach the end of the season and something happens, we have players to play the positions."
Bobadilla will lead the team from the mound, while Kosanke and Martell, also right-handers, will rotate in.
"We've got three different looks and that's nice, because if a team is banging hits off one, we can substitute in another," Staudenmaier said.
The first few weeks of the season are expected to be a challenge. The Warriors face sophomore-heavy teams in Chemeketa and Everett this weekend, then travel to Vancouver for an inter-region tournament March 12-13, where they'll face Lower Columbia, Southwest Oregon, Shoreline and Clackamas. Clackamas is the preseason No. 2 in the NWAACC, Lower Columbia is selected No. 3, and Shoreline and Chemeketa also received votes.
The Warriors are the preseason No. 5. East Region-rival Wenatchee Valley is No. 4 and Spokane is ranked No. 8. South Region's Mount Hood leads the preseason poll at No. 1.
"The East Region is one of the better conferences," Staudenmaier said of the upcoming league competition. "So is the South. So usually once you get through the East Region and the tournament, and you're still standing, you're one of the better teams there."
After 14 years and one NWAACC title to his name, Staudenmaier is ready for another season. Assistants Jessie Buehler and Katie Buehler, who played for him in the early 2000s, have been assisting ever since.
The Warriors' league season begins with Wenatchee Valley March 25.
And though a team of youth can be daunting, Staudenmaier is pleased with the way fall and winter tournaments and training went and with how his freshmen and new sophomores are reacting on the field.
"They're like sponges," he said. "They're a great group. They pick up information really quickly and they've come together really well. They love playing. We may take our lumps from some of the older teams, but I'm not worried."