CSUB softball coach Crissy Buck-Ziegler fist-bumps outfielder Julea Cavazos during a 2016 game.

The Cal State Bakersfield softball team's biggest strength this season will also be its biggest weakness, head coach Crissy Buck-Ziegler thinks.

“We are very, very, very young,” Buck-Ziegler said. “... But I think it’s something that we can really build upon.”

CSUB will have an infield full of freshmen, Buck-Ziegler said, and lost senior Nicole Curry to a season-ending injury. The Roadrunners were picked to finish last in the Western Athletic Conference by the conference coaches, but Buck-Ziegler guarantees they’ll be a vastly improved group by the end of the year.

The season starts Friday at the University of San Diego Tournament. CSUB will face Campbell in its first test of the season at 1 p.m. and San Diego at 3 p.m.

“It comes down to youth,” Buck-Ziegler said. “We’re an unknown. So people are gonna put what they don’t know at the bottom of the pile. The last time we were picked sixth, we won the WAC so you never know.”

CSUB’s only preseason All-WAC Team pick was junior utility player Chris Hipa. She hit .298 last year and drove in a team-high 23 runs. The Roadrunners have senior outfielder Julea Cavazos, who led the team in hits the last two seasons, and senior pitcher Summer Evans, who played her first year at CSUB last season after transferring from Palomar College.

But there’s also plenty of new faces. Redshirt freshman Kaycee Olson, who played high school ball at Frontier, will have a significant role. Freshmen infielder Arianna Felix and first baseman Ariana Acedo are “gonna step up pretty big for us,” Buck-Ziegler said.

“It can really be to our advantage because people aren't going to expect a lot from us,” Ziegler said of the team’s inexperience. “And in the same boat, we can make mistakes and learn from them and get stronger. That’s why I say it’s a positive and negative.”

The makeup of the team caused a slight shift in Buck-Ziegler’s offseason focus. Heading into this season, she stressed fundamentals and trying to break the game down into digestible parts for the players.

“I know that seems kind of juvenile, but I know for a young team, it’s really where you gotta start,” Buck-Ziegler said. “You gotta start at a foundation.”

“I feel like we’ve really been honing in on getting our fundamentals down and just keeping it simple,” Cavazos said. “I feel like we’re in a pretty good place.”

The biggest challenge for freshmen is that the game is faster, Buck-Ziegler said, and they try to speed up with it. Instead, she tries to help them slow down the game to be more comfortable and relaxed.

Evans has worked with freshman pitcher Daryn Hitzel on the mindset needed before and during games and how to be comfortable in the circle.

“I think that all the new players are gonna be able to step up and help in a lot of ways,” Evans said.

Buck-Ziegler is confident that success will come for the CSUB program. She’s just not sure how quickly it’ll materialize. But at the end of the season, she promises a group that is playing together and, hopefully, peaking.

“It’ll be an up and down season, but I think something that we’re gonna get better every weekend,” Buck-Ziegler said.

Jon Mettus can be reached at 661-395-7389. Follow him on Twitter at @jmettus.

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