After a month of practicing on the rubber surface of a track, the softball team is ready to return to the dirt of a softball field.

The wait is almost over for the Bulldogs, who will open their 2011 campaign on March 8 at the Rebel Games tournament in Kissimmee, Fla.

The Elis are coming off a disappointing season in which they finished 11–28 overall and 6–14 in the Ivy League. After losing five seniors to graduation, this year’s squad is younger and features four freshmen that are poised to make a big impact on the team.

“I don’t know whether to call it a challenge or an advantage,” captain and catcher McKynlee Westman ’11 said. “Coming in with fresh faces and fresh mindsets can be an excellent thing for the team, so at this point I think I’d like to call that an advantage rather than a challenge.”

The infield is projected to be a stronghold for the Elis. Kelsey Warkentine ’13, who was third on the team in home runs last season, will cover first base, with Mariclaire Rebman ’11 also expected to see time there.

After missing most of last season with an injury, Katie Yanagisawa ’11 will return to the field as the team’s second baseman. Meg Johnson ’12 will cover shortstop for the Bulldogs, a position she has held for two years. Johnson led the team in batting (.324) and home runs (5) last year.

Rounding out the infield will be sophomores Christy Nelson ’13 and Liz Tutino ’13, who will split time at the hot corner. Nelson, who was second in the team in home runs (4) and RBIs (16), is also expected to add some pop in the lineup.

“Infield’s looking really good,” Westman said. “We’ve got girls who’ve been here for a while, they know how to work with each other. They’re shaping up well.”

Westman will play most of the games behind the plate, and Chelsea Janes ’12 will also see some action at the spot.

The Bulldogs’ pitching staff will feature many fresh faces, as Jackie Manzer ’13 is the team’s only returning pitcher. Freshmen Chelsey Dunham ’14, Kristen Leung ’14 and Alex Lucas ’14 are all expected to see some time in the circle this season.

“We have a young defensive staff, but they’re pretty skilled, so it’s going to be exciting to see how they come out and bring it for college ball,” Westman said.

The Bulldogs will also have some newcomers in the outfield. Though the Elis lost their all time hits leader, center fielder Ashley Sloan ’10, to graduation, freshman Tori Balta ’14 is expected to step in to fill the void. During her senior year at Valencia High School, Balta batted .308 with a .446 slugging percentage, which was ranked second in the nation and first in California.

Jennifer Ong ’13 is likely to take over right field, while Virginia Waldrop ’12 and Chelsey Locarno ’12 will take turns covering left field.

The Elis will get their first taste of competition this season next Tuesday in Florida, with games against Loyola (Ill.) and La Salle. Westman said she believes the team is fully prepared for the season to begin.

“Mentally we’re so ready to be out there and the physical part will fall into place,” she said.