To say College of the Canyons head softball coach John Wissmath is excited about the level of talent on this year’s team would be an understatement.
“Every girl out here can play,” said Wissmath about his club, which begins the season as the No. 13 ranked team in the state and No. 7 team in Southern California. “All the way up and down the lineup, our players can rip the ball.”
Canyons returns five players from the 2015 roster, which finished with a record of 28-10-1 to place second in the Western State Conference (WSC), Blue Division — marking the first time in three seasons COC did not claim a conference title. In total, the Cougars will have 10 sophomores in the clubhouse.
“It’s their opportunity now. They’re in the driver’s seat,” said Wissmath about this year’s sophomores. “I think they’ve learned from the positive things that happened last year, as well as the negative. They’re a pretty tight knit crew.”
Included among that group is returning All-SoCal shortstop Cheyenne Steward, who batted .489 with nine home runs, 39 RBIs and 54 runs for the Cougars in 2015.
“Cheyenne, was a big part of our offensive power last season and I expect the same thing this year,” Wissmath said. “We look to her as a leader both offensively and defensively.”
Also back for the Cougars are team co-captains, infielder Julianna Carlos and outfielder Jennifer Metcalf.
Metcalf earned All-WSC Second Team honors in 2015 after hitting .305 with 36 RBIs and 34 runs scored and Carlos was named All-WSC Honorable mention with a .304 batting average.
Sophomore catcher Emily Smith will probably see a lot of time behind the plate, however, the Cougars have four players with catching experience on their roster.
“We’re definitely very deep talent wise,” Wissmath said.
Meanwhile, sophomore Ashley Russo, another All-WSC Second Team honoree, finished last season with a 12-4 record and 2.42 ERA.
Russo and sophomore transfer Alexis Ramirez will help anchor a COC pitching staff that should compliment the team’s high-powered offense.
“Our pitchers have done an outstanding job all summer and fall,” said Wissmath. “Ramirez is more of a power pitcher, while Ash uses a little more finesse, but both have good pop on the ball.”
Despite the plethora of returning talent, Canyons is also expected to receive key contributions from some of its newcomers.
Sophomore infielder Kiana Holder joins the program after a breakout freshman season at College of the Desert, where she earned All-SoCal team honors and was a First-Team All-Foothill League selection.
“I really have big expectations for (Kiana),” Wissmath said. “She can play anywhere on the field.”
Elsewhere, freshman catcher/outfielder Azmarheen Anderson and infielders Gabrielle Padilla and Sarah Wilson should also see time in the lineup.
“(Anderson) has a great bat, so we’re really excited to bring her aboard,” Wissmath said. “Padilla has a lot of power and should put up some good numbers. Wilson has already improved so much from the summer, it’s just awesome to watch her play.”
In terms of a goal for the season?
“We’re always looking to get another conference title,” said Wissmath. “But really we all have one thing in common out here, and that’s to try and get to the state championship.”
Canyons will begin the 2016 campaign at home vs. Santa Ana College on Tuesday, Feb. 2. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m.