Editor's note: Graham Hays is counting down to the start of the 2011 college softball season with a look at each of the teams in his top 20. Check back daily for updates.
No. 20 San Diego State
Last year: 34-16, lost in Los Angeles regional
Who returns: San Diego State returns seven starters from the lineup card coach Kathy Van Wyk handed in for the team's final game last season in the Los Angeles regional. That includes last season's leaders in batting average (Jessica Camello), slugging percentage (Justeen Maeva), stolen bases (Felicia Reifschneider) and, on the defensive side, assists (Jen Wisneski).
It also includes a much less diversified summation of every major pitching category's leader in the form of Samantha Beasley. At all of 5-foot-6, the senior ace is a big reason the Aztecs entertain sizable goals this season. Ranked No. 10 nationally among returning pitchers in strikeouts per seven innings, Beasley simplified her offerings to the basic drop, rise and change and baffled hitters in turn.
Van Wyk would like to spread the innings around a little more after Beasley accounted for 70 percent of the team's total last season, but that's only to make sure the ace is ready for the postseason.
"The confidence she gained last year -- I can't tell you how excited everybody is going into this season," Van Wyk said.
Who departs: Centerfielder Brittany Knudsen was one of the team's most productive hitters in all four of her seasons, leading all Aztecs in on-base percentage and OPS last season, and one of the better defensive outfielders in college softball. First baseman Monica Alnes didn't post big numbers but was a steady presence at first base. Sophomore outfielder Patrice Jackson also won't be available this season after breaking her leg during fall competition.
Who arrives: Lorena Klopp and Hayley Miles could contribute right away for the Aztecs. Klopp will get a chance to earn innings in the circle, but her bat may earn her the most playing time in the early going, either in left field or as part of a logjam at first base replacing Alnes. Van Wyk singles out Mills as a player who may surprise, potentially taking over for Knudsen in center.
Statistically speaking: A .404 slugging percentage might not sound like much, but it was close to the single-season program record of .410 set in 2006 and a noticeable improvement on more recent seasons. Even with Beasley, .400 is probably a necessity to compete at a national level.
Preseason question: Will the May sisters spark a May run for the Aztecs?
San Diego State makes the top 20 because it returns so many talented players who filled significant roles for a good team last season. Yet the Aztecs may have a chance to rise still higher depending on the development of two other players whose roles last season were as much about promise as production.
High-profile products of the Corona Angels travel team, twin sisters Kamerin and Kristin May combined for 114 at-bats and 26 starts last season (Kamerin also pitched 10.1 innings). Kristin offered a glimpse of what could be with a walk-off home run in her first college game, and even in limited at-bats, finished tied for second on the team in home runs and third in RBIs.
"Both of them are excellent hitters," Van Wyk said. "It's pretty sure they're going to find themselves in the lineup. We need their bats. Kristin's been working out both at catcher and at third base, so that possibility exists. Kamerin's been working out both as a pitcher and at first base. So we've got options with them, ways to get their bats in the lineup."
And if good things come to those who wait, the Mays could make a familiar-sounding month a kind one to the Aztecs.
"The two of them are pretty much just 'go out there and have fun' kind of players," Van Wyk said. "But they take it more seriously than people think."