Tracy Bunge can't help but be optimistic about next spring and her 13th season as Kansas University's softball coach.
"Just looking at the team on paper, I like what I see," Bunge said. "We feel pretty good about the kids coming back."
Bunge's assessment is based as much on quantity as it is on quality because practically everybody will be back from a team that won 37 games last spring.
Returning will be eight position players and all three pitchers. Bunge's only major losses were left fielder Betsy Wilson, a second-team All-Big 12 selection, and part-time DH-first baseman Addy Lucero.
Bunge's next edition will be built around a core of five seniors - center fielder Dougie McCaulley, shortstop Stevie Crisosto, third baseman Val Chapple, pitcher Valerie George and catcher Elle Pottorf.
McCaulley, Chapple and George will be coming off breakout seasons.
As a sophomore in 2007, McCaulley batted a tepid .265, but blossomed into a .375 hitter last spring and earned second-team all-league honors.
"The best word to describe Dougie is blue-collar," Bunge said. "There's nothing flashy about her. I think she had more success because she didn't get down on herself when things went bad. She kept a fresh mental approach."
Chapple had been a rock defensively at third base as a freshman and a sophomore, but had hit only .225 with just five home runs. Last spring, however, Chapple's batting average skyrocketed to .303, and she almost doubled her career HR total with nine.
George also came into her own last season, taking over the mantle as the Jayhawks' No. 1 pitcher, doubling her career win total with an 18-10 season and posting a solid 1.96 earned-run average.
While McCaulley, Chapple and George all enjoyed their best collegiate seasons, Crisosto's batting average plunged from a team-best .302 in '07 to .196.
"It was frustrating for Stevie," Bunge said. "Bloopers weren't dropping, and when she hit it hard it was right at somebody. Hopefully, next year the law of averages will even out."
Of the five seniors, only Pottorf wasn't a regular, and that's because the veteran backstop was shelved by a knee injury before the season had even reached the halfway point.
The other returning starters are first baseman Amanda Jobe and second baseman Sara Ramirez, both juniors; and sophomore right fielder Liz Kocon.
On paper, left field is the only job open, and the leading contender is junior Ally Stanton.