That's the way Washington State University baseball coach Steve Farrington summarizes the 1998 Cougar diamond squad.
Farrington and his staff, veteran Buzz Verduzco and former major league pitcher Russ Swan, return 20 letterwinners and seven of eight position starters, plus three starting pitchers, from last year's 13-42 team.
Also joining this year's squad will be a host of newcomers out of both the high school and junior college ranks.
"It's not new to us now, we have been there once," says Farrington when talking about this year's Cougar squad. "We were awful young last year. We only had two seniors and neither had previously played for WSU. This year's club is much more experienced"
"It is very noticeable we are more mature in the classroom, in the weight room and socially," Farrington offered before the start of the season.
"It is yet to be proven if we are more mature between the lines," he added. "That is the part that hasn't been proven yet."
Farrington and his assistants know the key to WSU's improvement will start on the mound, an area that did not produce with consistency a year ago.
"We are not the same pitching staff this year," Farrington offers. "Last year we played five or six pretty good innings, a couple of so-so innings and one bad inning. This year we have more pitching depth than I have ever had."
"The biggest concern about making the corner with this club is on the mound. We have spent a lot of time on our pitching," he says.
Heading the list of returning pitchers will be junior Dave Wheeler (RHP) and sophomores Todd Meldahl (LHP) and Wade Parrish (LHP). All three will see starting or prominent roles when WSU opens the season in San Diego in early February.
Joining them are three other veterans, Nason Beckett (RHP, senior), Les McTavish (RHP, sophomore) and Shane Rice (RHP, senior).
Five of WSU's top newcomers are also pitchers, lending substance to Farrington's belief the Cougars have a deep bullpen.
Heading the list will be four transfers, Jamaal Gaines (RHP, junior, Laney College), Robin Guiver (RHP, junior, Cabrillo College), Reggie Rivard (RHP, sophomore, Hancock JC), and Aaron Cozzens (RHP, junior, Bellevue CC), plus freshman Jason Grove (LHP, Walla Walla, Wash.).
Taking over for the departed Jason Hairston behind the plate will be another transfer, Jeff Scherer (junior, Walla Walla CC), while sophomore Ryan Smith will also see backstop duty.
Familiar faces will position themselves around the Cougar infield, although not all will be in the same role they played a year ago.
Casey Kelley (junior), who led the Cougars with 12 home runs last year, moves from the outfield to first base this season, giving WSU power at the corner.
The middle infield includes one young familiar face, shortstop Shawn Stevenson (sophomore), and one newcomer who redshirted a year ago, Boyd Robertson (junior), at second base. Stevenson, who started 48 games in 1997, was one of WSU's top hitters, boasting a .345 average. He also showed some power late in the season with a pair of home runs. Robertson is out of Columbia Basin College.
At the hot corner Farrington will call on a couple of veteran seniors, either former second sacker Scott Randall, or Greg Mitchell. Randall hit .337 for WSU last spring, with most of his starts at second. He also stole 17 bases. Mitchell, meanwhile, was used primarily at first base a year ago when he hit .300 and hit three home runs.
Farrington predicts Randall will be one of the most valuable members of this year's team, not only because of his bat and base stealing abilities, but because he can play several positions effectively.
"Randall will probably play every day, some times at third, sometimes at second, or we can move him to left field. That will really help us as we adjust lineups every day."
WSU's outfield will include at least two veterans from last year and a couple of newcomers. One player Farrington can't ignore is freshman Jason Grove, who hit .545 last fall and also will see mound duty. As the season approaches, Grove has been penciled in as WSU's starter in right field.
A couple of "go-get-um" speedsters will contend for playing time in center, including last year's starter for a major portion of the season, junior Steve Gleason. His main competition appears to be Dusty Edler, a junior transfer from Yakima Valley College who redshirted last year. Edler becomes the second member of the family to patrol WSU's outfield, the other being older brother Dave, who went on to play with the Seattle Mariners several years ago.
Gleason was WSU's regular centerfielder last year until spring football drills began in late March. At that point he also led the team with 12 stolen bases while hitting over .300. "We have a great battle going in center field and that will make us a better ball club," offers Farrington.
WSU's every-day left fielder appears to be sophomore Ray Hattenburg, another of WSU's outstanding freshman from last year. In his rookie season Hattenburg hit .339 and started 54 games. A switch hitter who Farrington can move around the batting order, Hattenburg can also move to right field.
The designated hitter role this year will stay at the end of Steve Curran's bat. The sophomore who also can move to first base, hit .350 as a freshman last year and knocked five home runs out of the park while starting 42 games. Hampered by sore knees last year, Curran is much healthier, which should make him even more effective at the plate.
Last year WSU had seven hitters with batting averages of .300 or better. Six of them return this year. "We have the potential," Farrington offers of this club's hitting abilities. "There are no guarantees, but we have the potential."
"I know this is a better club this year," says the WSU head coach. "How that translates in wins remains to be seen, but we are a better team."