Alicia Conine put up such impressive numbers last year as a freshman first baseman at Anne Arundel Community College that she was named a preseason All-American this spring.
Just one problem. How could she equal a season where she batted .500 and established school records for hits (50) and RBIs (42)? Would anything less suffice?
And was even more expected?
"I sat her down in my office before we got into our games this year and said, 'Look, Alicia, we've brought in some nice talent and I don't want you to feel like you have to put up the kind of statistics you did before. There are people who can carry the load," said coach Jim Hendricks.
"She felt much relieved after hearing that, and she's been relaxed."
The pressure is off, but her production hasn't been. Going into tomorrow's doubleheader with the University of Maryland, Conine is batting .594 (19-for-32) with three doubles, three triples, 21 RBIs and 11 runs scored. She has walked nine times and struck out once.
In the field, she has 85 putouts and 11 assists, and no errors.
It appears that Conine, a 1992 graduate of Severna Park High School, can do plenty for an encore.
"I don't feel like I have to live up to what I did last year," said Conine, who leads all Region XX hitters in average, hits and RBIs. "There are only three of us left who played last year, so there aren't many who even remember."
She made All-County twice during her four years on the varsity at Severna Park, including once as an outfielder. Wayne Mook replaced Paul Yannuzzi as coach before her junior season and moved her to center field.
"It was a rough couple of practices when he put me out there because it was the first time I had ever played the outfield," she said. "But my senior year, our first baseman got kicked off the team and I got my position back."
Conine attended Virginia Tech for one year and played on its club softball team before transferring to Anne Arundel, where she was given "a second chance" because the sport was taken more seriously.
She was a welcome addition, hitting four doubles, four triples and two home runs, and scoring 28 runs. She also led Anne Arundel to its second consecutive Maryland JuCo championship and berth in the Region XX final. Fourteen of her 50 hits, and nine of her 42 RBIs, came during the region tournament.
"She's as complete a ballplayer as you can get," Hendricks said. "She's aggressive, she can be physical, and she just knows the game mentally."
Mook said, "She's always possessed good hitting skills. She hits with power and to all fields."
If only she was attracting more attention from coaches at four-year schools. So far, despite her excellent credentials and Anne Arundel's resurgence as a JuCo power -- it is 14-0 and has upset the Nos. 9 and 18 teams in the nation -- not much interest has been shown.
"She's a little disappointed that some people haven't approached her about coming to their school," said Hendricks, who has contracted numerous universities, including Baylor and North Carolina, and hopes Saturday's games with Maryland will lead to an offer. "I think she's out to say, 'Hey, I'm a good ballplayer and I'm going to show you.' "
Said Conine, who had a 3.9 GPA last spring: "I'm not basing everything on softball. I do want to get a four-year degree and get my masters in exercise physiology, and it would be nice if softball would get me through school, but I'm not going to base my whole future on it."
She wanted to transfer to Towson State University after last season, but the Tigers signed another Severna Park graduate, Jen Spampinato, who also is a left-handed hitting first baseman.
She later had decided to leave for the University of Texas, until Hendricks informed her during the summer that, under NCAA rules, she had to first attain her associates degree before she could play at the Division I level because she had attended Virginia Tech.
"Jimmy said it might work out even better if I stay here another year because I might get a little more recognition," Conine said.
"I'd really like to go south, where it's warm."
For now, Anne Arundel has the hottest player in the region.