LAFAYETTE — The preseason preparations are done and the Ragin’ Cajuns have identified their strengths and weaknesses to this point.
Now, Louisiana-Lafayette softball coach Michael Lotief said it’s time to take the next journey and play live competition, something the Cajuns get a chance to do starting Friday.
The Cajuns face North Carolina State at 3 p.m. in the first game of the 2015 Louisiana Classic.
“We want to see what our opponents show us, and see if they expose any new weaknesses,” Lotief said. “Every year it happens.”
Lotief said the teams coming into Lamson Park this weekend — North Carolina State, Central Arkansas and Eastern Illinois — have all been scouted and picked apart by the coaching staff. That said, Lotief admitted he doesn’t put much stock in early-season scouting reports.
“It’s new teams and new chemistry,” he said. “Most coaches are concerned with their own team early in the season and how they play and their mindset. We have done some scouting on the teams, but I’m focused on this team and us getting better.”
The Cajuns will put out an athletic team this season, and if they can remain healthy Lotief said they’ll be fine. Staying healthy has proven tough in the preseason, however.
The Cajuns will be without starting shortstop Corinn Voinche, who is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Meanwhile, pitchers Christina Hamilton and Jordan Wallace have both been cleared to play for the start of the season, but both will be on a pitch count.
“We need to stay together and let the season take us through the journey,” Lotief said. “We have to watch people mature during the season. We have to go through that process. I like this team a lot. I don’t think we are ready right now, but we don’t have to be.”
Hamilton, the returning Sun Belt Conference pitcher of the year and ace of the staff, echoed Lotief’s sentiments. She said the team is ready to get out there, make mistakes and learn from them.
“We have a young team and have a lot of girls who looking to go out there and establish themselves,” Hamilton said. “They’re not afraid to go out there and make some mistakes. It’s the first game of the season. We know we aren’t going to be perfect. We need to make those mistakes early, learn from them and get better.”
Hamilton said she’s learned a lot from Wallace, who entered 2014 as the ace of the staff but struggled with command which opened the door for Hamilton.
Hamilton said the team has rallied around Wallace and said Wallace uses her experience last year positively.
“We have all helped Jordan overcome it and she has taken it as a learning opportunity for all of us,” Hamilton said. “She’s like, ‘Don’t let this happen to you. Stay healthy, keep working, get better.’ She keeps the team the main focus.”
Lotief said he thinks the team has good chemistry and does a good job holding one another accountable. Despite the loss of key players Natalie Fernandez and Shelbi Redfearn, Loteif said but he feels someone will step up.
“I don’t think it came naturally with those two,” Lotief said. “I think it’s a mindset. It’s a process. It is something you grow into. It’s a way of thinking and the more you’re around this program and the more you continue to be exposed to the ideas and expectations, then people feel more comfortable leading.”
Lotief said he could find a leader in a freshman — perhaps highly touted shortstop D.J. Sanders. Lotief said Sanders is humble and there is no rule against a freshman leading, but he also said he doesn’t think it’ll be just one player who assumes the leadership duties.
“(Sanders) does a good job of making an honest, self-assessment of where she is, and her teammates do a good job of helping her understand what the process is all about. She realizes she has to get better as the season goes on,” he said. “As a leader, your actions have to match your words.
“People have a tough time leading are big talkers and not big doers. The best leaders are big doers. When they do talk, it is honest and concise. It’s meaningful. People who have trouble leading, their actions don’t match what they’re saying. No one is going to follow someone like that.”