The paths traveled over the past few years by Kali Haas and Ashlie Ortega have obvious similarities as well as unique idiosyncrasies.
Yet the one major, and undeniable, trait shared by the well-traveled softball players is that they couldn't be happier to be continuing their collegiate careers back in their home state.
Haas, a graduate of Niwot, and Ortega, a former star at Erie, are eager to begin their second season with the Colorado State softball squad, which opens its season Thursday in Utah at the Red Desert Classic. Both players transferred back to Colorado after enjoying different levels of success at their previous schools, and they expect big things in what could be a promising season in Fort Collins.
"As a team, we're looking to compete for the Mountain West Conference championship and for a spot in postseason play," Ortega said. "Last year we were just one win away from (the NCAA tournament), and really it was just one hit away and we could have had it. Our team is huge on depth and I think we'll be very strong. We're looking forward to it and I'm ready to kick some butt."
Haas and Ortega are two of four local products on the CSU roster along with Haley David (Erie) and Sam Keller (Longmont), who began her career at Webber International in Florida.
After leading Erie to three state championships, Ortega landed at the University of Missouri, a perennial power where it is difficult for freshmen to crack the lineup. Yet Ortega contributed nonetheless, appearing in 33 games. Injuries slowed Ortega as a sophomore in 2011, limiting her to appearances in just four games.
Following that season Ortega began considering a change, eventually landing at CSU. She thrived as the Rams' leadoff hitter and starting shortstop last year, compiling a team-leading .357 batting average that ranked seventh in the MWC.
"As far as team chemistry goes with this team, that's moved up the most since last year," Ortega said. "This team, we really click. There are no cliques within the team and we all hang out. This year I know the system better. I know the coaches better. I know the expectations better. It's a lot more comforting."
Haas, a pitcher, followed a similar trail, beginning her collegiate career at Holy Cross. Haas made 26 appearances (14 starts) during her freshman year in 2011, going 5-11 with a 4.17 earned-run average. She saw limited opportunities with the Rams last year, but that had not dimmed the excitement she has felt while playing for CSU coach Jen Fisher.
Haas still harbors fond memories of Fisher, then the head coach at Metro State University of Denver, giving a talk at one of Niwot's end-of-season banquets. Getting an opportunity to play for Fisher, who enters her third season at CSU after increasing the Rams' win total from eight to 28 last season, was another big attraction for Haas' return trip home.
"I think a lot of people in Colorado were really happy about that when she was hired," Haas said. "We've got a great group this year and having it being coach Fisher's third year makes a big difference. I think last year was a big learning year and now I know what's expected."
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