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Virginia head coach Eileen Schmidt returned to her alma mater last summer to take over the reigns of the softball program. Eight months later, it is time for Schmidt and the Cavaliers to start playing ball. The squad opens up the 2008 campaign this weekend at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz.

Question: Are you ready to start playing some games or what?
One, I’m excited to not have to throw batting practice as much as I have been. Two, I’m excited because it’s time for them to get out and play somebody, just to see where we are and where we need to go. It’s hard because once you start play it’s game-after-game. You don’t have a lot of time in between practice-wise, so we’ll have to make the adjustments quickly. It’s time to start playing; preseason has been long enough. I like our chances. From day one until now, the more I like our chances every time I see us play.

Question: How does it feel to be coaching at your alma mater?
It’s fantastic to be back. I think anytime you coach you always tell your kids that they should want to go back to their alma mater to better it. It’s sort of your duty. Certainly the University of Virginia is a lot different than a lot of the universities anyway, just because of the four-year experience that you have here. I think that is important for every student-athlete to have anywhere they go. Virginia’s is exceptional. It’s be great to be back; quite a blessing.

Question: How would you describe the improvements of the team from the first day of fall practice until now, the week of the season-opener?
Player-wise it is night and day. Certainly our confidence is a lot better, and that comes with the repetition and all the hard work they have put in. We’ve always been strong from day one in the weightroom, and I think that has transferred on the field. They look much more solid and confident. We are just trying to keep everything basic, and really that is the key to what we are trying to get done.

Question: What does it take to build a program?
I think it’s a rebuilding here. We were solid, way back when, and now we’re just trying to get it to where we were. I think the ACC is a conference that we can do that in. It really comes down to getting the right fit of kids in here. Certainly Virginia is different and it is all about finding the right fit for what the program needs and where we need to go. It comes down to pitching. If you look across the country, the big teams have one solid one in the circle. We’d like more than one. It comes down to pitching and we need to solidify that.

Question: How would you describe your pitching staff?
Karla Wilburn, Whitney Holstun and Allee Rife have really stepped up which is why the transition from day one until now has been a lot easier. They are more consistent with hitting their spots and if we can stay in games from the standpoint of the circle, we can play solid defense and we can hit the ball. The pitchers have really made a complete turn-around.

Question: How will the first-year players react when they play their first game in the college ranks?
It’s a lot like stepping on Grounds for the first time. The University of Virginia, if you’re not ready for it, can be pretty overwhelming. Division I softball, when you walk out against Arizona State and Oklahoma State and Oregon State, can be pretty overwhelming. You just have to keep things in perspective and keep things very basic.

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