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Head coach Eileen Schmidt and the Virginia softball team begin the 2011 season this weekend at Campbell’s Hampton Inn Tournament in Buies Creek, N.C. The Cavaliers will face SIU Edwardsville at 11 a.m. and Campbell at 4 p.m. Friday on the first day of competition. Schmidt, now in her fourth season, sat down with to talk about the season opener, the team’s mentality coming off its first NCAA Tournament berth and her recent selection to the U.S National Team coaching pool.

Question: Is the team ready for the season opener?
We are ready to find out if we’re ready. I think we are as far as we can go practice-wise, so we need to play somebody and see what we’re missing – what we can do and what we need to work on. That is what the preseason is for.

Question: What are the team’s biggest strengths and weaknesses right now?
I would say our strength and our weakness is the same thing – our youth. I think it some ways it’s a really good thing because they just get after it. In other ways, there is a lack of experience. When you’re facing the teams that we do, it could hinder us. It might not.

Question: What is the biggest difference in personnel from last year to this year?
You can look at it and say we lost the middle of our lineup with (Nicole) Koren, (Sarah) Tacke and (Abby) Snyder. But I thought sometimes we leaned on them a lot. If they didn’t get it done, was it going to get done? The difference between last year and this year is that you can look up and down the lineup and I think any one of them can get the job done. We don’t have to rely on one person or two people to always come through. We are going to hit our share of home runs – everybody does. But I think we can manufacture more runs with the personnel that we have now.

Question: What do you know about the other teams – SIU Edwardsville, Drexel and Campbell – that you are facing this weekend?
They are going to swing because they have been practicing inside a lot. The northern teams have a tendency to come out swinging well. That also means they might not be the most solid on defense because they haven’t been out on dirt, but usually they are very technically sound. Campbell’s been outside though, so they should be good to go.

Question: Is the mentality any different this year now that you have been to the NCAA Tournament?
I’m not sure it is that much different because we got there. We have to prove it again this year. I don’t think everybody in the conference or around the country, or even the fans, say ‘oh they got there one time.’ And I don’t necessarily disagree with them. We need to do it again; we need to do it every year. You want to get better and prove yourself every year. It’s a brand new year.

Question: How does it feel to be named to the United States National Team coaching pool and what does it mean?
It’s a great honor and it’s really cool. From a personal standpoint, when you’ve played on the national team, to be involved in that organization is pretty special. I think the only way I get on that staff is by us having another successful year. It’s about how much the program has grown and how much better we’ve gotten. It really comes down to our team.

Question: How special is it to see the three fourth years – Cynthia Javaras, Lauren McCaskey and Alison Pittman – now be the leaders? They were first years when you started.
People always say, when you take over a program, you have to have time to get your kids in there. The bottom line is when you take over a program they’re your kids. You might not have recruited them but they’re still your kids. I probably would have recruited them – they fit the university well, they fit our program well. You have to give full credit to that class for sticking out two extremely difficult years and buying into the system and where we need to go. We’ve made good strides on the field but we’ve also made a lot of really great strides off the field as well. This fourth year class stuck it out – and not everyone stuck it out. They deserve a lot of the credit for getting us where we are.

Question: What was your favorite thing you did during the offseason?
In the summer, it’s tough. You’re out recruiting so it’s not really an off time. I think our off time is really around Thanksgiving to Christmas. Last year I went to the Virgin Islands and this year has been a big snowboarding year. The greatest thing about last summer was I didn’t get to go on my Destin trip. It is always the week of regionals.

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