Richard Tressler is anticipating the latest softball season, for a bevy of reasons. The veteran Edinburg North skipper has a dynamite lineup, perhaps the Valley’s best pitcher, and more depth than he’s enjoyed in recent years. And to compound the good vibe out of the Lady Cougar camp, the girls are ahead of schedule in terms of conditioning and skills work.

“Honestly, I have been waiting for the season to start for months,” he laughed Monday afternoon as North prepared for its first scrimmage action of the season. They were to take on Mission Tuesday and McAllen Rowe Friday, with home scrimmages to come against Brownsville Porter and Weslaco this week. “We are really looking good so far, we may be having our worst practice today, but the other days have been great. It’s rare for us to be looking so solid so early in the season.”

The success of this softball dynasty begins with senior pitcher Iliana Hinojosa, a hard thrower who has added breaking stuff to her package the past few years. Hinojosa will pass former program great Katie Ortiz for career wins (80 is the mark) in the first days of the new season, as she has 79 in three campaigns.

“I will just say that Ili has a number of colleges who are interested in her,” Tressler said. “I think that wherever she decides to go, she’ll be very successful.”

Now, don’t make the mistake of thinking that the dazzling twirler is just a pitcher; she is also among the most feared line-drive power hitters in South Texas, so she can kill you in myriad ways. Hinojosa drove in 24 runs last year with a .354 average.

Not many teams have a backup who could be a big winner but North’s got one in sophomore Annie Badillo, who won some huge contests last year - including the playoff-earning clincher against EHS - and will also see time in the infield in 2010.

Whichever standout stands on the mound, she’ll be confident in the team defense, because North has perhaps the Valley’s top group up the middle. Catcher Victoria Cardenas pounded the ball liberally as a soph and she has outstanding presence behind the plate.

The double-play combination is a superstar pair, as shortstop Claire Garcia hit .464 to lead the squad last year as a sophomore; her slugging percentage of .515 was also first. In the field, she has tremendous hands, a rocket arm, and an even more impressive work ethic.

“Claire can’t get enough reps, she is always asking for more grounders,” Tressler commented about his fiery shortstop. “You can tell it, too, because she is so smooth out there, she seldom makes any mistakes.”

Garcia will toss the double once again with junior Cynthia Granado, a fellow three-year starter who can also play a serviceable first base and seems to have the knack for performing in the clutch.

“Some kids just get the big hits, and Cynthia has always been that way for us,” said the coach about his steady infielder who batted.347 in 2009. She won a game versus Pharr North game last year with a seventh-inning single, and has always hit well against EHS, going 3 for 4 in the regular-season finale last season that put her team in and the Lady Bobcats out.

Completing the All-Star contingent up the gut is center fielder Laura Torres, a sure-handed and fleet senior who has started for three seasons too. She can really bang the ball at the plate, and the Lady Coogs will count on her to drive in a trove of runs from the No. 6 spot in the order. In 2009 she led the team with a .500 on-base percentage.

“I think Laura is going to have a great year,” Tressler predicted. “More like her sophomore season. Last year I think she was pressing a little bit, trying to do too much. But heck, she still hit .390!”

Last year North started fast at 17-1, hit a slow stretch and finished 9-5 in District 31-5A, getting eliminated in bi-district when Porter came from two down in a seventh-inning comeback. Two seasons ago, the club went 25-12 and made it to the regional quarterfinals before losing to La Joya. In 2010, the team is primed at a run for the district title and has the talent and depth to make it happen.

The team will carry up to 14 kids this year, more than the usual roster, because there are so many talented new people coming up the pipeline. Foremost among the new faces is third baseman Vanessa Salazar, a sturdy and fearless 9th-grader who can pick it at the corner. Also keep an eye on state cross-country qualifier Jenyse Vazquez, a lefty outfielder who could make some waves before her freshman year is through.

Throw in capable returning veterans Alyssa Tressler (OF) and Nikki Garza (1B-OF) and it looks like a banner year in the making once again. But Tressler is always quick to remind his group that they haven’t won anything yet, despite a formidable lineup and a stellar hurler (or two) on the mound.

“I try to instill that in the girls from day one,” he explained. “People are going to talk about how they’re gonna beat us, and we can’t do anything about, whatever…we do our talking on the field. People are always welcome to talk. When it comes down to it, we just have to play the game.”

NOTES: Assistant Adrian Cavazos, also the North head volleyball coach, got some good news about his program recently. Big hitter Kristy Brandt was named to the TSWA All-State team, making second unit, while Torres was selected as an alternate for the state All-Star Game, to be played in July.