It's the same circle, same dirt and same chalk ring at the East Islip softball field. But instead of peering up at the intimidating 6-foot-plus frame of graduated starter Megan Sweezy, opponents will have to look a little lower this season. About 10 inches lower.
"I don't think people expect a lot from me," said senior Rachel Dell'Orto who is trying to fill Sweezy's spikes in 2010. "They know she's gone. And I don't think there'll be any confusion, I'm a lot shorter than her."
What Dell'Orto may lack in stature, she certainly makes up for in grit and confidence. She joins a quartet of first-year starters in Suffolk County who are trying to shrug off the performances of last year's stars and build their own reputations: Dell'Orto for Sweezy at East Islip, senior Lisa Quinn taking over for Nicole Flint at Brentwood, junior Taylor Webb replacing Chelsea Shea at West Babylon and junior Erin Caputo in the unenviable position of following Olivia Galati at St. John the Baptist.
Their predecessors racked up honors almost as quickly as victories and strikeouts. Three of them had been state champions, Sweezy was last year's large schools pitcher of the year.
But the mantra among the new pitchers is the same: This is a different year.
"We're gonna miss Olivia a lot, but we're really excited about our chances this year," Caputo said. "I feel that everybody realizes that this is a new thing. Nobody's really going to be like Olivia, but with the help of my team we can still win."
Added Webb: I feel like I have huge shoes to fill. But I'm up for the challenge."
Though all of the new No. 1s have started before, either in limited regular-season action or at the junior varsity level, they still possess nowhere near the experience of some of their longer tenured peers at other schools. That's the drawback to having your position blocked by the best. Though, there is also a benefit to that situation: learning from them.
"Olivia always helped me through afterwards," said Caputo, who was 5-0 in five starts last season. "If I had a bad day she was always the one to step up and help me out. I know that I'll be calling Olivia after most of the games this year and telling her how I did and she'll help me."
Webb said she appreciated the mechanical adjustments Shea aided her with last season, helping her fix minute flaws in her delivery that sometimes even a coach couldn't pick up on.
"For example, if I was releasing the ball too early or stepping too early, she would tell me, 'Look at yourself, snap your wrist, realize your timing, adjust your fastball,'" Webb said. "Little things, but the littlest things were the best."
But despite the confidence, and the feeling that their apprenticeship was an invaluable experience, there is still the pressure.
Quinn started her season on the junior varsity last year, but was called up to the varsity just in time to watch Flint lead Brentwood to a state championship.
"Oh boy, pressure," she said. "I feel like people are going to compare me to her, because I'm not as good as her. Because she was a really good pitcher, one of the best ones out there.
"But I'll just keep my head up. We'll all be working as a team and I'll just try to block it all out and stay focused."
It's the same dirt and chalk ring at four softball fields in Suffolk. Same grass and same expectations. And if the new girls in the circle have learned anything in the past year, it could be the same results.