TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Lonni Alameda is a coach before she’s an artist, but she channeled her inner Picasso – or maybe her inner Bob Ross – as her Florida State softball team held its first practice of the 2019 season.
“We got together, got our little artistic skills out,” Alameda said. “We had a piece of paper and we drew a mountain – here we were last year, and here we all are at the bottom again.”
The imagery isn’t exactly subtle, but it sure is accurate:
After climbing to the top of the college softball mountain last year, with a stunning, thrilling and captivating run to the Women’s College World Series championship, Alameda and the Seminoles are gearing up to do it again.
Practice began at the Seminole Softball Complex on Wednesday, and Florida State opens its season with a home double-header against UNC-Wilmington and Iowa State on February 8.
“This year is a new team,” senior Cali Harrod said. “It’s a new mission.”
WATCH: Florida State softball opens practice
Yes, but everything that happened in the last 12 months still influences both the team and the mission.
How could it not?
Florida State last June became just the 20th school to ever win an NCAA softball crown, knocking off blue bloods UCLA and Washington along the way.
And, despite losing cornerstone players such as Jessie Warren and Kylee Hanson, the Seminoles return 16 players from that championship team.
They’ll take their experiences from last year into the upcoming campaign. And FSU will enter all of its games wearing the target that comes with being defending champs.
Alameda doesn’t see any reason to pretend otherwise.
“We just address it,” she said. “It’s real. It is what it is.
“I’ve never won a national championship (before), so I don’t know what it’s going to be like this year. We’re all going through it together. Let’s have some fun and literally do what we love to do, and that’s play a game of catch and have some fun out in the field.”
Besides, there are some things about Alameda that no amount of championship trophies could ever change.
As much as any coach on Florida State’s campus, Alameda is guided by a set of core values that inform the way she runs her program.
She has five: Family, Smart, Aggressive, Competitive and Committed.
Alameda believes that following those values are what helped her to navigate difficult times at Florida State and eventually led to the national championship.
Now that she’s seen the top of that mountain, she’s not about to move away from them.
“It’s a new level,” she said, “but it’s still a game of softball. We’re just going to go out and attack the moment and have some fun with it.”
And given that they’ve seen how Alameda’s methods pay off, there’s no doubting her players’ commitment, either.
“Every day is just one day at a time, one game at a time,” Harrod said. “So no matter who we’re playing or what it may before, it’s still just one pitch at a time.
“That’s what the culture of Florida State softball is all about.”
That said, the Seminoles are embracing new challenges as well.
Some, such as how to replace the likes of Warren (the 2018 ACC player of the year) and Hanson (the 2018 ACC pitcher of the year) seem to have good potential solutions.
Alameda said that sophomore Sydney Sherrill, a third-team All-American at second base last season, will move a few feet to her right and play at third.
And FSU also welcomed in Kara Bilodeau, a transfer from Auburn, to help bolster WCWS MVP Meghan King in the pitcher’s circle.
Other challenges are a bit larger in scope.
The previous two national champs, Florida and Oklahoma, both won back-to-back titles.
That’s some history that the Seminoles would love to repeat.
“A fun challenge,” Alameda said. “Who doesn’t want that, right? You come here, you want to be the best. You know you want to play (against) the best. You want to watch yourself grow.
“So, now, we’re going to get everyone’s best. And what a great opportunity.”