Though a trip to the NCAA tournament has become an expectation rather than a surprise for the BYU softball team during the past few years, that expectation was a little shaky before the 2008 season started.

Coach Gordon Eakin did not know what to expect from this year's group because of one injury and a lot of young players.

In the end, though, a trip to North Carolina and a regional finals appearance against Georgia gave Eakin what he was hoping for and perhaps a little bit more.

"Obviously, I thought it was a successful season, but this year it meant more because we lost (Andrea) Ramirez to injury, which threw the team into disarray not knowing who was even going to play where," said Eakin.

"We overcame obstacles early in the season and still got to the final of a regional. This was the first year that the players had a sense that they belong there and can play with anybody."

He has high hopes that the team can build on this year's success and will win a regional before too much longer, and it just might be with some of the players currently on the Cougars' youthful roster.

While the Cougars only lose three seniors in Daniela Snow, Emi Snow-Willing and Christina Gwyn-Trice, no matter how important they might be, the extreme youth on this team now has experience to look back on and learn from.

"It's always hard to lose seniors, but we feel like our strength is in the youth of our team," Eakin said.

It's hard to argue with him.

With only two juniors on the roster, the Cougars' young team should only have the chance to get better for the next two years.

Kristin Delahoussaye came in to lead the Cougars as MWC Freshman of the Year and brought with her other key freshmen players, each of whom contributed in some way. Paige Affleck did more than hold her own by maintaining a 1.42 ERA; Caschjen Davis provided Eakin his surprise of the year; and Jessica Purcell stepped in with key fielding and hitting all season long.

With Ramirez' knee injury healing well and her return to fall camp fully expected, the team will also count on the star player and a couple of sophomores from this year to lead things off for the next two. Angeline Quiocho and Amanda Vance will both be around for two more seasons. Monica Gonzales and Stephanie Platt-Hopkins are the only ones who will don Cougar uniforms for only one more year.

The Cougars finished second in the MWC behind power San Diego State after suffering a bit of an up-and-down early season, which included two four-game losing streaks.

But six young recruits should "challenge for playing time. I see a great future," said Eakin, who will be adding Taylorsville's Cyd Allen to his roster next season. He notes that she has a lot to learn but will make an impact at the plate.

After finishing 44-20 overall and 14-6 in conference, the Cougars found themselves battling against three unknown squads in a regional across the country in North Carolina. BYU beat the No. 13 Tar Heels in a 3-0 shutout, and then lost to No. 23 Georgia but came back to defeat Campbell, as Trice threw a no-hitter to put the Cougars into the championship game against the Bulldogs.

Their season ended on a 4-0 loss to Georgia, but the Cougars gained so much experience and belief in themselves that Eakin pronounced the entire regional trip a success.

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