After a record-setting year in 2013, the Lady Eagles softball program is poised to challenge each of their conference opponents for its first Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference championship in 2014. The team also is hungry for a second straight appearance at the NCCAA national tournament in Botetourt, VA, according to head coach Caty Reeves in her second season at the helm of the OKWU program.
The Lady Eagles return 13 players from last year’s 35-18 squad that finished third in the MCAC and earned an at-large berth to the NCCAA National Championship. Even though the team was eliminated after two disappointing losses in the first round, it proved to be great experience in the program’s inaugural trip to a national tournament.
Not satisfied with last year’s program-best records, the Lady Eagles look to improve in every area this year while playing a very challenging series of games. OKWU will launch their season with an away game Feb. 8 against Saint Gregory’s University, which finished the 2013 NAIA season ranked No. 16 in the nation.
“This year will truly test our team,” Reeves said. “We are playing a much tougher overall schedule than we did last year so that heading into postseason play we will be more than ready to compete at a higher level.”
TAKING THE FIELD
With the addition of four freshmen and a junior college transfer, the team is stronger than ever. The Lady Eagles welcome Western Nebraska Community College transfer Mariah Shepherd (Grantsville, UT), along with freshmen Alex Eichler (Denison, TX), Selena Lopez (Taylor, TX), Katelyn Cook (Atoka, OK) and Ty’Shonna Harris (Tulsa, OK).
Defense proved to be a strength in the 2013 campaign as the players posted a team fielding percentage of 0.963. The entire infield is back, including junior Leanne Salas (Richmond, TX) at first base and three seniors in Macy Wright (Ramona, OK) at second base, shortstop Miranda Kiser (Tulsa, OK) and Jessica Farris (Nowata, OK) at third base. Each of the three seniors earned individual all-conference honors for their play in 2013: Kiser was All-MCAC First Team, Wright was All-MCAC Second Team and Farris was Honorable Mention All-MCAC.
“I have no doubt our infield will continue to make the plays day in and day out,” Reeves said. Shepherd also will see playing time at third base, while Harris will bring competition to second base.
All-MCAC First Team player Allison Edwards (Sr., Duncan, OK) will move from behind the plate to centerfield to lead the outfield. She will be joined by MCAC Honorable Mention Courtney Gililland (Jr., Anna, TX), Caitlin Day (Jr., Bartlesville, OK), Brittany Stevenot (Sr., Bartlesville, OK), and Eichler. “We have some people in the outfield that can not only cover some ground, but throw out people trying to advance at any moment,” Reeves said.
Many new faces will join the team’s battery, both on the mound and behind the plate. Sophomore Jenna Daniel (Stafford, TX) returns after a stellar season on the mound earning MCAC First Team All-Conference honors in her rookie season. She is joined by veteran pitcher Kim Billie (Sr., Tecumseh, OK) who saw a large number of innings as well.
Freshman Lopez will add another element to the pitching staff. “Selena will complement our pitchers well and I expect her to compete every day of the season with the other two for our ace spot,” Reeves said.
Behind the plate, returner Christie Bell (Jr., Sanger, TX) will be joined by freshmen Cook and Shepherd. “While Allison did a great job for us behind the plate last year, I’m excited to see what these other girls can do. They work well with the pitchers and improve their knowledge on a daily basis,” Reeves said. “Each one has continually improved since the fall and can be trusted to lead the defense.”
THE SEASON AHEAD
After falling short against the Saint Gregory Cavaliers twice last year, the Lady Eagles are excited to have another opportunity to play such a competitive team at the beginning of the season. After that, they travel to Fort Worth, TX to participate in the Cowtown College Classic where they will face NCAA Division 1 Incarnate Word University, Baker University, Texas Wesleyan, Northwood University and Oklahoma City University.
The Lady Eagles will see Oklahoma City two other times, in the capital city on Feb. 27 and in Bartlesville on April 22. The OKC Stars were ranked No. 3 in the NAIA Softball Coaches’ Preseason Top 25 Poll released Jan. 21.
A trip to Ottawa University on Feb. 18 leads up to the home opener against Sterling College on Feb. 21. Evangel University and Kansas Wesleyan University then visit Feb. 22 for a three-team round robin. Other notable non-conference games include No. 15 (preseason) Oklahoma Baptist University (March 4 at OBU and April 5 at OKWU), Benedictine College (March 11 at OKWU), Ecclesia College (April 2 at OKWU) and Evangel University (April 17 at OKWU).
On March 14, the Lady Eagles open pool play at the David Fillmore Memorial Tournament hosted by Evangel University in Springfield, MO. There they will face first-time opponents Midland University, Cardinal Stritch University and Morningside College before bracket play begins March 15. Soon after, OKWU will travel to Edmond, OK to take on NCAA Division 2 foe Oklahoma Christian University on March 18.
MCAC games will begin March 8 as the Lady Eagles travel to Conway, AR to take on Central Baptist College before playing host to Haskell Indian Nations University (March 21) and Central Christian College (March 22). Then March 28-29 OKWU travels to McPherson, KS to play the “north” teams of Bellevue University, College of St. Mary, York College, and Waldorf College in the first MCAC Crossover tournament. The second MCAC Crossover takes place April 11-12 in Bellevue, NE.
Central Baptist College returns a trip to OKWU April 4 before OKWU travels to Central Christian College (April 18) and Haskell Indian Nations University (April 19). NCCAA Division 3 opponent Greenville College visits OKWU on April 26 when seven seniors will play their last home games at the OKWU’s softball field.
The MCAC conference tournament, which determines the berth for the NAIA national tournament, will be played May 1-2 at the home of the regular season winner. OKWU also will participate in the NCCAA Regional Championships May 6-9 hosted by Oklahoma Christian in a bid for a second invitation to the NCCAA National Championships in Botetourt, VA on May 15-17.