One year after advancing to the Women's College World Series, a rebuild was in order for Oklahoma State's softball squad. And it showed. The Cowgirls finished 25-26 overall, 8-16 in the Big 12. Still loaded with youth, OSU takes its first hopeful steps toward a better 2013 this weekend, when they travel to St. George, Utah, for the Red Desert Classic.
Cowgirls coach Rich Wieligman chatted Wednesday about the season ahead:
What is your team's major storyline heading into the season?
“Our pitching staff is probably the big thing. Being a senior (Kat Espinosa) and junior (Simone Freeman) this year, Kat being a senior and already being to the World Series, I think that's our strong point. I think pitching will definitely help us out. We've got some young kids who have come up and are playing well. It's the combination of the elder pitchers and the younger players. That's probably going to be our storyline.”
How much more important is that pitching to stabilize things early on, considering the offensive struggles of a year ago?
“I think it's important that our offense gets off to a better start this year. But our pitching, they did great last year. and if they do what they did last year, we'll be fine. We've got some kids at the front of the lineup who will get on. It's just as important that the middle of our lineup drives them in.”
How important was the fall season, considering all of the youth involved in this team?
“I always compare us to soccer. Soccer has to bring their freshmen in early, before school has even started. And they have to play games and go to school, so they're figuring out their whole college life in a season, where we get a whole fall to practice, play some games and get accustomed to the college life, per se. I think it's huge. I think it's nice that we have freshmen who have already played in eight games. They've gone through a semester of school, so they know what's expected of them on the academic side and the weight training side.”
Do you foresee several freshmen jumping into the fire early?
“I expect them to jump in the fire and be productive. We've got Tiffany Mickelson at third base, she's probably going to hit in the four- or five-hole for us, drive in runs. She's got good power. We've got Erika Campbell and Dre McKee in right field, they'll probably platoon a little bit. Hopefully one of them will come up and start providing some offense. We moved Gessenia DeLaCruz to short, she played third base for us last year and is a sophomore. Shianne Hughes is a freshman who's going to possibly see some time in left field, a lefty slapper who's going to bring some speed.”
How do you approach the difficult schedule ahead, with 24 teams that made the NCAA Tournament last year?
“I think that's the only way you prepare for the NCAAs, you've got to play them. We can't fool ourselves and try to win a lot of games and then expect to win the tough games. I think you've got to challenge yourself during the season. The Big 12 Conference is big on that. You've got a tough schedule in the Big 12, then we're going to play some other teams like Tennessee. That will get us ready for the postseason.”
What do you expect out of the gate from the tournament this weekend?
“You always have expectations … it's a matter of setting where we're at. Yeah, we want to win all our games. We want to play well. But the big thing is to see where we're at. We're going to play five games, one of them being against Tennessee. I think that will be the big game that will sort of show us how far we need to go. It's a matter of getting our freshmen acclimated to the travel, to the teams we play, to put that uniform on for the first time, with it meaning something. In the fall, those games don't count. And they're all at home. We're having to travel. We're having to stay in a hotel room. There's a lot of distractions involved. We have to get used to that and understand that and get used to playing. I'd love to come out of there with four or five wins. That would be a coach's dream right there. And just come away with some solid softball.”
How big is the loss of Chelsea Garcia, who was the consummate leader on and off the field? How do you replace her?
“I don't think you replace her, you just try and hopefully, the kids who got to got to play with her bring what she brought to the table and keep it going. The fact that she showed up every day, played, got good grades, that's what OSU softball should be about and is about, when you take care of the softball side and the academic side. I hope we'll develop in each player, as they head into their senior year, what OSU softball is all about and how hard we're going to play.”
Who comes to mind as an upperclassmen to take on some of that leadership?
“Tamara Brown. She's been there for four years — she's a fifth-year player — and she's been through it all. I think she's one kid who you have to expect to provide that. And you've got Amy Graham as well, and Kat. They've spent all four years of their career here at OSU and they were part of the World Series team and they sort of understand what it takes to play at this level and be successful. I expect a lot of them, for sure.”
2013 Cowgirl Softball Schedule
Friday: *Weber State, 2:30 p.m.
Friday: *Seattle, 5 p.m.
Saturday: *Colorado State, 1 p.m.
Saturday: *Utah Valley, 2:30 p.m.
Sunday: *Tennessee, noon
Feb. 15: #Iowa, 2 p.m.
Feb. 15: #North Texas, 4:30 p.m.
Feb. 16: #Nebraska-Omaha, 9 a.m.
Feb. 16: #Dayton, 11:30 a.m.
Feb. 17: #Iowa, 11:30 a.m.
Feb. 21: $Florida, 3 p.m.
Feb. 21: $BYU, 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 22: $Stanford, 10:30 p.m.
Feb. 23: $UCLA, 4:30 p.m.
Feb. 23: $Long Beach State, 9:30 p.m.
March 1: Houston, 6 p.m.
March 2: Houston, 11 a.m., Oklahoma City
March 2: Nebraska, 1:30 p.m., Oklahoma City
March 3: Nebraska, noon
March 6: at Tulsa, 5 p.m.
March 8: %Santa Clara, 4:03 p.m.
March 8: %Northern Iowa, 7 p.m.
March 9: %Cleveland State, 1:30 p.m.
March 9: %TBD, 4:30/7 p.m.
March 10: %TBD, 9/11 a.m.
March 13: Central Arkansas, 5 p.m.
March 15: &Rutgers, 3 p.m.
March 15: &Maryland, 5:15 p.m.
March 16: &Boston, 12:15 p.m.
March 16: &Robert Morris, 5:15 p.m.
March 17: &LIU Brooklyn, 8:30 a.m.
March 20: North Texas, 6 p.m.
March 22: at New Mexico, 5 p.m.
March 22: at New Mexico, 7 p.m.
March 23: Sienna, 1 p.m.
March 28: Texas Tech, 7 p.m.
March 29: Texas Tech, 6 p.m.
March 30: Texas Tech, noon
April 3: at Wichita State, 7 p.m.
April 5: at Iowa State, 4 p.m.
April 6: at Iowa State, noon
April 7: at Iowa State, noon
April 10: Wichita State, 7 p.m.
April 12: at Baylor, 6:30 p.m.
April 13: at Baylor, 2 p.m.
April 14: at Baylor, noon
April 17: Oklahoma, in Oklahoma City
April 19: Kansas, 6 p.m.
April 20: Kansas, 3 p.m.
April 21: Kansas, noon
April 24: Tulsa, 7 p.m.
May 3: Texas, 7 p.m.
May 4: Texas, 3 p.m.
May 5: Texas, noon
May 11: at Oklahoma, 3 p.m.
May 12: Oklahoma, 1 p.m.
*Red Desert Classic, St. George Utah
# Lovelace Invitational, Denton, Texas
$ Cathedral City Classic, Palm Springs, Calif.
% Mizuno Classic, Stillwater
& USF Spring Invitational, Clearwater, Fla.