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.”