Oklahoma Panhandle State University
2012 Softball Season Outlookby Megan Hamilton
After blazing through the fall competition, the Lady Aggies of the OPSU softball team look to extend that success into their spring season. The Lady Aggies return fourteen players from last year’s roster, which is most in recent softball memory. These returners look to build onto the foundation they started in the last few years. Their plan of attack is simple: a consummate work ethic. This starts from the top, with fourth year Head Coach Rachel Burleson, who enters the 2012 season with great optimism. Burleson said, “The key to our success this year is the experience we’ve gained as athletes over the last several years. We have been a young squad in the past, but this year I feel as though our maturity and the hard work we have put in together, since these kids got here 3 years ago, will not go unrewarded.”
The “kids” Burleson speaks of are from her first recruiting class, which she brought to campus for the 2009-2010 school year. They are currently juniors and they represent the core of the team, largely because they are fully aware of what is expected of them and have been able to relay that to the younger players as well as the transfers. With fourteen returners from last season, the Aggies bring in three new players and one redshirt from last year and all are sure to make a large impact immediately.
Last season, the OPSU team Aggies showed some great positives that give this year’s team something on which to build. Some improvements from prior years were team fielding percentage as well as increasing team numbers in extra base hits. OPSU softball ranked third in the conference last season in triples. Also, the team led the conference in the defensive category of runners thrown out, which is a testament to the two freshmen who split time behind the plate, Lindsey Sheppard and Emily Vasquez.
The Aggies also shined offensively by having the fewest strikeouts in the conference. Burleson noted, “I don’t think our record showed how talented our team truly was last year. Like I’ve said before, we were young and I think that really hurt us, but even so, we had a lead in most games last year and if it weren’t for one inning in those contests, we would have won 20+ games last season.”
As to how to avoid those detrimental innings, Burleson said, “Only experience can help us, and we have that now. I have no doubt we will be successful this year and it’s a true tribute to these girls. They have worked hard for this and I know it will be an exciting season for me, and should be for the fans as well.”
The Lady Aggies by Position:Pitcher
All four pitchers on this year’s staff are returners: senior Kendra Wellnitz, juniors Kayla Pollard and Talena Tippett, and sophomore Presj’el Dai’Re. The staff looks to improve on last year and have been working hard in the fall, as well as all summer. Tippett and Pollard will be coming off injuries, but are expected to make a big impact immediately. Both should be healthy coming into the spring season. Wellnitz should also be another impact player as she stands a towering 6’1’’ and is sure to invoke some intimidation in the opposition. P. Dai’Re is coming off a tremendous fall season for the Lady Aggies and is expected to only improve. She was definitely be a standout this fall and should continue to be a bright spot for OPSUCatcher
Also with an all returning cast is the catchers. While they are both just sophomores this year, both made a great impact last year and, as previously noted, led the conference in runners thrown out. Not only did they make a defensive impact, but both made an impact in the box. They led the team in RBI’s, with Vasquez on top with 22 and Sheppard hot on her heels with 18.Infield
The infield could be a lot of new faces for OPSU this year or it could be a lot of recognizable ones, considering the depth at all positions.
At first base, there are three viable options, all with their own strengths. A new face at first base is Dezyrae Arredondo who saw some time last year in the outfield and as the designated player. Arredondo was saddled with injury for most of last year which accounts for her limited playing time. The healthy Arredondo had a monstrous fall season this year, having led the team in most offensive categories, and is expected to carry that into the spring. No stranger to first base is Destyni Tate-Boggs who is a returning junior for the Aggies. Tate-Boggs has also struggled with injury this fall, but is hoping to return to full form by the spring. She looks to improve on her sophomore year and continue to be a vacuum over at first base. Also at first base, is returning junior Britnie Weddle. Weddle came to OPSU last year from Vernon College in Texas and is expected to improve on her solid performance and make an impact at the plate.
At second base is a recognizable face for sure, Brandi Heath. Heath returns for her junior season after leading the team last year in batting average. Burleson says, “Her improvement from last year will astound everyone. Not only is her hitting continually improving, but her defensive range has been a point of focus for her all summer, and it shows.”
Shortstop will be a somewhat familiar face as Krista Bomak returns after a two year hiatus from OPSU softball. Two seasons ago Bomak transferred from OPSU to attend Missouri Southern University. After a year in Joplin, Bomak decided to return to the panhandle and had to redshirt last season due to NCAA rules. With her return to the field, the shortstop position is solid as she looks to build on her previous success here at OPSU. As a freshman at OPSU, Bomak started all 52 games and batted .315 with 17 RBI’s and 11 stolen bases.
At third base, there will definitely be some competition as there are three different Aggies looking to call the hot corner their home. A new face at third will be sophomore transfer Chelsea Usher. Usher comes to the program after posting staggering numbers at Berry College in Georgia. Just a few of those numbers include a .365 batting average, 19 RBI’s, and 14 stolen bases. Also trying to tie up that third base position are returning juniors Kari Fry and Megan Nieuwenhuis.
Fry saw action in 35 games last season and looks to bring her experience to the table. She has a definite, “sure glove” at third base and looks to improve on her already sterling consistency. Nieuwenhuis is one of those players who could see time at any of three positions, which include third base, shortstop, and designated player. Nieuwenhuis is expected to make an impact in the box this year and continue her success no matter which position she plays.Outfield
With four outfielders and only three positions, there is bound to be stiff competition to fill those spots. One newcomer looking to find her place in the grass is Jordan Saldana. Saldana comes to OPSU from Frank Phillips Community College as a sophomore and looks to find her spot in the lineup with a good stroke in the box and some consistency in the field. Another newcomer looking to secure a spot in the outfield is junior Candace Smith. Smith comes to Goodwell from Hillsborough Community College in Florida, where she posted a solid sophomore season. Proof of that is in her .361 batting average and her 16 steals, in as many attempts. She looks to build on that success here at OPSU with her speed and bat control. Her ability to hit the ball exactly where she wants is something that will be sure to give headaches to opposing teams. As for the returners in the outfield, there are two. Junior Julie Cross returns from last year’s squad looking to keep up the success she had in the fall. Her offense has improved much since last year and her defense is as solid as ever. Her experience in the outfield was noticeable this fall and should continue throughout the spring. Sophomore returner Juuna’e Dai’Re is expected to do big things this year as she has a full season under her belt. J. Dai’Re played in all 50 games last season and, with her speed, is expected to create great things this spring. She seems to have found her stride, so to speak, and is sure to keep up her success for the 2012 season.Coaches
The players aren’t the only new faces for the OPSU softball team. There are three new coaches that join the staff to assist Burleson (in her fourth season). Burleson. They are Brad Horky, Andy Klaus, and Meghan Mulcahy. All of them bring their own piece of the puzzle to the staff and Burleson is excited to have them on board. “I know a coach is only as good as the staff she surrounds herself with, and I think our staff is a pretty darn good one,” Burleson added.
The Lady Aggies will open their 2012 season on February 3, in Hobbs, NM, where they take on University of the Southwest. Their home opener is scheduled for February 18 against the visiting Tigers from East Central University. First pitch is set for 1:00 pm and admission is always free.