After winning the MIAC title last year with a 25-0 conference record and finishing the season as the runner-up in the NCAA regional tournament, the St. Thomas softball team is looking to have another successful campaign with a new-look starting lineup.
Coach John Tschida said replacing “seven to nine starters” will be one of the biggest obstacles his team faces.
“We have a lot of young ones, so we have no idea of what they’re going to accomplish,” Tschida said. “Basically we are rebuilding; we will see what happens.”
Junior second basemen Kimmy Hassel said she is excited to see how her team will perform with so many new faces.
“I am really looking forward to kind of starting to play with a whole new group of girls,” Hassel said. “It’s going to be a challenge, but a nice challenge to kind of get a new team chemistry going and see how great we can be.”
The Tommies are returning 12 players from last year’s team, including senior third basemen Kayla Boward, who was MIAC player of the year, and honorable mention all-conference catcher Emily Gregory, a sophomore.
“I expect us to go out and play hard every game, and I expect us to do really well in the conference and go hopefully pretty deep into playoffs,” Gregory said.
The Tommies have not had a problem making it to the NCAA playoffs and have earned a spot in the national tournament 14 out of the last 15 years. The team comes into the season ranked No. 17, and senior pitcher Kristen Feisel said she believes the team can maintain and even improve its national ranking.
“I expect us to learn a lot throughout the season; we always schedule hard games no matter if it’s the beginning of the season or the end of the season,” Feisel said. “We are always working on stuff. We try to learn from our mistakes and hopefully end up very well at the end of the season.”
Tschida said he hopes to see the Tommies compete in the NCAA tournament come May.
“We always want to be top 10 in the nation and contend for a national title. If you’re in the top 20, you can contend for a national title. It’s just a matter of everything working out,” Tschida said.
The Tommies won back-to-back NCAA titles in 2004 and 2005. The 2006 team lost two one-run games at nationals to finish second.The softball program has put together eight consecutive 40-win seasons, and the 2012 squad will look to make it nine when the season begins on Saturday.
Feisel said she is looking forward to the season opener against Iowa’s Buena Vista University.
“We’re ready and excited to get out and play ball,” Feisel said. “We have been practicing all February in the field house, so it will nice to be able to hit the ball around and take some real pop flies.”
Jake Swansson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.