For the better part of a decade, Missouri Western softball has been a model of consistency. With a combined record of 158-72 since 2014, including four straight regional berths, the Griffons softball program has enjoyed a lot of the same the past four seasons. This sustained success has been due in no small part to a strong core of players that returned year after year to build on the success of the previous season.
This year will have a slightly different feel than seasons’ past, however, because a majority of those tenured players have since graduated into the real world. With a total of six returners from last year’s team — two pitchers, four position player — head coach Jen Bagley Trotter is looking to some new faces to fill the spots left.
“This year, we do bring back six returners who played on last year’s team, but we also have brought in a mix of freshmen and transfers,” Trotter said. “One of the freshmen in particular, Emma Hoffart, will probably be in our starting lineup. She has emerged as one of our leading hitters in what all we have done so far. Another freshmen, pitcher Kaili Hinds, is making a little stink for herself too. She will probably get some legitimate time, possibly even the first weekend out. Our transfers of Gabi Carter, Morgan Frost, Tamara Hicks and Lonnie Groves are going to see a fair amount of time too because of what they are able to do offensively. We just have to find a spot to put them all.”
In this year’s preseason coaches’ poll, Western was picked to finish second, behind only the defending MIAA champion Bronchos of the University of Central Oklahoma. In a conference as solid as the MIAA, the difference between first and second place can be razor-thin. Each and every team is looking for what they can utilize in order to set them apart from the rest. What Western will be relying upon to set them apart is their teamwork and togetherness as a whole.
“Our chemistry on the team is honestly the best. We all really like each other and know each other well for being a new-ish team,” sophomore pitcher Kenzie Hilzer said. “That is huge on the field, because we are able to know how to pick each other up, and we are all playing for each other. There is not one selfish player on this team. We all want to get better for each other, compete with each other for a starting spot, but are also accepting that it is coach’s decision and we’ll be each other’s biggest fans.”
That sentiment is echoed by many of the players on this new-look team.
“Our identity is all about grit,” senior catcher Rebekah Mueller said. “We have been working really hard at practice to get ready for this season, and we pride ourselves on having competition within the team to push ourselves and each other. We are hungry, and ready to take on this season. Everyone wants to have an outstanding senior year, but our senior class wants to leave a legacy and let every addition to our team know what Griffon softball is about,” catcher Rebekah Mueller said.
The ladies open up their season on Feb. 10, when they travel to Bentonville, Arkansas, to take on Harding University.