Coach Jen Trotter and the Missouri Western softball team get their season started Feb. 6 in Arkadelphia, Ark. The team will take on Harding University at 11 a.m. followed by a matchup with Ouachita Baptist University.

Even with the loss of a few key players, Trotter says that there is plenty of talent on her team.

“We return a lot more than we lost,” Trotter said.

With so many returns, the team has high hopes after having a successful 2015 campaign.

“I feel good with saying that this team can compete with the best in the conference,” Trotter said.

The team will participate in the UAM 8-State Classic, the Kelly Laas Invite and the Teri-Mathis Zenner Memorial Tournament before opening up conference play at home against Northeastern State.

Infielder Shelbie Atwell believes the tournaments give the team a great opportunity to bond.

“Traveling on the bus, going out to eat and staying in hotels gives us a lot of time to get to know each other,” Atwell said.

The Griffons will start the season ranked No. 16 in the nation. Missouri Western is the only MIAA school ranked in the preseason top 25.

“You know we’re ranked 16th, but we’ve already decided that we’re not going to settle for that,” Atwell said.

Atwell started 52 games for the Griffons last season, hitting .295 while driving in 27 runs. She will be one of the infielders counted on to replace the offense of All-MIAA second baseman Tiffany Gillaspy, who graduated last year.

The Griffons will be led by a strong offense, but also returning is pitcher Janie Smith. The senior has improved each of her first three seasons, last year posting a career best 2.69 era.

“I really worked on my spin work and really hitting my spots over the offseason,” Smith said, “I would really like to get more strikeouts to help my defense.”

The Griffons outfield will not lack experience, with a combination of Sydney Washington and Morgan Rathmann who are both in their junior year.

“I spent the offseason fine-tuning all of my skills,” Rathmann said.

The Griffons have the talent, coaching and leadership to contend for not just an MIAA championship, but the ability to contend for a national championship. Being the favorites in the conference does not guarantee them anything and this is something the team is well aware of.

“Team goal is obviously winning that national championship,” said Atwell.

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