Wichita State coach Kristi Bredbenner can tell her softball team is in better mental shape because they’re running less frequently.
WSU opens its second season under Bredbenner on Friday, against UC Santa Barbara and Grambling State, in the Mardi Gras Classic in Monroe, La. After a difficult first season, in which WSU went 15-40, the Shockers believe they are improved because they are a smarter team, a stronger team and ready to play the way Bredbenner wants.
“Everyone really comes to practice, like Coach always preaches, with a plan,” junior first baseman Erin Carney said. “Everybody knows what they’re supposed to do, before the play actually happens.”
Last season, the Shockers weren’t ready for the new coach’s demands. A base-running mistake or a mental blunder in practice sent them all running laps. Bredbenner watched a lot of laps.
“To the point where I didn’t even know if it was serving a purpose anymore, because all we did was run,” Bredbenner said. “Knowing that that has been cut down is very noticeable. Everybody is ready to go, and the mental side of having a plan and being able to react and execute that plan is a little bit more instilled in them.”
The Shockers are picked eighth in the Missouri Valley Conference after finishing ninth in 2012 with a 7-20 record. Improvement must start with a pitching staff that ranked last in the MVC with a 5.37 ERA and allowed 64 home runs, 22 more than any other conference team.
Senior Katie Armagost (7-14, 5.06 ERA) will be WSU’s No. 1 starter. Bredbenner is counting on her experience and an improved changeup to help keep the Shockers in games. Junior Sloan Anderson (6-23, 5.32) and freshmen Hunter Stohlmeyer are battling for the No. 2 spot.
“(Katie) is a much more mature pitcher,” Bredbenner said. “She keeps the ball in the ballpark. We didn’t win many games last year, but the games we won were the games Katie pitched very effectively in.”
Armagost tried a changeup for the first time last season, with mixed results. She worked with pitching coach Samantha Sheeley and now feels confident in the pitch.
“It really helps off-set my other pitches,” Armagost said. “It’s my favorite pitch to throw.”
Sophomore Melanie Jaegers (.229 batting average, 25 RBIs) will catch, after playing several positions last season. Sickness kept her out of some spring practices, but Bredbenner expects her to be ready for the season.
“She’s got a cannon for an arm,” Bredbenner said. “That changes the complete strategy.… when you’ve got an arm behind the plate. It will be great to have consistency back there.”
WSU’s pitchers will rely on groundballs and popups. Bredbenner likes her infield’s improvement after a shaky fall. Her outfielders should cover a lot of ground. Junior Ali Vandever, who played in 46 games and hit .167 for Oklahoma last season, will play shortstop. Senior Hayley Temple (.218, 24 RBIs) will play second. Sophomore Laura Vickers (.348 in nine games) will play third.
Bredbenner expects senior Danika Miller (.244) to play left, sophomore Layne Greenlee (.207) in center and either freshman Brittany Fortner or sophomore Kaitlyn Carey (.119) in right. Carney, who hit .271 with 26 RBIs and nine home runs, is WSU’s top returning hitter.
With eight new players, Bredbenner knows the Shockers will go through more rough spots. No Shocker was named to the All-MVC preseason team and there isn’t a star who can carry the load offensively. Moving up in the standings will require consistent effort from the roster and Bredbenner thinks the Shockers are more ready for that challenge in her second season.
“They’ve put a ton of work in,” she said. “They’re so much stronger and physically ready to play softball. This is a group of girls that want to get better.”