Picked eighth in a preseason Missouri Valley Conference poll — right where Wichita State finished last season — the Shocker softball team hopes a group of experienced players leads to a better finish.
The Shockers (19-33, 10-16 MVC) open their season Friday against Houston Baptist and Jackson State in Ruston, La., part of the three-day Lady Techster Invitational.
“If they’re disappointed in getting picked eighth in the MVC, then we’ve got to finish higher than eighth the year before,” third-year coach Kristi Bredbenner said.
Eleven returning players and 10 newcomers make up the 2014 team, which did a lot of work on fundamentals and learning how to play together in the offseason.
“I think that type of experience is something that has been helpful to our team and for us as a coaching staff to realize what we’ve kind of got to do,” Bredbenner said.
Sloan Anderson returns for her senior season after going 12-11 with a 4.18 ERA last season. Her catcher, Melanie Jaegers, is also back.
Ali Vandever, second on the team in batting average (.264) last season, will occupy an infield spot. Brittany Fortner figures to be in the heart of the batting order and will join Layne Greenlee in the outfield. Greenlee missed last season with a knee injury.
Eight freshmen joined the Shockers . Liz Broyles transferred from the UMKC after the loss of second baseman Haley Temple to graduation. First baseman Cacy Williams was brought in from Emporia State.
Even with 10 new players, Bredbenner said the team’s expectations are high and there are a lot of possibilities for the squad.
“I’m excited about the depth and potential we have in both our lineup and on defense,” she said.
Games early in the season are going to determine the best combinations for the team, Bredbenner said. Players will be swapped around to different positions to compete for their roles and starting spots, she said.
One of her goals is to assemble an effective pitching lineup that will keep teams off balance but also keep her pitchers fresh, she said.
The Shockers will play in four road tournaments before hosting five teams in a three-day tournament beginning March 6.