Wichita State softball players are studying dynasties with hopes of borrowing their best attributes.
Oklahoma football. The Yankees. The Gretzky Oilers. The Jordan Bulls. The Lady Vols. UCLA softball. Coach Kristi Bredbenner paired up her athletes to research and choose dominant teams and make presentations.
Senior first baseman Macklin Hitz and freshman second baseman Ryleigh Buck chose Connecticut women’s basketball, winners of the past four NCAA titles and 11 since 1995. They made a timeline of UConn’s success, clothes-pinning pictures of coach Geno Auriemma and top players to a string to illustrate the presentation. Former UConn star Breanna Stewart provided the key lesson for Hitz when she set her goal to win four NCAA titles.
“That was really impressive to me, to have the mindset to me that you’re not just going to win one national championship, you’re going to win four,” Hitz said. “She followed through.”
The Shockers (36-21 last season) want to follow through on their recent success that lifted them to the top of the Missouri Valley Conference. They won the regular-season title in 2014 and again in 2016. After winning last season’s MVC Tournament, they advanced to the NCAA regionals for the first time since 2005 and won their first NCAA game.
WSU starts its season on Friday against Wright State and California-Santa Barbara in the Houston Hilton Plaza Invitational.
This season’s slogan is “Create a dynasty.”
“They want Wichita State softball to be synonymous with success and something that happens each and every year is that we make it to post-season,” coach Kristi Bredbenner said.
A powerful offense highlighted WSU’s past three seasons and Bredbenner expects a similar look. Two-time MVC Player of the Year Cacy Williams, the program career home-run leader with 39, is gone, along with third baseman Liz Broyles and outfielder Brittany Fortner, both All-MVC selections.
WSU, which led the MVC with a .305 batting average and tied Northern Iowa with 58 home runs, expects to hit with plenty of power again. The warm weather allowed the Shockers to get more time than usual scrimmaging outside and Bredbenner likes the number of hard-hit softballs she sees at Wilkins Stadium.
“Once our pitching falls into place, to me, we don’t have a whole lot of holes,” she said.
The Shockers are picked second behind Drake by MVC coaches, a spot that bothers WSU players based on their four wins over the Bulldogs by a cumulative score of 30-5 last season. The Shockers don’t think the personnel changes are as debilitating as they appear.
“There’s a lot of talk about how we lost a lot of power,” center fielder Ashley Johnson said. “I think we have a lot of power coming in that people might not have noticed last year. Our offense is going to be great.”
Bredbenner starts her lineup with shortstop Laurie Derrico (.297 batting average, eight home runs), third baseman Mackenzie Wright (.293, eight doubles, 16 steals) and Johnson (.316, .374 on-base percentage). Wright, an All-MVC pick at third in 2015, played catcher for WSU’s final 19 games last season and earned second-team All-MVC honors at that position.
Derrico is an MVC Player of the Year candidate in Bredbenner’s mind.
“The bottom line is, nobody’s playing as good as her right now,” she said. “Nobody works harder on our team.”
Hitz (.350, .635 slugging, 10 home runs) will play first or designated player after earning All-MVC honors as a utility player in 2016. Buck, who transferred from Central Florida, is the likely choice at second. She joined the Shockers in January.
“That was a good grab for us, and I’m glad she’s fit in with this team really well,” Hitz said. “She’s like a little sparkplug, constantly talking on the field and getting everyone going.”
Paige Luellen (.318, 11 home runs) and sophomore Asea Webber, a transfer from Oklahoma State, will handle right field. Senior Kelli Spring (.317, 13 steals) moves from second to left field, where McKenzie Adams (.212) is an option. Sophomore Cassidy Kelsheimer (.185, three doubles) and freshman Madison Perrigan will catch.
“The (designated player) is something that could change quite a bit during the season,” Bredbenner said. “There’s three or four girls that really have a chance to step into that role.”
Senior Katie Malone (15-8, 4.18 ERA) starts the season at the top pitcher. Senior Jenni Brooks (18-7, 3.23), a second-team All-MVC pick, is recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in November and could return in early March.
March is a big month for the Shockers, who play No. 1 Oklahoma in their March 1 home opener. No. 4 LSU visits Wilkins Stadium on March 16. On March 18, a home series with Drake starts Valley play.
“We’re back in that underdog role,” Hitz said. “We’re still ranked No. 2 in the conference, but I feel like that’s even so much below where we should be ranked. I’m really excited to prove people wrong again.”
WSU Softball Roster
Pitchers — LH Bailey Klitzke, Fr., RH Katie Malone, Sr., RH Jenni Brooks, Sr.
Utility — Asea Webber, So., Mackenzie Wright, Jr., Brigitta Doherty, Fr., Mauriana Jamele, So., Kiersten Otte, Fr.,
Infielders — Kelli Spring, Sr., Ashley Malone, Sr., Laurie Derrico, So., Ryleigh Buck, Fr., Kaylee Huecker, Fr., Bethany Canada, So., Macklin Hitz, Sr.
Outfielders — McKenzie Adams, Jr., Ashley Johnson, Sr., Morgan Palmer, Jr., Kennedy Long, Sr., Paige Luellen, Jr.
Catchers — Madison Perrigan, Fr., Cassidy Kelsheimer, So.
Houston Hilton Plaza Invitational
Friday — Wright State, 11:30 a.m.
Friday — California Santa Barbara, 1:30 p.m.
Saturday — California Santa Barbara, 2 p.m.
Saturday — Houston, 7 p.m.
Arizona State Littlewood Classic
17 — South Dakota, 11:45 a.m.
17 — Arizona State, 5:15 p.m.
18 — South Dakota, 9 a.m..
18 — Missouri, 2:30 p.m.
24 — UMKC, 12:30 p.m.
24 — Texas-Arlington, 5:30 p.m.
25 — UMKC, 10 a.m.
25 — Nicholls State, 3 p.m.
26 — Nicholls State, 9 a.m.
1 — Oklahoma, 5 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
Texas Tech Invitational
3 — North Texas, 1:30 p.m.
3 — Texas Tech, 6:30 p.m.
4 — UTEP, 10:30 a.m.
4 — North Texas, 1 p.m.
5 — UTEP, 10:30 a.m..
8 — at Oklahoma State, 5:30 p.m.
10 — Texas Tech, 3 p.m.
11 — California, 9 a.m.
11 — Montana, 1:30 p.m.
12 — Tulsa, 1:15 p.m.
16 —LSU, 5 p.m. (Cox 22)
18 — Drake, noon (DH) (ESPN3.com)
19 — Drake, 11 a.m. (ESPN3.com)
20 — Nebraska, 5 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
25 — Illinois State, noon (DH) (ESPN3.com)
26 — Illinois State, 11 a.m. (ESPN3.com)
29 — Missouri, 4 p.m. (DH) (ESPN3.com)
1 — at Loyola, noon (DH)
2 — at Loyola, 11 a.m.
6 — Tulsa, 6 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
8 — at Bradley, noon (DH)
9 — at Bradley, 11 a.m.
11 — at Kansas, 6 p.m.
14 — Indiana State, 3 p.m. (DH) (ESPN3.com)
15 — Indiana State, 11 a.m. (ESPN3.com)
19 — Missouri State, 3 p.m. (DH) (ESPN3.com)
22 — at Southern Illinois, noon (DH)
23 — at Southern Illinois, 11 a.m.
25 — at Missouri State, 5 p.m.
29 — at Northern Iowa, noon (DH)
30 — at Northern Iowa, 11 a.m.
6 — Evansville, noon (DH) (ESPN3.com)
7 — Evansville, 11 a.m. (ESPN3.com)
11-13 — MVC Tournament, Normal, Ill.