By Chandler Harris, Assistant Sports Editor
The Wildcat softball season will begin Thursday at the St. Mary’s Tournament in San Antonio. The team will play five games in three days against Rollins, Texas A&M-International, Washburn, Cameron and Midwestern State.
The team looks to build on a solid 2008 season in which it finished 34-17 and advanced to the NCAA Division II Regional Tournament.
“Last season, we went through some ups and downs but ended with three come-from-behind wins in the conference tournament, before the regional tournament,” said head coach Chantiel Wilson. “The returnees have really stressed about how important it is to stay level all season and not get too down or too up. We want to maintain that same level all season.”
The Wildcats are returning multiple starters, including the 2008 NCAA Division II Catcher of the Year, senior Jessica Shiery. Shiery also was named to the NCAA Division II first team all-America. Shiery hit .440 with 12 home runs and a team-high 44 RBI.
“Jessica was really key for us in the No. 3 spot of our lineup,” Wilson said. “We are returning two pitchers who were freshmen last year, Jacque Gregoire and Kim White. They both have had a solid fall and look to do the same this spring.”
Last season, Gregoire went 7-5 with a 3.46 ERA, while White posted a 10-6 record and a 4.36 ERA.
The team returns all four infielders from last year, including its two middle infielders, seniors Jackie Gentile and Melissa Rodriguez. They turned 11 double plays together in 2008. Gentile earned second team all-LSC South Division honors, and Rodriguez was named to both the LSC and NCAA regional all-tournament teams.
“As far as expectations, we are like every other team that wants to win its conference and region and get to nationals,” Wilson said. “But we just want to play our best every day and put together a strong seven innings every day.”
The Wildcats will begin this season playing in three consecutive weekend tournaments. Following the St. Mary’s Tournament, the team returns home to host the CBS Insurance Classic at Wells Field Feb. 12-14. The following weekend, the team travels to Durant, Okla., for the South Central Shootout.
“Compared to these tournaments, conference series are a lot more emotionally draining,” Wilson said. “The tournaments get them prepared where they have to win every inning instead of looking at the next game. We get to play five games in a weekend and see what is working and what is not before conference starts.”
The Wildcats will begin conference play on Feb. 27 against West Texas A&M.