CHICKASHA – The game may be the same. The colors may be the same. The players may even be the same. But the USAO softball team will be different this season.
“I think we’ll see a different kind of Drover softball team,” Head Coach Jennifer White said. “These girls are going to be more aggressive. They know how to play the game. I think we’re going to be more competitive.”
The Drovers open the season on Wednesday at home against NCAA Division II Cameron University. The doubleheader at Bill Smith Ballpark is set to begin at 1 p.m.
In 2011, the Drovers made it to the Sooner Athletic Conference tournament playing with an almost entirely freshman infield. This season, the team consists of mostly sophomores and juniors, with just one player in her senior year.
But White said she expects the team’s younger age to be a benefit to the team.
“Watching the freshman now in their sophomore year, they are stronger and more mature,” White said. “I think it will work toward our advantage. I don’t think it will hurt us at all.”
While she has several players returning who will continue to start and play a major role on the team, two returners she is particularly excited to have back are All-Conference athletes Elizabeth Agpalo and Neesha Sorrell.
Agpalo was named First Team Utility last year after leading the team in batting average, runs, hits, RBI and home runs. She also was one of the team’s main pitchers, earning nine wins last season.
Sorrell was named Second Team Pitcher, ending the season with the lowest ERA with 1.98 and earning 16 wins. She threw 179 strikeouts in 170 innings. As a freshman last April, Sorrell also threw a perfect game against Bacone College.
In addition to the core from last season, White brought in six players who played at a junior college or another university and three players straight out of high school.
Taylor Smith, a sophomore from NCAA Division I Oklahoma State, will start at shortstop for the Drovers right away.
Playing outfield will be Chelsea Zuchnik from Seminole State Junior College and Katie Jirak from Northern Oklahoma College. Filling it at catcher will be Kristin Moyers, a junior out of North Central Texas College.
“It’s going to be a good year. It will be one of our best years in recent times as long as everyone stays healthy,” White said. “Overall, we’re going to be stronger everywhere than we were last year.”
White said the only possible weak spot she sees is behind the plate. She added that pitching might be rusty at first but would improve throughout the season.
The Drovers were picked tied for seventh in the Sooner Athletic Conference preseason polls, but seventh won’t be a comfortable place for White.
“Our major goal is conference tournament again this year,” White said. “Once we hit that, we’ll go to the next goal.”