CHICKASHA –Head Coach Jadyn Wallis says this year’s Drovers are a perfect combination of young talent and returning veterans, the second-year coach is hopeful for the 2014 softball season’s potential at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.
“Overall, we’re going to be solid. I’m excited about this year; I really am,” she said. “We are going to have youth so we will have a lot of those youthful mistakes but those are the ones you learn from.”
Finishing the 2013 season with an even 26-26 record, Wallis said one of her goals for the season was to have her team build on previous years and continue to improve the program.
Wallis has six returners, some of whom have played together at USAO for four years. To round out her team, she and Assistant Coach Ken Richardson found seven freshmen and three junior college transfers.
“It looks good,” she said. “My goals for the season are for them to really mold together … Just competing every single game and just getting better every game.”
Returning for their senior seasons are four-year starters Brooke McLeod, Sara Reeves and Skyler Nichols as well as shortstop Taylor Smith, who is in her third year as a Drover. Additionally, catcher Kayla Adams and outfielder Hannah Neill, both juniors, are back for another season at USAO.
McLeod was one of the team’s two pitchers last season and is a solid hitter who has scored 37 runs and batted in an additional 31 in her career. She’s a utility player and Wallis said she expects McLeod to see some time at second and third as well as in the circle.
“My first baseman Sara Reeves is returning. She is huge, huge at first base. She’s solid,” Wallis said. “(Second baseman) Skyler Nichols is coming back from an ACL tear. She’ll be a huge asset this year, also.”
Kayla Adams, who missed just one game in 2013, spends the majority of her time either on or behind the plate. Adams led the team in RBIs with 40 and homeruns with seven in her sophomore year.
“She was a big stick for us last year, too,” Wallis said.
One of USAO’s struggles last season was that the Drovers only had two pitchers — both of whom specialized in relief.
Wallis brought in freshmen Tate Landmark and Jaci Booker to add to the battery. Both pitchers were named All-State in high school.
Murray State transfers Sevie Carel and Courtney Capps are two other players Wallis pointed out as ones who will power the lineup and help out defensively.
“Also, we’ve got an array of outfields. Speed, speed, speed. That is one thing you will see out of the Drovers this year — speed — on the base path and in the outfield,” Wallis said. “Dani Warren will be at third base. She’s going to be one of our key players. She’s aggressive.”
The always-tough SAC has undergone some changes in the last few years. Starting this season, four teams — Northwood, Southwestern Assemblies of God, Southwestern Christian and Texas Wesleyan — have joined the conference.
“Honestly, it hasn’t changed the makeup much because it’s still going to be tough. We are still in the Sooner Athletic Conference, and we’re still going to be tough,” Wallis said of the conference. “Do I think we are going to compete better this year? Absolutely. But as far as changing the strength, I don't think it’s changed it at all.”
USAO starts the season tied for fourth with Northwood in the SAC Preseason Coaches poll, a position she is pleased with to start the season.
“Actually, I feel really good about it because it’s going to challenge us,” she said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we can work our way up to the front of that but that gives us a good starting off point … then we can come in and just show with our talent.”
In addition to playing teams less familiar, three of USAO’s regular conference foes are ranked in the NAIA Top 25 Preseason Coaches Poll. Oklahoma City, a team expected to finish first in the SAC, is third in the NAIA, while (T15) Oklahoma Baptist and (19) Saint Gregory’s add to the conference’s strength.
USAO will be offering free live stream broadcasts of the majority of the home games this year. Games will stream in real time along with live stats, a convenience USAO added in 2010.
“It’s going to help a lot because we play at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. early in the season and a lot of parents are still at work. That’s going to allow them to be able to watch their kid play, so that’s going to be nice,” Wallis said. “And it’s going to help me also learn what I need to work on defensively and offensively.”
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The Drovers were originally supposed to open the season at home against Langston University on Feb. 12, but those games were moved to the following week after Chickasha’s winter storms.
USAO instead opens the season on the road at the Cowtown Classic in Fort Worth, Texas. The Drovers have five games scheduled on Friday and Saturday in the tournament. They will return to campus for their home opener against Langston at 1 p.m. on Feb. 19.