When the Crowder Lady ‘Riders step on the diamond Thursday to kick off the 2013 softball season, they’ll carry with them a chip on their shoulder that is likely to be there all season.
A year after going 44-18, securing Region 16 and NJCAA Division I District K titles, and seeing action in the NJCAA Division I National Championship in St. George, Utah, the Lady ‘Riders don’t feel like their getting the attention they deserve. After going 0-2 and bouncing out the National Championship Tournament, the Lady ‘Riders, who finished last season ranked No. 13, open this season ranked outside the top 20 in the NJCAA Top 20 poll.
Ranked ahead of them are teams Crowder beat last season, such as No. 6 Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and No. 18 Iowa Western — all despite returning most of the same lineup that got the Lady ‘Riders to Utah last season.
“Our expectations are set pretty high for this year,” Crowder coach Lori Videmschek said. “Our sophomores really wanted to finish better than they did last year, and I think that left a bad taste in their mouths. We would like to go back to the national tournament and at least win a game this time. We want to win region, win our district, and go back there and prove everybody a little bit wrong for overlooking us.”
Videmschek said that while her team deserves the respect of the national voters, they aren’t likely to get it until they return to the national tournament and prove to voters that they’re legit.
“Earning that respect nationally is hard,” she said. “To do that you’ve got to go back, and back, and back to the national tournament to get it, and the only way to do that is to win.”
Winning is something the Lady ‘Riders should grow accustomed to again this season. It won’t be easy though, as they’ll be facing some of the toughest competition in the nation in their first 15 games of the season.
After opening on the road at Northern Oklahoma-Tonkawa with two games at 2 p.m. Thursday, the Lady ‘Riders come home for the weekend where they’ll see No. 14 Lake Land and Rose College at the Crowder Spring Festival on Saturday and Sunday.
They’ll then hit the road for the Temple Tournament in Temple, Tex., where they’ll see No. 15 Navarro College, No. 12 Temple, and No. 7 Howard. That puts Crowder on pace to play 11 of its first 15 games against ranked opponents.
That’s no easy task, but Videmschek thinks it will pay off in the long run.
“We’re really going to see what we’re made of in February,” Videmschek said. “I tell our kids all the time that we’re playing for April and a chance to go back to the national tournament.”
Page 2 of 2 - Defensively, the Lady ‘Riders will have new blood in the pitchers circle, as freshmen hurlers Madison Barnes (Farmington, Ark.), Allison Tonyan (Columbia, Mo.) and Ashton Worth (Marshfield, Mo.) will anchor the staff this season. Worth will be joined by high school batterymate, and fellow freshman, Alexis Navarro, who will split time with another incoming freshman, Payton Appleberry, behind the dish.
“It’s going to depend how well we throw in the circle,” Videmschek said. “That’s what it’s going to come down to is what we do in the circle. All three of those kids pitch differently.
“We’re really not a power pitching staff,” she added. “We’re able to mix up speeds a little bit and hit our spots. Our defense will definitely need to be able to step up for us and play well.”
Alongside the aforementioned freshmen backstops, Crowder’s defense will have plenty of experience in the outfield as it returns all three starters in first-team All-American Jessica Neely (center field), Shelby Stuck (left field) and Kala Crisp (right field). They’ll be joined by experience on the infield, where third-team All-American third baseman Carson Forge (Hallsville, Mo.) anchors the hot corner, along with Neosho native Brooke Hulsey at first, Morgan Coleman (Webb City) at second and freshman Shyanne Nichols (Gravette, Ark.) at shortstop.
After hitting .360 as a team last season, the Lady ‘Riders should do damage at the plate where Neely will be leading off, followed by Stuck, Forge, Hulsey, Coleman, Appleberry, Crisp, Navarro, and Nichols with Barnes starting on the mound on opening day. Always a threat on the bases, Neely swiped 52 bags last season.
“Our whole offense is coming back,” Videmschek said. “Morgan Coleman and Brooke Hulsey gives us a lot of power in our lineup. When you look at everything, we’re pretty excited about the season. We’ve been going now for three weeks, and we look good in practice and are doing some things well. We’ve just got to get some games under our belts.”