Despite having only a few short weeks of preparation together, new Crowder interim head coach John Sisemore says he’s expecting a lot out of his talented Lady ‘Riders squad this season, and that they’ll be ready to go when they open their season on Saturday.

Despite having only a few short weeks of preparation together, new Crowder interim head coach John Sisemore says he’s expecting a lot out of his talented Lady ‘Riders squad this season, and that they’ll be ready to go when they open their season on Saturday.

Sisemore, who knows a thing or two about talent having been an assistant at the University of Arkansas and after coaching numerous Gatorade Player of the Year winners, says he feels the Lady ‘Riders could compete for a Region 16 title and hopes to take them as far as the National Tournament in St. George, Utah, this season.

Those might sound like lofty expectations, but Sisemore sees a team oozing with potential both in the field and inside the circle. There’s no questioning that Crowder’s softball progam has been a successful one — they went 38-18 overall last season under coach Lori Videmschek. Sisemore says they can add to that tradition with another strong campaign in 2014.

What the Lady ‘Riders shouldn’t have to worry about this year is pitching. Barring injuries, they’ll be covered in the circle with holdover Allison Tonyan (Columbia, Mo.) as well as freshman Brooklynne Simbeck (Grain Valley, Mo.).

“They’re our two main pitchers and either one can be a starter,” Sisemore said. “They’re both highly talented and both are going to play at the next level. One of them has already signed to play at the next level, (Simbeck) is going to play at the next level and they’re both very capable. One has better attributes at one thing than the other, and they compliment each other very, very well.”

Sisemore says both pitchers are likely to see plenty of action on the mound, and that the opposing lineup could very well dictate which pitcher he decides to start. According to the coach, Simbeck throws an above average rise ball as well as an above average changeup, while Tonyan has both an above average drop ball and change.

“Depending on the makeup of the team that we face, that’s probably going to decide who is going to pitch for us,” Sisemore said. “We’re excited about our staff in the circle.”

If the batteries work out, Simbeck could find herself throwing to another Grain Valley native in sophomore catcher Sydney Fry who, along with freshman catcher Theresa Collins (Broken Arrow, Okla.), should help create a formidable tandem behind the dish, as well.

“We’ve got two very good young catchers that we’re very excited about,” Sisemore said. “We’re excited about our staff in the circle and the staff behind the dish. With those four young ladies we think we have an opportunity, no matter who we play or when we play, to be successful.”

Now that the positions that are a little more known are sorted out, the remainder of the lineup is still in somewhat of a holding pattern. The Lady ‘Riders open their season at noon Saturday at home with a doubleheader against Land Lake Community College and Northern Oklahoma. The starting lineups for those games are likely only to be determined within hours of the first game, according to Sisemore, as he and his staff continue to sift through the possibilities.

The team only carries six sophomores, as Brittany Wagnon (IF, Pryor, Okla.), Payton Appleberry (OF, Republic, Mo.), Joni Hanke (IF, Longview, Mo.), Fry and Andrea Drake (IF, Columbia, Mo.) are the upperclassmen in 2014. Newcomers include Simbeck, Blake Andres (IF, Arlington, Tenn.), Mackenzie Pritchett (IF, Nevada, Mo.), Kelbie Brown (OF, Prairie Grove, Ark.), Kelsey Baker (OF, Cassville, Mo.), Rachael Michaelis (IF/OF, Republic, Mo.), Payton Widener (IF/OF, Farmington, Ark.), Hailey White (IF, Pryor, Okla.), Collins, Courtney Folk (IF, Grain Valley, Mo.) and Emily Speakman (IF, Cassville, Mo.).

“We’ve got a great pitching staff and some good foundation to build on,” Sisemore said. “We’ve got a few holes that we’re going to have to work and fill in, but I think that we’re going to have a successful season. I look for us to probably contend for a district championship. I believe that we’re strong enough to compete for a district championship in our region. I think that if our pitchers stay healthy and if we keep progressing the way that we’ve progressed the last three or four weeks, I think we’ve got a shot at getting to nationals this year. I’m pretty excited about it."

Sisemore said he’s lucky to have such a hardworking group, and that the teams determination has helped make the transition much easier.

“The girls have made a tremendous amount of adjustments,” Sisemore said. “They’ve worked really hard. We have thrown a lot at them the last four or five weeks. We do 6 a.m. workouts and workout again in the afternoon, and not one of them has bawled a bit. They’re going the extra mile knowing that this is a strong group of kids and there is a possibility that they could go a long way.

“They’re taking everything we’re throwing at them and they’re absorbing it and going with it. It’s a very exciting time. It’s a great opportunity for me to be able to come in and work with such great young ladies. They’ve all been very receptive, very responsive and they’ve been tremendous to work with.”

Fans wanting to catch a glimpse of the Lady ‘Riders will have plenty of opportunities to do so this weekend, as they’re scheduled to play on Saturday against Lake Land at noon and Northern Oklahoma at 4 p.m. They’ll follow that by taking on Lake Land in a doubleheader on Sunday, beginning at 10 a.m.

Crowder then hits the road the following Thursday for a game at Carl Albert in Poteau, Okla, before traveling to the Temple Tournament in Temple, Tex., next weekend. They’ll then return for a stretch in which they play eight of their next 11 dates at home. They’ll host the annual Crowder Bash Tournament on March 15-16 in Joplin.