Softball opens season today

After losing various key pieces of the women’s softball team from graduation last year, head coach Amy Hayes said there are some big holes to fill in the 2017 lineup.

Despite the departures, Hayes said she believes the new-look, underclassmen-laden team is ready to take control of the reigns of the program.

“People know we lost a big class, and our current kids obviously respected those seniors a great deal and looked up to them,” Hayes said. “But they’re ready for their own moment.”

The Braves graduated multiple hitters who were stalwarts of their lineup, like Rachel Huggins and Kendall Duffy, leaving many others to believe the offense would be less potent, according to Hayes.

However, Hayes said she feels they won’t have to rebuild the offense, but simply reload it.

“Hitting is still going to be something that stands out for us in the [Missouri Valley Conference],” Hayes said. “[Hitting] coach [Benet] Higgs does an amazing job with them. In the time since she’s taken over, it’s just revamped the history of hitting for this program. I look for that to be our strong suit.”

Returning on offense are senior Kelly Kapp and junior Maria Schroeder, who were instrumental pieces to last year’s offense and will help anchor that unit this season.

Hayes said the obvious goal is to win the conference championship. Though many people outside the program may not believe in them, Hayes said there is a lot of belief and hope within the program.

“I think our pitching is stronger, and I think we’ve been a little underestimated and understandably so,” Hayes said. “I think we’re going to surprise some people. Our goal is to get into the top-four of the tournament and then win the whole thing and get one more championship under our belt.”

The women will have to wait nearly a month to begin pursuing that goal as the MVC season begins up in early March. In the meantime, Hayes said she will have a lot of time to learn what the true strengths and weaknesses of the team are during the non-conference schedule.

“What you have is what you have when you step out on [today],” Hayes said. “You only see so much when you scrimmage every day. There are probably more positives out there than I see on a daily basis when you see each other so much.”

Hayes said she will be strongly focused on pitching early on and especially in today’s doubleheader against Northern Colorado and Grand Canyon. She also said she still needs to figure out what roles her returning pitchers will fill, like senior Jaelen Hull, as well as which freshmen will see more time on the mound.

Bradley’s first five games will be played this weekend in the Grand Canyon Kickoff Tournament, starting at 1 p.m. today against Northern Colorado followed by a 6 p.m. game against Grand Canyon.