WICHITA, Kan. - The Wichita State softball team begins their 2013 season with a pair of games Fri., Feb. 8 in Monroe, La. at the Mardi Gras Classic. Up first is Big West Conference member UC-Santa Barbara at 9 a.m. followed by a matchup with Grambling State at 1:15 p.m.
The three-day tournament hosted by the University of Louisiana at Monroe will give second-year head coach Kristi Bredbenner a chance to gauge the 2013 version of her program. Coach Bredbenner returns six starters and welcomes eight new faces to what should be a more versatile group than the one Shocker fans saw in 2012. Each game from the tournament will be webcast live here.
Wichita State graduated three seniors from the 2012 roster: Holly Eckert, Hilary Fort, and Brittney Osborn, while first baseman Sammie Shook and second-team all-MVC outfielders Sydney Stuever and Rachel Milnark are no longer with the team.
Coach Bredbenner will rely on seniors Katie Armagost, Danika Miller, and Hayley Temple as well as a host of experienced returners, impact transfers, and three freshmen to exceed the eighth place prediction bestowed upon them by league coaches in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll.
A large key to how the season unfolds will be the development of a pitching staff that admittedly struggled at times in 2012, but has been one of the points of optimism for 2013 following strong summer and fall performances from Armagost and junior Sloan Anderson. Freshman Hunter Stohlmeyer out of Ames, Iowa has been added to the rotation and, "brings a little bit of a different look," according to Bredbenner. "She's more of an up-down, good changeup (pitcher) and she's got a great dropball."
In the field expect to see a constant presence from seniors Temple and Miller at second base and left field, respectively. Erin Carney, the team's leading returner in most hitting categories has been slotted in at first base throughout the spring and sophomore Melanie Jaegers returns behind the plate.
Jaegers drew high praise from Bredbenner; "I think she's probably the best catcher in The Valley. She just guns people out and has got a great arm. She has matured so much with her presence behind the plate."
Along with Carney, Jaegers, and Temple the infield gets an added boost from the additions of transfers Ali Vandever (Oklahoma) and Megan McCracken (Kent State) as well as the return of Laura Vickers (redshirt in 2012). Vandever transferred from the University of Oklahoma where she played in the past two Women's College World Series including a runner-up finish in 2012. Freshman Paige Mason is also in the mix for playing time at both second and third base.
Miller will be joined in the outfield by sophomore Layne Greenlee, who has made a full transition from second base to the outfield, and a host of others including sophomore's Brianne Bond and Kaitlyn Carey and freshman Brittany Fortner.
The 2013 schedule features games against 2012 WCWS championship game participants Alabama (Feb. 16 in Ft. Myers, Fla.) and Oklahoma (Mar. 6 doubleheader in Wichita) as well as BCS Conference members Mississippi State, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, and Kansas. Following the opening weekend tournament the Shockers will travel to the Florida Gulf Coast Spring Tournament (Feb. 15-17 in Ft. Myers, Fla.), the Blues City Classic (Feb. 22-24 in Southaven, Miss), and the Coastal Carolina Tournament (Mar. 1-3 in Conway, S.C.).
The yearly rotation of conference opponents has the Shockers hosting Indiana State, Evansville, Missouri State, Illinois State, and Drake. Wichita State will travel to Bradley, Northern Iowa, Missouri State, and Creighton to round out MVC play.
The MVC Tournament will be held in Omaha, Neb. beginning Thu., May 9.