Photo by: Henoc Kivuye
The Lady Eagles softball team has been preparing for their long-awaited season and are finally ready to start tomorrow.
“We worked our butts off,” junior Krista Martony said. “We had 6 a.m. workouts three times a week, which were a mixture of a ton of sprints, running two to three miles in the freezing cold, lifting weights and a lot of ab work. We also swam once a week for about a month. On top of all that, we practiced every day either in the Barn or on the field, and we have just worked extremely hard and are ready to finally be on the field for season.”
The Lady Eagles will return all of their players except for ace pitcher Ashley Paxton, and graduates Kimberly Cusher, Davee Deaton, and Kayla Jennings. Deaton and Jennings were the home-run leaders and defensive rocks for the team, and Cusher was a standout pitcher.
This season the Lady Eagles have brought in one freshman and three transfers to add to their roster. Danielle Collins, a freshman from Parker, Colo., will add to the pitching staff for the Lady Eagles. Martha Thomas, a junior transfer from Western Oklahoma State Junior College in Altus, Okla., will serve as a huge part of the hitting lineup and is expected to be either an infielder or catcher. Lauren Pittman, a junior transfer from Connors State Junior College in Muskogee, Okla., will take over at first base and also be an intricate part of the hitting lineup for the Lady Eagles. The third transfer, junior Lauren Chatigny, from Cherry Valley, Calif., will play right field and hit as a slapper from the left side.
The team already has confidence about their ability to play well together.
“We have great leadership and team chemistry,” Martony said. “We all get along extremely well this year, and that kind of goes with our leadership. We have great captains who give the girls confidence in themselves and are always there when we need them.”
Along with a different conference and division, the Lady Eagles will also have to adjust to not having a home field to compete on this season. Their $4.2 million field is expected to be finished in May, and the indoor facility is scheduled to be ready in the fall of 2013. The Lady Eagles will play all of their home games at the Hall of Fame Field in Oklahoma City during the interim.
“I don’t think it will have much of an effect on the team,” junior Kala Ratliff said. “We would love to have a home field to play on, but I think we will be more concerned with our play on the field rather than where we play.”
According to the coaching staff, the switch from NAIA to Division II is also not going to distract the Lady Eagles.
“The Heartland Conference is definitely going to be competitive and challenging,” assistant coach Jessica Ruckman said. “St. Mary’s has won the national championship in the past and is known to always have a great softball team. The NAIA Sooner Athletic Conference has great teams and has always been challenging, though, so I don’t think moving to the Heartland Conference will be much of a shock for our players.”
Along with Oklahoma Christian, many of the SAC teams are in the process of moving up as well.
The Lady Eagles will kick off their season tomorrow with a game against Southwestern Christian University in Bethany, Okla. On Monday, the Lady Eagles will match up against Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford, Okla.
“We have not played Southwestern Christian in the past, but I think it will be a great start for our team and hopefully an opportunity for all our players to get some playing time,” Ruckman said. “SWOSU has always been competitive in the past, and we are looking forward to playing our first two doubleheaders of the season.”
The first two away games will be close to home in comparison to most locations that the Lady Eagles will travel to. With the switch in conference and division, the team will travel more often and farther than in previous seasons.
“Traveling will be hard to get used to, especially in the academic aspect of it all,” Martony said. “But as long as we keep up with schoolwork, I think we will be fine.”
Head coach Tom Heath, the creator of the softball program and the person for whom the new field is named, has kept a successful program alive for years. His assistants, Steve Gault, Jessica Ruckman and Rachel Seat also play vital roles in preparing the team for their season.
Heath runs practices and is the main decision maker for the team.
“Coach Heath is a great person,” Ratliff said. “He is always there for us when we need anything, inside and outside of softball.”
Coach Gault, the pitching coach, puts his main focus on the four pitchers the Lady Eagles currently have. Ruckman, an outfield specialist, deals mostly with helping out in practice and keeping up with all organizational duties. Seat, the team’s physical trainer, prepares the team with rigorous workouts to guarantee their readiness for an intense season.
“Our coaching staff has been around since the beginning of the program, so we are very blessed that they are still coaching today,” Martony said. “They are all wonderful people who would do anything for anyone on our team. They put us and our needs first, and they each take the time to teach us all that they know about softball.”
The Lady Eagles’ main goals for the season include a top-three finish in the Heartland Conference, qualifying for the NCCAA national tournament and keeping a team GPA of 3.0 and above in the classroom.