On paper, it might seem as though the Weatherford College Coyotes lost a lot from their baseball team last season.
But Coach Jeff Lightfoot appears confident his team can make a fifth consecutive trip to the postseason.
"We prepared and played well this fall," he said. "I felt like we learned how to go about playing the game with a championship style."
It’s not as though the cupboard is bare, however. Three returning starters lead the charge from last season’s 33-25 squad that advanced to the regional tournament.
Former Weatherford Kangaroo Trooper Reynolds hit .289 a year ago with four home runs for the Coyotes. He was tied for seventh in the North Texas Junior College Athletic Conference with 45 runs batted in.
Shortstop Paxton Delagarza’s 13 doubles tied for ninth in the league. He also hit .276 and drove in 35 runs.
Also, Shane Crawford returns at first base.
Top new recruits include sophomore right-handed pitcher T.J. Antone, freshman outfielder/right-handed pitcher Scottland Church, freshman outfielder Zach Michener, freshman right-handed pitcher Cameron Vige and sophomore right-handed pitcher Keaton Hernandez.
"And several others," Lightfoot added, noting confidence in his new finds.
Pitching has consistently been a strong suit during Lightfoot’s tenure of more than a decade at the helm of the program. It should be so again this season, he said, despite having numerous new faces.
"I feel like we are deep on the mound," Lightfoot said.
"We should be more balanced offensively. I think we are a tough team with good work habits. I feel like we will show up on game day."
Last season the Coyotes posted a team batting of .278, seventh in the conference. Their ERA of 4.47 was also seventh.
The Coyotes are seeking their first NJCAA World Series berth, but coming from their conference and region makes getting there much tougher than for most. It won’t change this season, meaning the road to the World Series will again likely be the most challenging in America for teams in this part of the country.
"As always, a very tough conference," Lightfoot said.
"Grayson and Cisco will be very good again, and Temple is always very tough. However, from top to bottom it is the best conference in the country.
"The region is very good as well. New Mexico, Howard and Midland are expected to be among the best in the country.
"You will have to be good to get in the top four in the conference (to qualify for regionals). The winner of our regional should have a chance to compete in the national tournament."
One thing Lightfoot said always helps is good ol’ support from the home folks.
"We need our community support," he said. "Good energetic crowds equal home field advantage."
It’s hard to imagine a better season than the breakout year the Weatherford College Coyotes softball team had in 2013.
But there is room for improvement, said Coach Haylee Williams.
Sure, the team finished 53-8 and advanced to the JUCO World Series in St. George, Utah.
But there is still a title to be won, and Williams believes she has the team that can do just that this season.
Three starters return from the powerhouse squad, but they are three sophomores who form a very solid foundation.
Pitcher Bailee Wortham posted a 20-4 record (third in the North Texas Junior College Athletic Conference) last season. Her 1.67 ERA was second in the league, and her 111 strikeouts in 138.2 innings ranked third. She also walked just 38 batters.
Oh, and when she wasn’t pitching, she was batting .300.
Third baseman Marissa Pereya hit .277 with 23 runs batted in. Center fielder Molly Holliday had a .350 average and stole 11 bases.
As for top new recruits, Williams noted freshmen Randi May, pitcher; Lauren Gunter, catcher; Cierra Davis, catcher; Jenny Freeman, shortstop; along with sophomores Randi Cookus, second base; Carlie Jenkins, first base; and Aundria Zuniga-Romero, pitcher/first base/designated hitter.
"I would have to say our pitching depth and overall athleticism," Williams said when asked the team’s greatest strength. "We have numerous kids who can play multiple positions. Our infield is one of the best athletically that I have ever seen. We play hard, practice, and are very coachable. We can hit the ball to all fields with authority, which helps too.
"I think our kids are committed to being their best every day, which is all I can ask of them."
And that began in the fall.
"The fall season was a great learning experience for the girls because we are so young and have a lot of new kids," Williams said. "We played an extremely tough schedule against a lot of (NCAA) Division I schools, including Texas Tech.
"We found out a lot about our pitching staff, which seems very deep. We are extremely athletic all the way around the diamond. We have good team speed, and we can scatter the ball around the park with potential for some power numbers.
"We grew as a cohesive group, which was important."
As is the case with baseball, the NTJCAC is a softball power conference, along with the Texas-New Mexico region (Region V).
"I think our conference will be pretty tough this year," Williams said. "I saw some teams play and they looked well-rounded, and I know other schools signed some good kids.
"I think it is going to be a fight to the very end like last year."