With seven returning players, including five starters back from last season's 41-16 team that advanced four games into the postseason, it's understandable that the Weatherford College Coyotes and their faithful are excited about this softball season.
"Our biggest strength is having several strengths. I don’t think we will have to rely on one specific aspect of the game to be successful," Head Coach Haylee Williams said. "I am very confident in our pitching staff, in our hitters, and our defense.
"I think we will be able to do a lot of different things offensively, and all of our pitchers bring something different to the circle, which is ideal in a staff. We have a lot of ways to make a lineup which is a luxury we haven’t always had."
Morgan Rackel (19-8, 2 saves, 3.19 ERA) is back as the only sophomore pitcher. The 2016 All-North Texas Junior College Athletic Conference selection and All-Star struck out 95 and walked 26 in 167 innings.
The top returning hitters include sophomore third baseman/pitcher Macie Perrin (2016 NTJCAC Player of the Year, All-Conference, All-star selection, .372 average, team-leading 65 RBI, team-best 20 stolen bases, team-best and conference-best 15 home runs), along with sophomore first baseman Maddison Hightower (All-Conference, team-best .424 average, 52 RBI, team-leading 16 doubles).
Other returning starters are sophomore All-Conference selections Aspen Grimes (.299 average, 19 RBI) in the infield and catcher Courtney Campbell (.315, 1 home run, 10 RBI). Top reserves back are sophomores Sierra Jackson at catcher and third baseman Kiana Burrel.
As for an intangible, Williams said the Coyotes are feisty.
"We have shown a lot of fight and the will to compete in everything we do," she said. "They want to be the best and expect a lot of themselves as individuals and as a team. We had a tough fall schedule and it didn’t matter to them who we were playing, they went out there and fought every pitch and plugged away through ups and downs, and we beat a lot of teams we 'shouldn’t have.'"
And, as always, the Coyotes are among the teams to beat in the always tough conference.
"This conference is always a dog fight. As always Temple and MCC (McLennan Community College) will be tough, and we expect them to be just as good if not better than last year," Williams said. "We know what to expect going into our conference season, and teams who finished toward the middle to the bottom of the pack last year have gotten better, which makes the overall schedule even tougher.
"I expect us to compete for the top spot. It's tough to do, but I know we have the kids to do it with. Last year the top three spots were separated by two games, that’s a tight margin and shows that every game is important."
Williams noted there are two big home weekends fans should circle on their calendars. On Feb. 10-11 they will host Cowley, Ranger and Northeast Texas in a round-robin format. On Feb. 17-18 is the Coyote Chillout, which will feature the Coyotes along with Howard, Navarro and Tyler.
"We will again have a tough pre-conference schedule, including our Coyote Chillout. We are playing a lot of teams that were nationally ranked last year and played in the national tournament," Williams said. "We will have our work cut out for us from our first game to our last, which should prepare us to make our way through the gauntlet of Region V North."