ARTICLE BY: TONY VENEGAS | OA SPORTS
The Odessa College softball team endured plenty of growing pains last year. With just 15 players on the roster, including 12 freshmen, many of the Lady Wranglers underwent growth through experience.
Despite some early struggles, Odessa College put together a 31-22 overall record and reached 20 wins in Western Junior College Athletic Conference play. That was good enough to earn a spot in the NJCAA Region V tournament.
Fast forward to a year later and the hope now is to build off it and with nine returning players from last year, head coach Jeff Jackson sees his team entering the 2020 season with plenty of confidence.
"I think experience really is everything," Jackson said. "We get two years with our players and that one year really makes a world of difference. Our sophomore class really logged a lot of innings last year and I think they're a little bit older and wiser for that."
Another area that Jackson believes his team is stronger this year is depth. The Lady Wranglers enter the season opener with 24 players, which allows more flexibility in adjusting the lineups, particularly in the circle.
That can go a long way in determining how far Odessa College goes this season as Jackson saw first-hand at the Region V tournament last May.
"That's definitely where things caught up with us in the tournament," he said. "It was really our trend throughout the year. This year, we not only have the depth, but we have a variety from our five pitchers where no two are the same."
It's welcome news for sophomore pitcher Cori Turner, who at times was the team's only pitching option last season.
She went from a projected relief pitcher to winning 22 games in the circle and earning all-conference and all-region honors in the process.
"It was definitely a huge change," Turner said. "I went from being the closer and the spring comes around and I end up starting nearly every game. That itself was crazy, but at the same time helped me get 10 times better over the past year."
"I think we should be in better shape than last year," Turner said. "We have a whole staff and we're three-deep at almost every position. I think things are go to turn out better because of that."
The depth extends out from the circle, as well. Two all-American infielders, Becca Duran and Illy Cisneros, are back, along with Jade Laird, who saw time at second base last season. In the outfield, all-conference selection Kaitlyn Reinecke returns along with Kelsy Paris and Madison Zaccardo.
Like Turner, Zaccardo said that seeing extended playing time a year ago proved to be valuable and now is ready to take on more of a leadership role.
"We have a lot of people that stepped us as leaders for us last year," she said. "As a team that's older mixed with some new faces, I think it makes it easier for us to fix things we need to work on."
The sophomore from Lubbock is also focused on becoming a better hitter and adding more to a lineup that the team feels will be good again offensively.
"I've really focused on using a new stance and a different way of approaching the plate," she said. "I wasn't that proud of how the year ended with me hitting the ball and I'm excited to get going."
The Lady Wranglers start putting everything together this weekend with a doubleheader against Ranger College at 1 p.m. Saturday at Wranglers Field.
And as the start of a new season approaches, the confidence is high that the Lady Wranglers can not only make it back to the regional tournament, but even further than that.
"I think everybody is tired of just making the tournament," Jackson said. "Our ultimate goal is to go and compete for a national championship. I think we have the two recruiting classes now that are capable of doing that.
"At the same time, we have to focus on Saturday because you can't win a national championship if you don't focus on the here and now."