COLUMBIA — At the start of the 2007 season, first-year Missouri softball head coach Ehren Earleywine and his two new assistants were picked to finish a modest eighth in the Big 12.
“There was a transition period,” said assistant coach Melissa Tucci. “We definitely hit the ground running when we came in last year. The team was very understanding with that.”
The team was also surprisingly successful. After coming within one victory of clinching the regular season conference championship, its season ended one victory short of an NCAA Regional Championship.
This year it is the roster that has changed. On Saturday, when the team held its annual Black and Gold intrasquad game, exactly half of the team’s 20 members were new to the program. Eight freshmen and two junior transfers took the makeshift field inside Dan Devine Pavilion.
“It’s good,” Tucci said of the team’s youth. “It brings a lot of young energy and intensity into it, but at the same time it’s been a tough job for our older players to be able to communicate with them and learn each other’s game,” she said.
Senior pitcher Jen Bruck, who allowed just two hits in seven scoreless innings on Saturday, said learning to communicate was the most important part of the scrimmage.
“It was definitely a good learning environment for our conversation on the field,” she said. “Working with the people you’re going to be playing with is important. You get to know each other, and get to know how each other is going to play.”
Despite the team’s youth, expectations have risen in Earleywine’s second season. Picked to finish fourth in the Big 12by the league’s coaches, MU is also ranked in two national preseason polls.
The ESPN.com/USA Softball poll ranks the Tigers 21st heading into the season while the USA Today/NFCA preseason top 25 ranks MU 25th.
Maryland transfer Lindsey Ubrun, who made a positive impression early by doubling in two runs in the first inning, was not satisfied with the predictions, all of which rank MU below where it finished last season.
“I think the rankings have kind of put us below where I think we deserve. I think people underestimate because we have so many new people, but we still have the old people coming back,” she said.
In addition to Bruck, fellow All-Big 12 selection Amanda Renth returns to the team along with Big 12 Freshman of the Year Julie Silver.
The Tigers’ season will begin Friday at the Florida International Invitational in Miami, and its first home game will be Feb. 20 against UMKC.