COLUMBIA — For senior Missouri softball player Gina Schneider, knowing what position she will play at the beginning of the season is like throwing a dart at a target blindfolded.
She does not know where she will end up.
The Missouri softball team opened its season by splitting a Saturday doubleheader against Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
No. 9 Missouri won Game 1 with a two-out seventh-inning home run from freshman Nicole Hudson that gave the Tigers a 2-1 victory.Sophomore Chelsea Thomas was the winning pitcher, striking out 11 and giving up just two hits in a complete game effort.
No. 2 Alabama cruised to a 9-0 win in five innings in Game 2. The Crimson Tide scored six runs in the bottom of the first inning and added three more in the bottom of the fourth.
The teams will meet again Sunday with first pitch scheduled for 12 noon.
"It's not bad, I never really got comfortable at one spot," Schneider said. "I am fine with whatever position they put me at. As long as I play, and it helps the team I am happy with it."
Some may remember Schneider from her winning home run in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the NCAA Super Regional series against UCLA last season that propelled the Tigers to the program's fourth Women's College World Series appearance. But another thing that stands out about Schneider is her ability to play multiple positions. Schneider is a utility player for the Tigers, and playing multiple positions on the field is something she has become accustomed to.
This season Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine will have Schneider move to the opposite side of the softball field. Last season she played shortstop, left field, and third base. This season she will play in right field and second base for the Tigers.
"Gina will do anything for the team, and I admire her for that," Earleywine said. "She could have easily gotten frustrated, and told me that I was moving her around too much. But when I told her that she would be playing on the other side she didn't flinch."
Schneider said her transition to right field and second base has been smooth so far in practices. She credits watching last year's second baseman Andee Allen play. She said that third base was her favorite position to play, and admitted that the move was a little disappointing at first.
"I played a little bit of second base in high school, and I have gotten used to it again," Schneider said. "It will still be a new learning experience."
Earleywine said he has had a few players in his coaching career that have been able to play multiple positions, and it is not easy to transition from one position to another. He credited Schneider's throwing ability and her vast knowledge of the infield and outfield as the reason why she is able to play multiple positions.
Over her four seasons playing at Missouri, Schneider made it a point to study all positions, including positions she did not play much, like catcher and first base. Last season, Schneider said she would run around to every position in practices and field softballs.
"I would move to wherever I felt I needed to work on for the day," Schneider said. "I just wanted to know all the jobs of a softball player, and just wanted to know the game better."
Schneider is not only known for her ability to play multiple positions but the serious demeanor she brings with her on the field. When she listened to Earleywine explaining how to play certain positions during practice on Thursday night, she had the face of a poker player. Her face was expressionless and she was listening attentively.
"There are three words that describe Gina — focused, passionate and competitive," Earleywine said. "Off the field she has a great sense of humor and is a practical joker. But when she is on the field, she is all business."
Schneider is a soft-spoken player and she admits she is not the most vocal player on the team. She often meets up with seniors Michaele Vock and Jana Hainey when a problem on the team needs to be addressed. But she says she speaks up sometimes when the other seniors don't, and she referred to herself as the "meaner" of the three seniors.
"Some of the younger kids don't know what it is like to be pushed, and sometimes they need to take things more seriously" Schneider said. "Sometimes I have to be tough. I make sure they study the plays and signs to help them get where we need to be. We just have to make sure we are all on the same page. We have a tradition, we are known as one of the hardest working teams in the country, and they need to know that."
After her sophomore year, when she received limited playing time, Schneider had a breakthrough season. She had a .321 batting average last season, and she had the second-most home runs on the team with eight. And this year, Earleywine said he expects more of the same out of the senior.
"She has a great understanding of softball and the system we run here," Earleywine said. "She had a frustrating sophomore year, but she persevered and had a tremendous junior year."
Earleywine said she could potentially play another position besides right field and second base should two or three other players get hurt. Perhaps she could even end up pitching, a position she is completely unfamiliar with.
"No I don't think I could be a pitcher," Schneider said, chuckling. "Pitching is something that takes a lot of practice, it's a position you would have to have played for a long time to play at this level."