COLUMBIA — When the Missouri softball team was preparing for its first series this season against Alabama, naturally nerves began to set in for some of the players, especially some of the freshmen.
Junior catcher Megan Christopher said she remembered the feeling from her first game as a Tiger and quickly and delivered a message to the team.
No. 6 Missouri (2-1) vs. No. 2 Arizona (6-0)
WHEN: Game 1 at 1 p.m., Game 2 at 3:30 p.m.
WHERE: Hillenbrand Stadium in Tuscon, Ariz.
SERIES: Arizona leads 9-1, Arizona won the last meeting 8-7 in Tuscon, Ariz. in 2007. The only MU victory dates back to 1984 when they won 1-0.
"She just told them that her and the older players have been in the big games, and she just told them to feed off her and the older players," Missouri head coach Ehren Earleywine said. "She just told them to trust the process. I think that was a very wise statement to make."
"I was actually a little nervous before the game," Christopher said. "I just tried to get everyone to relax."
Christopher has emerged as one of the vocal leaders for the Tigers, and she has served as a calming force.
"Megan is like the quarterback of our team," Tigers assistant coach Pete D'Amour said. "She is good at calling out the plays, and she knows what bases to throw to.'
Like any good catcher, Christopher tries to sooth the team's pitchers when things are not going well. Anytime she senses the pitcher is rattled, she does not hesitate to call timeout and help the pitcher settle down. MU pitcher Chelsea Thomas and Christopher played together last season, and Thomas said there has been many times where Christopher helped her settle down when she was out-of-sync.
"She (Christopher) is great, she is always positive and knows what plays need to be made," Thomas said. "When there is a runner on base, she just tells me it's not a big deal. She always has something positive to say, she helps me get out of the inning."
Earleywine said her upbeat, cheery attitude is what has made Christopher one of the vocal leaders on the team.
"She is in a position now where she is one of the first people the younger players listen to," Earleywine said. "She just has the experience, and she has been in the big games. She is always under control and shows poise in every game."
Before this season, staying calm was a challenge for Christopher.
Her freshman year, she played on a partial scholarship. Earleywine said she was initially a "project," and was not guaranteed to make the team. He said she was nervous and fidgety, like most freshmen coming into their first year on a college team. At first, he did not know if she was ready to play at the collegiate level, but she began to grow comfortable to the system, and she ended up starting 14 games her freshman year.
"I was just too anxious and nervous," Christopher said. "I am definitely more confident now than I was before, I just try to be calm."
Last year, she emerged as one of the best players on the team. She hit eight home runs, had 27 RBIs and scored 15 runs. She also led the team with 263 putouts. Her performance earned her All-Big 12 Second Team honors.
"She is arguably the best defensive catcher in the Big 12," Earleywine said.
Her success from last year also carried over to the series against Alabama last weekend. She was 4-for-8 with four RBIs. Even with her success, Earleywine said she still needs to work on being consistent on offense.
"She (Christopher) just needs to work on making contact with the ball," Earleywine said. "But there are times where she is on fire, and she will go two or three weeks where it seems impossible for a team to get her out."
In the Tigers' last game with Alabama, Christopher fouled a ball off her chin which temporarily knocked her out, and ended up with a concussion. She practiced some on Thursday night, and Earleywine said she is probable for Saturday's game against Arizona.
"I know I have this bruise on my chin, but I want to play," Christopher said. "I took a few swings in practice, so I think I will be ready to go."