Missouri softball team's seniors balance Big 12 title chase with graduation

Wednesday, May 11, 2011 | 7:26 p.m. CDT; updated 8:07 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 11, 2011

COLUMBIA — This week, most seniors at MU are worried about finishing their final exams before friends and family flood into Columbia to celebrate graduation. The seniors on Missouri's softball team, though, are worried about winning a conference title.

Missouri needs to sweep its final three games in order to have a shot at winning the Big 12. And while Lisa Simmons has to play Iowa State on Saturday afternoon and then graduate in the evening, she was clear which is more important to her.

“My No. 1 priority is the softball game,” Simmons said. “I know I shouldn’t say that because we’re supposed to be student-athletes first, but we’re trying to win a conference title here, so that’s where my focus is.”

Simmons is one of nine seniors on this year’s softball team, and one of a handful who will be in a graduation ceremony this weekend. Simmons is graduating from the College of Arts and Sciences, so she will be rushing over to Hearnes Center for the 7:30 p.m. ceremony after the Tigers' 2 p.m. game Saturday.

Abby Vock is walking in the honors graduation at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday. She said she usually gets up early, so the ceremony won’t affect her day. Still, Vock would rather have to worry only about softball.

“Honestly, I didn’t really want to go (to graduation) because I want to focus on the game,” Vock said. “My adviser told me I had to go to get the medal thing, so that’s why I’m going.”

Hosting the last series of the season on the same weekend as graduation has been challenging, but even getting to that point has been difficult. The team's game schedule hasn't always matched the players' exam schedule.

Because their game on May 1 at Oklahoma State was rained out, the Tigers had to reschedule before the end of the season, leaving them only this week to drive down to Stillwater, Okla., to make up the game.

Missouri and Oklahoma State originally scheduled the makeup game for Wednesday, but with rain in the forecast, the teams agreed to move it back a day to Thursday. The constant schedule changes have been a little stressful for some of the players.

“Chelsea had all of her finals on Wednesday and got them switched to Thursday so she wouldn’t have to worry about them. Now, she had to switch them back,” Simmons said. “So I think it’s been stressful for a couple people. Not so much me. I was lucky; I didn’t have finals, so I’m just kind of chilling.”

Coach Ehren Earleywine said the staff worked to not only change most of the players’ exams schedules, but to also make sure they’re finished with their exams before the team heads to Oklahoma State.

“The worry I always have is that they have tests after the game,” Earleywine said. “We play on Thursday, so I’m worried about the kids who have finals on Friday because that’s what they think about. So we’ve tried to layer it so everybody is going to take their finals before (playing) OSU.”

If the Tigers beat Oklahoma State on Thursday and sweep their weekend series against Iowa State, they will at least share the Big 12 title with Texas. If Texas loses its game against Baylor on Saturday and Missouri wins all three games, the Tigers will claim sole possession of the conference championship.

Earleywine said his team has plenty of motivation heading into all three games, especially after what Iowa State did to Missouri two years ago.

“It was a Wednesday and we were like, ‘Saturday and Sunday we got OU. All we have to do is split if we take care of business today,’” Earleywine said. “Iowa State beat us the first game, and they beat Chelsea. And that’s a good thing because she doesn’t forget.”

Marla Schweisberger said she doesn't think she will be overwhelmed by the busy end of the semester. She’s just excited about the opportunities ahead.

“It’s kind of mixed emotions. You’re excited, yet it’s coming to a close. It’s the end of something I’ve known for four years,” Schweisberger said. “But I’m excited to start a new chapter and to finish what’s going on right now. We’re in a position to win the Big 12. Since I’ve been here, we haven’t had the chance to do that in the regular season, so we want to make the most of our opportunity.”

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