COLUMBIA — It was in the fall of 2011, when Kayla Kingsley was an unsuspecting freshman.
Kingsley, a member of Missouri's tight-knit softball team for only a few months, had a bad habit of forgetting to lock her locker, something two of her older teammates knew about.
In its final series of the regular season and its final Big 12 Conference series ever, Missouri (40-12, 14-7 Big 12) will take on Oklahoma State. The Cowgirls come into Columbia in seventh place with an 8-13 record against the Big 12.
Despite being mathematically eliminated from being able to win the conference, Earleywine said that the series is still important to his team
If the Tigers win all three games this weekend, they will clinch second place in the conference and help themselves with seeding for the upcoming regional tournament.
"And for the simple fact that we head into the postseason on a little bit of streak," Earleywine said. "I'll tell you what, if we play the way we played against Oregon (last weekend), some teams are going to be in trouble. We played pretty good, and Chelsea didn't pitch real well, and we still won (2-out-of-3) against a good team at their place. And if there's one thing I know about who wins it (the NCAA title), it's not always the best team. It's the team whose the hottest."
Earleywine and his Tigers will have their chance to get off to a hot start at 6 Friday night in the first game of the series against Oklahoma State at University Field.
Kingsley was with her tutor in study hall at the Mizzou Athletic Training Complex. During a break, she went to the softball team room and found that her locker, at one time filled with all of her equipment, was completely empty.
"I looked around not knowing what to do," Kingsley said, thinking she might have been kicked off the team. "I was too scared to ask anybody what was going on."
Kingsley sent a tentative text message to assistant coach Melissa Tucci hoping she wouldn't receive bad news in reply be the bearer of bad news.
What had happened was that juniors Jenna Marston and Nicole Hudson were up to their usual antics, the ones that had already gained them notoriety around the softball team.
"We took all the stuff out of Kayla's locker ... and we moved it out and put it an empty locker," Marston laughed. "The cool thing was, we set it up exactly as she had it. We had taken a picture of her locker before we emptied it, and set it up one or two lockers over just like hers."
Unfortunately for Kingsley, she was in such a frenzy, she didn't notice the nearby locker that now contained her equipment.
"I panicked," Kingsley said. "I was brand new. I wasn't comfortable yet. I still didn't know anybody all that well. I called my mom, and I said 'They took all my stuff! I think this is them saying I'm not supposed to be here anymore.'"
Eventually Tucci returned Kingsley's text and informed her she had not been kicked off the team. Tucci's message said she had no idea what was going on.
After a small investigation, Tucci discovered Hudson and Marston were behind the deception. The two pranksters apologized to Kingsley when they found out she thought she had been cut.
But when Kingsley found out what had happened, she was just happy to be a part of the fun.
"Right after that, I was like 'All right, it's payback,'" Kingsley said laughingly. "I think it loosened me up with them."
That was Marston and Hudson's plan all along.
Hudson, Missouri's left-handed, power-hitting third basemen, is an outgoing, free spirited art major who runs on imagination and emotion and says that she would, someday, like to serve as Marston's personal stylist.
"That (being a prankster) is just the way she is," fellow junior Rachel Hay said. "She just can't help herself."
Marston, or "JJ" to those that know her, is the Tigers' on base machine. She is a mellow, "logic-oriented" engineering major who grew up playing baseball with the guys in high school. She prefers sitting down in front of a Cardinals game to going out and partying.
"You see JJ, and you don't think she going to be the kind of person to pull a prank on a girl, but she does," Kingsley said.
Marston and Hudson, who have been roommates for three years, say they couldn't be more different.
"You should have seen our room freshman year," Hudson said. "It was hilarious. My side was all colorful with posters and everything everywhere, and her side was just ... plain – except it had math books."
Yet, they are self-proclaimed best friends, agreeing that opposites sometimes do attract. And while they appear to be different on the outside, it's the sense of humor they share that brings them together.
One of their favorite pranks happens on road trips. In this well-rehearsed prank, Nicole asks one of her teammates, let's say freshman Corrin Genovese, if she can grab her laundry bag out of one the top compartments on the bus. Genovese obliges, reaches up, opens up the compartment only to find that Marston is hiding there waiting to scare her half to death.
The pattern suggests they have a tendency to pick on the freshman.
"They are the easiest," Hudson said. "They're really gullible."
"In the fall, someone convinced them that we were going to to scrimmage the football team in a game of softball," Marston laughed.
"Yeah, we told them James Franklin was going to pitch," Hudson said. "They were so excited, but they're learning fast."
For Hudson and Marston, it's not about trying to stay loose during the season. It's not their way of coping with pressure. It's just the way they are.
"When you start traveling that much and being together that much, you gotta do something to have some fun," Marston said.
What impresses Tigers head coach Ehren Earleywine the most is their ability to have as much fun as they do without endangering themselves or their softball careers.
"The things that’s special about those two, and how they have fun is they’re proof you can have fun and do it clean," Earleywine said. "I was never really good at that when I was young. But they are proof that alcohol doesn’t have to be involved to have a good time."
Marston is scheduled to graduate next fall, but Hudson is trying to convince her live with her after that.
"We don't say the s-word (seniors). We don't like to think of that," Hudson said a little more seriously. "I'm trying to convince her to stay because I have to go four and half years. I want her to stay around a little bit longer."
Marston said she might. She is considering graduate school, but this summer the pair will be separated – kind of. Marston has internship in Wyoming, but Hudson is planning a road trip with a few other friends to visit Marston and to help celebrate an important day.
"I couldn't leave her out in the frontier all alone on her birthday."
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder