Missouri softball gets back into swing of things

Sunday, January 27, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST
The Missouri softball team returned Friday for its first practice of the season.

COLUMBIA — Amid the football banners of players and bowl games past, one corner of the Devine Pavilion acknowledges the teams with a little less fame.

There, painted on the wall, are the years that the Missouri baseball, softball and soccer teams have made it to the postseason. Under the softball subhead reads, “2012 Super Regionals.” It is the same font and size as the rest, yet it glares over the field as a reminder of a premature ending to the last softball season.

But it is a new year, a new season, a new opportunity for this team to prove its worth. Although the first pitch of the 2013 season is still 20 practices away, the excitement is building for the possibilities of a new season.

Twenty women make their way down the stairs of Devine Pavilion, past the flirtation of a few football players and across the 90 yards of artificial turf. Some of them are smiling and laughing as they catch their teammates up on what happened in class that day, while others keep a straight face as they mentally prepare for the next four to five hours.

“It’s good to be back,” sophomore Kelsi Jones says with a grin.

They all drop their bags together in a clump and begin their warm-up routines, which include the typical stretches and jogs. When they’ve gotten more comfortable and loose, the warm-up throws begin.

Half of the players stand along the edge of the end zone, while the others face them along the 10-yard line. After a few throws, the players take a step back. They go from the 10-yard line to the 20, the 30, the 40. Each pop of the glove brings the team closer to being ready for practice, for the season and for the Women’s College World Series.

The roster is only a few players different from last season’s, but the team has grown. Last year, age differences and maturity levels led to a divide among the team, but once the team realized it couldn’t force chemistry, the friendships began to fall into place.

“I see more and more improvement every day with even talking in the locker room,” sophomore Corrin Genovese said. “Last year was a little separated, but now we have more experience together as a whole. We’ve gotten a lot closer.”

The 10 young freshmen last year became experienced sophomores; they learned how to keep their bodies right and learned what it takes to win. Chelsea Thomas, a redshirt senior athletically, has appreciated watching the growth.

“I think the freshman class has matured a lot,” Thomas said, right as Genovese appropriately did a goofy dance behind the Tiger ace, making Thomas laugh as she continued to discuss maturity. “They’re starting to grow up and know what it takes, and I think that’s really important, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to see the difference from last year to this year.”

The team has also focused on improving its level of enthusiasm, a problem that irritated coach Ehren Earleywine for much of last season.

“He wants it high and that’s what we expect and so we instituted a couple things in practice, like during our intrasquads we are supposed to win every inning,” Jones said. “If you don’t win an inning, you run, so both teams are very enthusiastic.”

It’s just a practice game against their own teammates, yet the players yell and cheer as if it counts for something more than just running or crunches.  The team knows it’s not quite ready to go back to the Super Regionals just yet, but on that practice football field, they are ready to use their maturity and enthusiasm to prove their worth.

“I think overall, the whole atmosphere of practice has been a lot better and it’s really encouraging for the upcoming season,” Thomas said. “I’m excited right now for the season and I usually don’t get that way until right before it starts, but I’m excited to start now.”

Fans can check out the improved enthusiasm of a Tiger intrasquad game at the annual Black and Gold game at 3 p.m. Feb. 9. The location has not been determined at this time.

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