By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER, Okla. —
A year after making the Women’s College World Series the Oklahoma State softball team found out the hard way just how hard it is to get back.
Last year, the Cowgirls finished one game below .500 and failed to even make the postseason.
With experiencing the highest of the highs and the lowest of lows over the past two years, OSU coach Rich Wieligman said he sees a renewed sense of urgency heading into Oklahoma State’s fall season — which begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday with a home game against Rogers State.
“I think last year showed the girls that it doesn’t come easy — that the success they had at the World Series was because of the hard work and because of what they brought to the table every day,” Wieligman said. “It wasn’t given to them. They had to earn everything. And I think last year it was sort of a gut-check for us in that perspective — in that maybe we didn’t put in the effort we needed to be as successful as we were the year before. And I think this year, that effort is back.”
Though the Cowgirls lost some talented seniors in players like Julie Ward and Chelsea Garcia, they do return a solid core of players — including both of their pitchers, Kat Espinosa and Simone Freeman.
“Our chemistry this year is really nice. It reminds of a few years ago,” said Wieligman, who is in his seventh year as OSU’s softball coach. “They are working hard, they’re understanding their goals and what it takes to get to those goals and they are really working hard to get there.”
Things will be slightly different from the Cowgirl pitchers, however. Gone is former pitching coach Clarisa Crowell, who was named the head coach at Miami (Ohio) back in August.
Instead, Espinosa and Freeman will be under the tutelage Kelsi Dunne, a four-time first-team All-American at Alabama. It will be Dunne’s first coaching job, though she did work as a volunteer assistant coach for one year at Mississippi State where she worked primarily with the pitchers.
“I think she brings an energy about her. And she brings the knowledge and the experience that she had as a four-time All-American and having gone to the World Series three out of four years,” Wieligman said. “She’s been awesome. She’s been great with the kids. I know the pitchers are enjoying her and are learning a lot. It will just be interesting to see how it all transpires into games.”
So it will be the fall slate — which will include eight games over the next three weeks — that will be used to help prepare the players for the spring season.
“The biggest thing is getting your freshmen acclimated to the college level,” Wieligman said. “And also getting the team back together. You lose your seniors, so you’ve got to have people step up in the leadership roles and this is the time that this happens. So I think we are fortunate we have the fall to figure our team chemistry out.”