Oklahoma Baptist University's softball team puts itself up against a season of tough competition this year, hopeful of getting the attention of the NAIA and a shot at its first national tournament appearance in five years.
"Our schedule is pretty solid this year," said OBU coach Pam Fink. "We've got some of the toughest league games and we're playing Spring Hill, Thomas, Shorter and Columbia in our pool in the Gulf Coast Invitational and all of those were ranked last year."
The goal is to compete well with those teams and achieve a high ranking before heading into the postseason.
"I think we've got a full-package team this year," Fink said. "We've got good pitching, speed and hitting."
Returning starter Whitney Heltzel and newcomer Sonya Beach will tag-team the pitching duties this season.
"Whitney has worked hard and we can rely on her and Sonya Beach will have an immediate impact as both a pitcher and a hitter," Fink said.
Handling those pitchers is the duty of some of the team's most experienced leaders.
First-team All-American Jayme Boyer returns for her junior season, along with senior Brooke Stevens. Also in the mix is freshman Chelsea Hull.
"Jayme gives us so much and not just with the bat and the glove," Fink said. "She's a team leader and motivator. Brooke has really worked hard for this year and it means a little extra to her this season. Chelsea can play other positions and is really going to help us at catcher in the future."
While first base is up for grabs, the rest of the infield looks set with Vanessa Fortune anchoring things at shortstop.
"Vanessa moves to the ball very well and is very smooth," Fink said. "She gets to a lot of balls that look like they are heading to the hole. Offensively, we're going to let her go from the left this year and I think it's going to help her a lot."
Bobbi Day returns and her older sister, Brittney, transfers from Jacksonville State for her senior season. The Day girls will play second and third.
"Bobbi started out at second base and moved to third and was solid there," Fink said. "Brittney is a really strong addition. She's a very good second baseman with soft hands and she's quick to the ball."
First base will belong to whoever is swinging the bat well. Hilary Davis is back and may be the best defensive first baseman of the bunch. Hull, Beach and Sarah Ryan also give OBU both competition and options at first.
The outfield is pretty much set with Jami Pate leading the way from center field. The All-Conference selection gives OBU speed and a little pop at the plate. Kaley Dickerson, a second-team All-SAC pick, moves from left to right field this year and freshman Alyssa Henkes looks to be the new left fielder.
"We're not real deep in the outfield, but our starters are a strength," Fink said. "Jami gets to a lot of balls in center. Kaley has got good range and will really help us in right. I think Alyssa has a lot of speed and gives us a really good outfield."
The team looks like one with very few holes, but only time will tell.
"I'm ready to see what they can do," Fink said. "We finished last season really strong and we got a taste for success. We've got a goal of getting back to the national tournament and I think we have the team to get that done."