The Mark Twain softball team enters the 2017 season with a fresh perspective and a desire to leave last year's struggles in the rear-view mirror.
Yet for as frustrating as their 2-17 campaign was a year ago, the Lady Tigers learned valuable lessons they carry with them.
“If we just encourage each other and keep going no matter what, I think we'll be alright,” senior Alexis Hummel said. “I'd say that'd have to be the biggest lesson.”
Under the direction of fourth-year head coach Kachina Hudson, Mark Twain returns six seniors primed to make an impact as the Lady Tigers compete in the Eastern Missouri Conference.
Perhaps the most significant responsibility for the seniors is to lead the way for a new generation of talent, as the team's seven freshmen account for half its roster.
“They're really excited, and from what I've seen, they're good with helping and being willing to help the underclassmen figure it out,” Hudson said of her seniors. “It's basically an even ratio of seniors to freshmen right now. We've got one junior (Bria Hooley), and other than that, that's what we are.”
Seniors Lynsie Boling and McKenzie Lathrom return as Mark Twain's top offensive threats. Boling batted .432 with seven RBIs and 10 runs last year, while Lathrom sported a .422 average with a team-high 12 runs.
Lathrom is expected to be the team's starting shortstop, while other infield positions remain in flux throughout preseason practices.
“More than likely, that's where she's going to stay,” Hudson said of Lathrom. “She's got good range and a good first step and her arm is normally impeccable with throws to first.”
Hudson mentioned she has three middle infielders at her disposal and also several who can play the corner positions.
“With very few players, there's a lot of people who have to play more than one position,” Lathrom explained. “Some will be on the infield and in the outfield.”
Boling has seen time at second base in the past but is expected to be the team's primary center fielder. She will join a cast of outfielders that includes seniors Alyssa Ferry and Shelby Hayes.
“Lynsie actually started out infield and we moved her to outfield some last year, and she's got an arm that she was hiding,” Hudson said.
Freshman Sydnee Brothers is primed to be the No. 1 starter on the mound. She will toss to battery mate Sara Spoonhower, who takes over as catcher.
“Sydnee is a good pitcher,” Spoonhower said. “She's really fast and knows how to hit spots. She has different pitches and they're very good. She's got a curve, a nice changeup, a drop, rise, screwball and a fastball.”
Spoonhower, who batted .367 (11-for-30) last year, said the squad's keys to success will be communication and building up the freshman newcomers such as Brothers.
“We want some of them to step up too because they're going to be it next year,” she said.
Hudson wants her team to focus on the day-to-day process of improvement. By doing that, she believes the wins will come.
“Everybody just wants to win, but what pieces do we have to put together before we can get to that point?” she asked rhetorically. “We have to understand the process over the product and value that more.”
Hummel mentioned that a little bit of confidence — both personally and in each other — can go a far way.
“We haven't had much confidence the past few years 'cause we've just been down,” she said. “But I think this year we have the ability to do well, and we just need to believe in that. If we believe in that, we'll be able to strive toward our goals.”
Mark Twain opens the season Aug. 18 at home against Canton.