Olivia Pfeifer loves the new normal for the Hannibal softball team.
The standout senior shortstop remembers what it was like to enter past seasons with hopes of the Lady Pirates finishing with a record around the .500 mark.
Times changed last fall when the team surged to 14-10, placed second in the North Central Missouri Conference and fell just one win short of the Class 3 District 8 title.
“Now (our goals) are way higher,” Pfeifer said. “We're just going to have to go into every game knowing we can win.”
Led by fifth-year coach Kendra Murphy, the Lady Pirates return a strong nucleus led by five seniors who are setting their expectations for this season like a ball clobbered well beyond the outfield fence.
“We want to win this year,” said senior center fielder Tori Moore. “We want to be No. 1, and it's important to every single person on this team.”
Pfeifer, the program's all-time career hits leader, is a spark atop the lineup. The two-time second-team all-state selection led the squad with a .468 batting average and 34 runs scored last season.
“I really just try to get on base because I know once I get on we have a really good chance of scoring if I can lead us off with a hit or get on in any way,” Pfeifer said. “It makes everyone coming up to bat after me have more of a drive to want to get me in. They go up knowing they have a job to do.”
Desarae Garcia is again primed to be a workhorse in the circle for Hannibal. The rising senior pitched 151 2/3 innings last season while posting a 2.35 earned run average. She racked up 104 strikeouts compared to 27 free passes.
“Desarae threw every game except for one last year, and we're looking for her to lead again this year and throw a lot of games,” Murphy said. “She's going to be our go-to this season.”
Unlike last season, Garcia will have backup. Junior Taylor Wilson, who was unavailable last year due to injury, will spell the starter on the mound when needed.
“It's good to help our team out, but we can always use more hands to help out too,” Garcia said.
Around the infield will be junior Josie Zeiger at second base, freshman Taylor Simms manning third and a possible platoon of senior Haley Bautch and Wilson holding down first.
Simms leads a batch of freshmen expected to make an impact on varsity from the get-go this season. Newcomers Sydney Hart and Adyra Nichselson bring the element of speed, while Maggie Woodside offers a power bat.
“We're going to have multiple freshmen contributing a lot in different ways, especially on the base paths and at the plate,” Murphy said.
Junior Hailey Whittaker enters the year as the starter behind the plate following the graduation of backstops Matti Sutter and Echo Brothers. The fact Whittaker only logged seven varsity innings at catcher last year is no cause for concern for the Lady Pirates.
“It's not a transition at all,” Murphy said. “For the past two years, we had a third varsity catcher catching on JV. Hailey has done an excellent job stepping up and she knows exactly what she's doing.”
In the outfield, Moore will command center for the first time after batting .373 with 10 runs and 10 RBIs last season.
“She didn't play center field last year, but Tori knows how to play outfield and has done a fantastic job this whole summer of just taking charge out there and really owning it,” Murphy said.
Junior Lauran Haye is the expected everyday left fielder, while junior Kennedy Schmohe and senior Henley Foxall each figure to see time in right.
“The mentality coming into this year is we're a good team,” Murphy explained. “The expectation is set high. I don't want second in conference this year, I want first. I don't want to be the district runner-up, I want to be district champs.”
That's an attitude that resonates with the whole roster, from the experienced veterans to the ones getting their first taste of the high school level.
“All of our sophomores and juniors realize what potential we have,” Moore said. “As the freshmen are coming in, they're getting that excitement.”
That's not to say there won't be obstacles in the way this season. Hannibal will battle NCMC competition such as rival Mexico, which won the conference a year ago before the Lady Pirates knocked the Lady Bulldogs out 7-6 in districts.
And come this year's district tournament, which Hannibal hosts, reigning champ Warrenton should again prove a force to be reckoned with.
To rise to the challenge, Murphy wants her squad to focus on what's within its control. Team goals include reducing total fielding errors (48 in 2016) and maintaining a collective batting average above .325.
The Lady Pirates kick off their season Aug. 18 at the Troy Buchanan Tournament.
“We're going to out-study, we're going to outthink and we're going to out-hustle our opponents,” the coach said.
“And that's how we're going to win.”