When the BYU softball team started its season last Thursday, the seniors were able to reminisce about their last season in Cougar jerseys.
The team is coming off a successful 2011 season that ended in their sixth Mountain West Conference Championship. This year they look to make an impact in the Western Athletic Conference before transitioning to the Pacific Coast Softball Conference next year.
BYU will face a number of challenges this preseason as it plays nine top 25 teams, including No. 1-ranked Arizona State. The team started preseason play last week with a three-day tournament at Arizona State, where the Cougars beat No. 11 Oregon and No. 15 Texas A&M to start out the season.
BYU coach Gordon Eakin said even though his team is young, it will fight to grow and improve every day.
“With this group we’re fairly young and lacking some experience so my expectations are that we will grow and get better every day,” Eakin said. “We’re talented enough that if we will work hard and learn and get better every day, we should end up where we want to be.”
Although the team is lacking in experience, it has four seniors who have made an impact on the team in the last three years. These seniors have won three conference championships and have three NCAA tournaments under their belts. If they can continue with this legacy, they will be the first class in BYU softball history to have won four conference championships, and they have set a goal to do so.
“All of the seniors have talked and we all want to get our fourth conference championship ring,” shortstop Krista Hicks said. “We’d be the first to ever get four conference rings.”
Hicks, or “Mooch” as the team calls her, is a senior from Mesa, Ariz., who has influenced the team both with her leadership skills and defensive play at shortstop. She hopes to make the most of her last year here at BYU.
“Personally, I just want to come out strong and have my best year that I’ve had so far,” Hicks said. “I really want to have a positive influence on the team.”
Outfielder Tiffany Messerschmidt has also made an impact for the Cougars. With a career batting average of .329, Messerschmidt helped lead the Cougars to three Mountain West Conference Championships and three NCAA tournament appearances. Her goal for her senior year is to take advantage of the time she has left with the team.
“I want to enjoy every single practice even though [I] could get into the repetitive mindset that [I] don’t want to go to practice this day [or that day],” Messerschmidt said. “But I’m really trying to make every day a positive day and remember it and treasure it. I just want to do the best I can.”
Eakin said he expects the older girls to be the leaders on and off the field. He also said by the time most of the girls in the program are seniors, they’ve learned the expectations of their coaches.
“Our seniors have been to three straight regional tournaments and one super regional,” Eakin said. “They’ve been there and they understand what it takes. They’ll provide leadership to help the younger kids get where they need to get [this year].”
Eakin said not only is the seniors’ leadership invaluable but their athletic contributions to the team will help steer the younger players in the right direction.
Second baseman Stacie Toney and outfielder Delaney Willard are the other seniors on the team. Toney is a standout transfer from Salt Lake Community College who had a batting average of .268 her first season with BYU. Willard looks to improve from her junior year career highs of 11 home runs and 42 RBIs to help the team on their way to another conference championship.
For these seniors, hopes remain high for the season. They know their team has great potential, and they hope to lead their team to another successful season.
“I obviously want to go out with a big bang,” Messerschmidt said. “I want to be the best leader I can be and the best follower I can be. I want to do everything I can to help my team succeed because when they succeed, I succeed.”
The softball team has a tournament every weekend until the middle of March and will make their home debut on March 20 against Idaho State.