With memories of last season’s run to the Division II national tournament fading and the fall scrimmage season coming to an end, TWU has a clear vision for how it wants the spring season to end and the building blocks it needs to get started.
On Saturday, the Pioneers finished up their short fall season against a Division I World Series team in the Texas Longhorns.
The Longhorns had the edge in the scrimmage, but for TWU senior shortstop Bailey Vrazel, it was an opportunity to play a quality opponent while ferreting out the Pioneers’ weaknesses.
“They’re definitely a talented group of girls,” Vrazel said. “We had one little rough inning where they got on top of us. We got to see good pitching, good hitters and play defense. We know exactly what we need to work on no matter what team we’re playing.”
The Pioneers also played Navarro College, Paris Junior College and North Texas during their fall season. Despite a slow start in Vrazel’s eyes, the team is in a great position heading into the spring season, which begins in February.
“We’ve got some new girls in and we’ve got a new coach, but we work hard every day,” Vrazel said. “We work well together — it’s just getting the limited amount of people that we have all on board. We started off a little slower in the fall, but that just means that we are going to come out that much stronger in the spring because we know exactly what we have to work on to get better.”
The Pioneers are returning the bulk of last season’s national tournament team, including senior pitchers Katie Hines and Brandie Lander, junior infielder Kendra Sancet and senior outfielders Amanda Ruiz and Haley Colwell. The newcomers include three freshmen and two juniors.
“It’s a change and a process that we’re going through,” Hines said. “The biggest difference this year is all the new we are having to go through. It’s hard to lose players you played with for three years, but you have to move on and accept the new players that come in. They’re going to step up and do their job just as well as the seniors we had that left.”
New TWU head coach Genny Stidham and her husband, assistant coach Jerod Stidham, have a championship in their pocket after leading Central Oklahoma to a 51-11 record last season and the national title that eluded the Pioneers.
After former TWU coach Richie Bruister left for Texas A&M-Commerce, the transition to Stidham is still in the works.
“It’s definitely been a learning experience,” Genny Stidham said. “I have to get to know them, and we are a small club. I have to figure out what makes them tick and individually which ones react to how I handle them.
“Most of the girls that are here have been here for three or four years, so they’ve been playing the game one way. Sometimes you ask them to play the game a little different and it takes them out of their comfort zone, but I think they are responding well to that.”
Vrazel and the Pioneers got a taste of the regional tournament two seasons ago, and that drove them to their 51-14 record and run to the national championship tourney. So after losing their only two games at nationals last season, expectations are high.
“We want it all,” Vrazel said, “especially having a coach that won it last year. Us having the opportunity to go and having a taste — it’s not necessarily the best taste that we wanted, so we know exactly what we have to do to get there. It’s going to take hard work because nobody is going to lie down and give it to you. Not in this conference [Lone Star] and not in this division.”
With the goal of returning to the national tournament and winning, teams can get ahead of themselves, Genny Stidham said, so the Pioneers need to stay engaged in the work directly in front of them, not down the road in late May.
“First of all, we have to take that off the plate and go back to basics,” she said. “They have to learn to play the game that we want them to play, which may be a little different than the game they played last year. We have to start with the basics and work up. You have to have those small goals and start meeting those individual small goals before we can say, ‘Hey, we are going to get to the big goal.’”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.