MSU media relations

1-on-1 with MSU fastpitch softball head coach Vann Stuedeman

Mississippi State head fastpitch softball coach Vann Stuedeman talks one-on-one with Gene's Page.

You are going to start fall practice soon. What are some things that excite you about this year's team?
"That is an easy question for me because I love to compete, I love to watch these girls compete, and I love to watch them realize their goals and dreams. I love that they get an incredible education. And it's through a sport that we are all passionate about. Those things are always exciting. So, every year is exciting."

What makes this team different than other years?
"This year I feel like the team probably has a fire in its belly because we left a sour taste in our mouths last year. That is what is exciting about this year's team. Our strength of schedule last year was 3rd in the nation and we wound up with the 37th best RPI in the nation. Had we been .500 we would have been in the post-season. But since we weren't .500 we missed the post-season. Now, everybody is hungrier, especially our senior class."

I'm guessing another positive is you have everybody back except for the two seniors from last season.
"We lost the two seniors but we have the 6 rising seniors back and almost all of them have played every single game in their careers. Only one of them hasn't and she played last year and her sophomore year. So, they are experienced and know what it takes. And I think they are doing a good job of leading the team this summer by being positive and encouraging. It is always important to have good senior leadership if you want to be a successful team."

Caroline Seitz was very successful hitting the ball in 2015. She hit 15 home runs and knocked in 54 RBI. Last year she hit 5 home runs and knocked in 31 RBI. Do you see her hitting similar to how she did as a sophomore in 2015?
"I think she handled what she called her slow rise last year. She never called it a struggle or used the word slump. She always called it a slow rise because she felt she was slowly rising all year. Why I like the term slow rise is her mentality never said she is defeated. She never hung her head. She said she was continuing to get better. She knew there was a reason for her to be in that situation and she said she was going to learn from it. She always had the mentality that she was going to dominate it and learn the lesson that she was being taught.

"She is one of those kids who always does what she is supposed to do and more. And she is willing to hold teammates accountable. She does a great job in the classroom. She just wears the jersey well and represents us well. I really have no doubt that she is going to rep it out this year. I think out of everyone she is the most hungry. I look at it like this, last year Dak Prescott, in some of his articles, talked about having captain's practices in the summer where he led practices. My kids aren't in town where they can do that but if they were she would be the one leading them in practice. When I talk to her she is so fired up and ready to go."

You lost a great shortstop in Kayla Winkfield. Who do you have to replace her this season?
"You never replace somebody like that. What Winkfield provided is the sheer athleticism. She could get to anything (defensively). I don't know if you replace all of the tools she brought to that position but we have a couple of people in mind. We have a transfer from Arkansas who sat out last year, Reggie Harrison. We also have a junior college transfer coming in, Bevia Robinson, and a true freshman Montana Davidson. We have a lot of options.

"I think all three provide different things. None of the three is Kayla Winkfield. They may have pieces of her but none have all of her pieces. But I do like all three of them. Particularly Reggie, at this point, because she has practiced with us for a year. The juco and true freshman haven't and don't know the routine or our system. Knowing that might benefit Reggie in the beginning but there will be some good healthy competition at shortstop."

It sounds like you feel you will be solid at shortstop but maybe not as spectacular due to how good Winkfield was overall?
"Yes, she was incredible just because of her range and her quickness. That made it hard for those really quick slappers to slap a base hit off of her. Not only did she read it well but she could get to it. A lot of people can't get to it because they don't have the quickness she had.

"But, yes, we will be solid. Reggie has a cannon for an arm and has been practicing with Winkfield for a solid year. I would say Bevia is a little more athletic in the quickness area. Where Reggie has the rifle, the junior college kid has the side to side, up and back quickness factor. Then the freshman has a really good arm as well and a sure glove. She is the one kid who will make all of the routine plays. She may not always make the spectacular play but she makes all the routine plays. Someone who carries a steady glove is someone that you want to have."

Pitching-wise, all of your pitchers are back from last season. Due to Silkwood's injury rehab causing her to miss half of the season, several other pitchers got a lot of innings last season.
"Yes, it was huge for the other kids to get that experience. Silkwood pitched something like 215 innings in 2015 then 117 last year. She came off an injury that held her out for the first half of the season. And it is difficult to come into this league midway and that is what she had to do. The SEC is the number one league in the nation. It is arguably a better league than SEC baseball, We took four teams to the College World Series this year and five last year. Everybody is ranked other than three of us. Then, for her to be injured for the first half, she opened the first SEC series against Auburn, a team that went to the College World Series last season. She had no time to get the rust off. She had to be ready to go. And she pitched a 13.1 inning game against them in the opening game of our SEC series with them. We ended up losing it. I closed it with a freshman (Regan Green). But the freshman having that opportunity is incredible for her.

"But going back to the others, having Holly Ward and Cassady Knudsen get the experience they did last year is only going to be helpful for SIlkwood in her senior campaign. But Silkwood is the man. She is good and she will fight. There was never a time last season where she laid down and said she wanted out of the game. She played her heart out.

"Our junior pitcher, Holly Ward, has been foaming at the mouth all summer. Every time I see her she is talking about what kind of workout that she did that day. If they are talking about it, then I know it is on their mind."

What your team went through last season is very similar to what MSU baseball went through two years ago where they had a losing season. Then, this season they had a great team that hosted a regional and a super regional.
"Absolutely. If the saying holds true that the team takes on the personality of their coach, then this team will be hungry. I can't sleep, I can't rest because I have the worst taste in my mouth. If we could have played yesterday I would have put us out there in a uniform and said let's go. I didn't want last season to end because I wanted to figure out how we were going to rectify it. When it ended it almost left you in a bad mood, It wasn't bad due to the record but because you ended it not being able to rectify it in the same season.

"Will we rectify it this season? I had no doubt that we will."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on sports network.

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