2012 RECORD: 25-26 (8-16 Big 12)
KEY LOSSES: SS Chelsea Garcia, 1B Julie Ward, OF Kelsey Anchors and OF Sammy Jo Diffendaffer.
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: 2B Ari Morrison, UTL Tamara Brown, RHP Simone Freeman and RHP Kat Espinosa.
FIVE THOUGHTS LOOKING AHEAD:
1. The Big 12 is once again loaded with talent this season. Three teams (Oklahoma, Texas and Baylor) are ranked in the preseason Top-25, with Oklahoma State and Texas Tech both receiving votes.
2. The Cowgirls are young. They have four freshmen who will fill key roles this season.
3. OSU sports one of the top pitching duos in the league in RHP junior Simone Freeman and RHP senior Kat Espinosa. Both were part of the Women's College World Series team from two years ago.
4. The Cowgirls will rely heavily on two transfers this season – 1B Stephanie Brewer (Arkansas) and OF Shannon Kaufman (Sacramento State). Both bring experience and skill to the table.
5. Two years after making it to the WCWS the Cowgirls are reaping the benefits in recruiting. This and next year's recruiting class showcases OSU's rise to prominence on the national softball scene.
Q&A WITH HEAD COACH RICH WIELIGMAN:
What needs to happen this season for your team to be successful
Wieligman: I think our pitching staff is probably the big thing. With Kat (Espinosa) being a senior and already being at the World Series, I think that will be our strong point. I think pitching will definitely help us out. We've got some young kids coming up and are playing well. It's a combination of the elder pitchers and the younger players. That's probably going to be our storyline.
How important was the fall season, especially for the younger players?
Wieligman: I always compare us to soccer. Soccer has to bring their freshman in early before school's even started and they have to play games and go to school. So they have to figure out their whole college life in a season, where we get a whole fall to practice, play some games and get accustomed to the college life, and then get to play our season. So I think (the fall season) is huge. I think it's nice to know that we have freshmen who have already played in eight games. They've gone through a semester of school, so they know what's expected of them on the academic side and the weight training side and all that.
What role do you believe your freshmen will play early in the season?
Wieligman: I expect them to jump into the fire and be productive. We've got Tiffany Mikkelson at third base, she's probably going to hit in the four or five hole for us and drive in runs, she's got good power and will do some really good things. We've got Erika Campbell and Dre McKee in right field … Shianne Hughes is a freshman who is going to possibly see some time out in left field too. She's a lefty slapper that's gonna bring some speed.
How will you replace the senior leadership of Chelsea Garcia?
Wieligman: I don't think you replace her. I think you just try, and hopefully the kids who got to play with her take what she brought to the table and keep it going. The fact that she showed up every day, played, went to school and got great grades – that's part of what OSU softball should be about. You take care of your academic side and you take care of your field side. I hope we're developing each player as they go through into their senior year what OSU softball is and how hard we are going to play.
Who are some of the players who fit that leadership role this season?
Wieligman: Tamara Brown has been there for four years, she's a fifth-year player. And she's been through it all. I think she's one kid who you have to expect to come in. You've got Amy Graham as well. And Kat (Espinosa). They've been there for all four years of their career here at OSU, and they were part of the World Series team. They sort of understand what it takes to play at this level and be successful. I expect a lot more from them.
Your schedule includes 24 teams that made the postseason last year. What kind of challenges does that present?
Wieligman: I think that's the only way you prepare for NCAAs, you've got to play them. We can't fool ourselves and try to win a lot of games and then expect to win the tough games. I think you've got to challenge yourself during the season and the Big 12 Conference is big on that. We've got a tough schedule in Big 12 and we're going to play some other teams like Tennessee during the season that will get us prepared for postseason.
Is this the youngest team you've ever had? If so, does it change your expectations for the season?
Wieligman: I've never even thought of that … I know my first year we had nine or 10 seniors, so I know it couldn't have been that. It probably possibly could be our youngest team … I don't think you can change your expectations and standards because of the youth. I think you if change that, they aren't going to rise up to what you expect. I think they've just got to grow a little faster and get ready to play.