At the start of the NCAA Division II Central regional last year, the Lady Hornet softball team was unranked and seeded 8th.
In the culmination of a come back season, which the Hornets ended 30-31 and won 16 of their final 19 games, they advanced to the championship game for the first time since 2014. Although they won their conference tournament, the Hornets fell in the regional championship.
“We played four games and we won one game,” said Mackenzie Thornton, junior pitcher. “We were all hitting very well. We were all excited to be there. The emotion was just very determined.”
Winning the conference game was an achievement that the softball team hadn’t completed since 2012 and the regional championship game was the ninth in school history, but April Rosales, head coach, has even higher expectations for this year.
The team made a run at the regional championship, but they still went through rough patches during the regular season, according to Rosales.
“Basically, we weren’t doing very well, we had lost 13 games under 500, because we only won two of the 15,” Rosales said. “Five-hundred is just saying like 50 percent of your games is 500. 500 is the average.”
At the end of the season, seven players graduated, leaving the team with spots to fill. Eight freshman were added to the team, along with two transfer students. To fill the remainder of the team, Rosales held open tryouts.
“Every August we host an open tryout, as long as you enrolled in Emporia State University and you are full time student, if you are interested in softball, you can come tryout for us,” Rosales said. “We had five people tryout this year, we kept one (Madelyn Broxterman) as a kind of practice player, and now she’s actually been added to the team.”
Now, the team has 20 players, which is the largest number of players since Rosales started coaching. The team is young, but Rosales hopes to build on the foundation set last year during postseason.
Despite the tough losses that they faced, Rosales was impressed with the grit and determination of the team, she said. A game that really showed their spirit and ability to overcome difficulties was one against Northwest Missouri.
“That was probably my favorite game of that entire tournament, because we showed how brilliant we were, because we were down by four and we were able to come back and won that game,” said Rosales, “it was really a fun game, a very stressful game, because we have been winning by so much, ended up coming back. At that point, we were 26-in-28, so we were still two games under 500.”
That game was the turning point in the season, according to Kelsey Phillips, junior pitcher. Phillips said hey started winning more games after that, bringing them to the conference tournament.
“That one was we were losing by a lot, we were tired from the first game, and nobody wanted to give up, everybody wanted to win, we beat them back and won the game,” Phillips said.
To improve their game and communication, the team has been practicing since the start of the semester.
“I love the team here, it’s a family-oriented play,” said Hannah Steeby, junior health and human performance major, and the utility player in the team. “It’s a relationship built on family and respect, and that’s pretty cool. I like it a lot, we match pretty well as a team.”
That family-oriented play helps the team connect on the field, become a single unit, and helps players become focused on being the best team player that they can be, according to Steeby.
“Training is good, it’s good for us,” Steeby said. “It keeps us ready for the game. My plan for the season is being all around team player, being the best teammate that I can be, and the athlete possible. For the whole team just connecting out on that field, just being one unit.”
Despite being a young team, Rosales believes that they can improve on their last season.
“To definitely finished better than last year, it’s always to get better,” Rosales said. “On the field our goal is to win. I told the girls, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”