Although the winter season looks like it is never going to end, Illinois State’s softball season will begin with the Redbirds’ first tournament on Feb. 7. The Redbirds were voted as the second-place team, right behind Northern Iowa, in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll.
Senior pitcher Taylor Baxter, senior first baseman Laura Canopy and redshirt senior outfielder Nichelle Harrison were the three ’Birds named to the Preseason All-Conference Team.
The team will welcome back 10 starters from last year’s crew, which include Baxter, Canopy and Harrison. Baxter, Canopy and redshirt senior Sara Bradley joined head coach Melinda Fischer for a press conference on Tuesday afternoon inside Redbird Arena.
“We’ve returned a lot of experience within the infield defensively,” Fischer said. “Our offense throughout the course of this winter practice, I think, has really improved greatly.”
Fischer is satisfied with her pitching staff for the upcoming season. During the 2013 season Baxter led the ’Birds in 15 wins and ended the season with four shutouts. As a freshman last year, Regan Romshek went 10-9 on the season and accumulated 78 strikeouts.
“I think the main thing that Regan and I both learned is that we need to take one game at a time, one pitch at a time; we can’t look ahead or anything because one pitch can change the game,” Baxter said.
“That’s something we’re trying to focus on because it’s really important to stay in the moment and I think that’s really going to help us.”
Having been at ISU for 29 years, Fischer believes something that stands out this year is that everyone on the team will be able to collectively contribute this season. She thinks that the outfield needs to gain experience, but is optimistic and confident they will come along well.
The Redbirds are returning their entire infield from last year and Fischer is hoping it will be a huge strength for the team.
“I think that we learned how to play really well together last year, and this year’s more solidified,” Bradley said.
“You can see it in practice, just knowing how the other person plays their position and how they move and how much range they have helped us fielding behind Taylor. So I think just the more experience in the field will help us.”
Due to the team returning many upperclassmen, Fischer is also looking forward to seeing leadership roles develop by the seniors as well as the juniors. She is especially relying on redshirt seniors Bradley and Harrison to step up and show the younger players what Redbird softball is.
“Someone has to tell and show the younger players what we’re all about,” Fischer added.
The Redbirds will flock South this weekend for their first tournament of the season. They will face Florida as their first contender in the USF-Wilson DeMarini Tournament at 10 a.m., Friday in Tampa, Fla.