North Texas Daily

‘We’ve come a really long way’: Rebuilt softball roster set for season

‘We’ve come a really long way’: Rebuilt softball roster set for season

‘We’ve come a really long way’: Rebuilt softball roster set for season
February 10
12:00 2022

As the season opener approaches, softball enters 2022 with a retooled roster looking to capture its first conference tournament title in program history.

Last season, North Texas finished a program best 38-12 at it won the Conference USA regular season title for the second full season in a row (the 2020 season was cut short due to the pandemic). As in 2019, however, the team fell in the double elimination round of the C-USA tournament. After coming up short in 2021, softball’s goal has remained the same a year later.

“It was disappointing not to win the conference championship,” head coach Rodney DeLong said. “We’re always looking to elevate what we’ve done and we’ve always got our sights set on big things […] trying to be the best team every year in Conference USA and trying to find our way to the NCAA tournament.”

Nine players from North Texas’ 2021 squad have departed since last season’s conclusion in May. Four of the departures were pitchers, three of which transferred to different programs while one graduated. Most notably, 2021 C-USA Pitcher of the Year Hope Trautwein left for the University of Oklahoma.

To fill the gaps in the pitching staff, the Mean Green brought in four pitchers — two transfers and two freshmen — while returning left-handed pitcher Janie Worthington. The two transfers, sophomore right-handed pitcher Jaycee Cook and junior left-handed pitcher Ashley Peters, bring experience to the rotation with the departures of Trautwein and graduated pitcher Gigi Wall.

“I’m really pleased with what we have in the circle,” DeLong said. “I’m excited to see what this new group of kids does along with Janie.”

In terms of position players, five seniors ran out of eligibility leaving seven upperclassmen on this season’s roster. Senior third baseman Tayla Evans comes into her fourth season after leading the team with nine home runs in 2021. One of two seniors on the roster, Evans is a vocal leader in the young clubhouse.

“I think we’ve developed really well,” Evans said. “[The underclassmen] are eager to learn, which is really important, and they take criticism really well. They’re very coachable, so I think we’ve come a really long way.”

The Mean Green begin their season with a pair of tournaments starting Feb. 11. A matchup with future American Athletic Conference peer the University of Tulsa at the McNeese State Tournament in Lake Charles, La., starts the slate. Returning to Texas on Feb. 18, the team heads to Melissa to play in the Tracy Beard College Classic.

Two home matchups against Big 12 Conference powerhouses Oklahoma and the University of Texas headline the Mean Green’s non-conference games. Preseason rankings by Softball America placed Oklahoma at No. 1 in the nation and Texas at No. 11. Both teams reached the NCAA tournament last season with the Sooners taking home their third national championship in five years.

“I can’t even put into words what we’re ready for this season,” sophomore infielder Mikayla Smith said. “We know we have a tough schedule and we’ve been out here grinding every day to get to where we can reach those teams and actually make it a competitive game. We’re ready for them.”

Playing four games versus Big 12 opponents last season, North Texas lost all four by a combined score of 19-2. The Mean Green’s last win over a Big 12 opponent came two seasons ago when the team upset the Sooners 4-3 in Norman, Okla.

Evans is the only player on roster who played in the 2020 win over Oklahoma, recording two hits and two runs in the upset victory. 

“Playing a big team is hard,” Evans said. “It’s intimidating, especially when their fans are overpowering our fans.” “I hope that I can inspire [underclassmen] to have fun and not take it as ‘Oh my God — it’s OU,’ we’re UNT, we’re [Division I], too.”

A rebuilt team looking to build on a regular season championship, North Texas will encounter its share of challenges in 2022. Facing tests is something DeLong said will make his team better in the long run.

“We want to play [Oklahoma and Texas] every year — we want to get to that level,” DeLong said. “We’re looking forward to it. We’re trying to challenge our young group with this schedule for bigger and brighter things moving forward.”

Featured Image: A player prepares to pitch for the Mean Green during the UNT vs. UTM softball game on Feb. 16th, 2020. Photo by Ryan Cantrell

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Reed Smith

Reed Smith

sports editor

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