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Aug. 4—High school graduation took a toll on the Stillwater softball team's varsity roster.
The Lady Pioneers are learning to play without the senior leaders who fueled their run into the fastpitch state semifinals during the past season. Power hitter Lyric Perry is moving on to Navarro College. A new battery will also need to emerge as ace pitcher Makenzi Swick and catcher Sydney McLaughlin take their careers to Missouri State.
Coach Karie Linsenmeyer acknowledged the challenges her team will face because of limited experience. She has identified talent in the group of newcomers, but replacing a seasoned squad takes time.
"I just think that we're young in some key spots, so it may be a little bit of a difficult road until we get some more time together," Linsenmeyer said. "Hopefully by the end of the season, we'll kind of grow up and click together and be a little bit better."
The Lady Pioneers will start their season Thursday in the Fall Classic Cushing Tournament, and their first non-tournament game is set for 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 15 at Jenks.
Before the regular season, Stillwater can gauge its progress with a scrimmage against Perry at 10 a.m. Friday in Couch Park.
After losing five graduates, the Lady Pioneers are relying on a new class of veterans. Center fielder Kaylee Linsenmeyer, the coach's daughter, is one of four seniors.
Alongside Cash Herber, Maggie Glasgow and Lorelai Holt, she is taking on a responsibility to share advice with her younger teammates. Kaylee said building chemistry shouldn't be difficult because the veterans know the newcomers, but there's a learning curve for the young players.
"I think this season, we just are gonna have to work through everything together and really work as a team and just do the little things right," Kaylee said.
Across the field, the Lady Pioneers have gaps to fill.
Without Swick and pitcher/outfielder Kendyl Prichard, Stillwater is starting from scratch in the circle, and coach Linsenmeyer named three potential pitchers.
Junior Madalynn Shotwell, who defended first base during the past season, could pitch. Sophomore Brittani Murray might step into the circle, or the Lady Pioneers could give a first-year varsity player a chance. Linsenmeyer said freshman Audrina "Boo" Herber, Cash's younger sister, "throws it really well."
If Herber is pitching, then the battery will likely consist of a freshman duo — Linsenmeyer expects Calle Cox to take over at the dish.
Linsenmeyer predicted the young defense will "shape up OK," but other areas could require more adjustment. The Lady Pioneers are striving to construct a new offensive identity without sluggers such as Perry, whose 16 home runs last year tied the program's single-season record.
"We still have some power, but not as much, so we're just going to have to be a little bit different," Linsenmeyer said. "We're gonna have to manufacture runs a little more."
Despite significant turnover, the Lady Pioneers retained several players who competed on the 2021 state tournament team. Along with the seniors, junior third baseman Addyson Brown and junior infielder/outfielder Camryn Westbrook bring valuable experience.
Improvement is within reach, and Linsenmeyer is taking a realistic, patient approach.
"We're not trying to win it all tomorrow," Linsenmeyer said. "We just gotta gradually get better. I think a lot of the young ones, they're nervous. They want to please.
"So that's a good thing — we want them to be invested in what they're doing, and hopefully we'll really be trying to work on teamwork and communication and having positive leadership skills. Hopefully, those things will pay off in the end."