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The University Star

The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

Texas State seeks to build off 2023 season

Mandalyn Lewallen
The Texas State softball team huddles up before the game against Kennesaw State, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, at Bobcat Softball Stadium.

Texas State softball started the 2024 season off with a boom in its three-game win streak. As Sun Belt Conference play approaches, Texas State seeks to topple big opponents and make a deeper run in the NCAA Tournament with its team full of returners.

Last season, the Bobcats went 35-25-1 and lost to the eventual Sun Belt Champions, Louisiana-Lafayette, in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament semifinals. It marked the second consecutive season the Ragin’ Cajuns eliminated Texas State from the conference tournament.

Despite being eliminated, Texas State earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament and won a game in the Austin Regional against Seton Hall University before being eliminated by Texas A&M.

According to the Sun Belt Softball Preseason Coaches Poll, Texas State is ranked third behind Louisiana-Lafayette and South Alabama.

After losing in the Sun Belt Semifinals last season, Head Coach Ricci Woodard and the rest of the team have their sights set on a better result this year.

“It’s been more about being intentional with everything,” Woodard said. “Not just coming out and expecting to be good, but to put ourselves in a spot to execute every day.”

Even though making the Sun Belt semifinals and the NCAA Tournament are impressive accomplishments, the Bobcats know they have one of the best teams in the conference and have what it takes to accomplish the ultimate goal.

With returning stars such as senior pitcher Jessica Mullins and graduate student infielder Sara Vanderford, the Bobcats have a tight-knit group of players who strive to get the best out of everyone.

“I think we have a great group that knows how to push each other, so I think it’s been more of a ‘lean on them’ season,” Vanderford said. “I don’t know if it’s because it’s my last [season], I don’t know if it’s because I’ve become more relationship-oriented over the years, or if it’s because I genuinely want to show up for them because this will be their program when I leave.”

Vanderford finished last season with a .317 batting average and led the team with seven home runs and 39 RBIs. Mullins continued her impressive NCAA career, posting a 1.88 ERA with 176 strikeouts in 201.1 innings.

Other standout performances from last season include senior utility Hannah Earls who led the team with a .328 batting average, and graduate student pitcher Tori McCann, who posted a 2.23 ERA in 100.1 innings.

The Bobcats have many exciting matchups to look forward to, including Louisiana-Lafayette, Texas, A&M, James Madison, Arizona State and many more.

“I’d like to say I’m going to treat every matchup the same, but of course, in your mind, you’re going to want to beat some teams more than others,” Mullins said. “I’m really excited for the [University of Louisiana] series because they have always been a pretty competitive matchup against us.”

Woodard said she tries to keep her mind off of expectations when entering a new season.

“I’ve just learned over the years that good or bad, I’m not sure that expectations have been real good to us,” Woodard said. “It’s going to be more about us just trusting who we are… I think this weekend is going to be a good chance to see just how great we can be.”

Woodard doesn’t want the team to feel pressured and believes the best way to succeed is to go out and play the way they know. She said she’s been preparing the team differently this year compared to previous seasons.

“The biggest thing I did differently is we scrimmaged a lot more,” Woodard said. “That was because of experience… I took what I thought [would] be my starting group [very] early and separated the two teams. We will see if it pays off.”

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