By BRIAN LESTER
Emily Reynolds said it seems like just yesterday she was a freshman on the University of Findlay softball team.
Now, the former Elmwood High School star is a senior, and the starting shortstop for the Oilers is aware of the responsibility that comes with being a veteran on a team with high expectations.
“Some days, I don’t believe it that I am a senior,” Reynolds said. “I had good players to look up to when I was a freshman, and now I’m that player others look up to. I like the role and it’s up to me help set a good example. Myself and the other five seniors know we have a lot to live up to.”
The Oilers are coming off one of their best seasons in program history, finishing fourth in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament.
UF went 27-15 overall and 13-12 in the GLIAC while also receiving consideration for the first NCAA Division II tournament bid in program history.
A gut-wrenching 5-4 loss to Wayne State in an elimination game wiped out those NCAA hopes.
“We got a taste of success last year, and we could have easily won the tournament had things gone the other way,” Reynolds said. “Our only option is to make it now We can’t not make the tournament, especially since it’s at our home field again. We don’t just want to be there. We want to be at the top.”
UF head coach Ron Ammons is entering his 12th season at the helm of the Oilers and he is counting on his veterans to pave the way. Reynolds, along with Tori Allen, Anna Britvec, Courtney Dwyer, Tawna Whited and Jackie Messersmith are the seniors.
“The obvious answer is the expectations have gone up, Ammons said. “You don’t replace the four seniors we lost. They were very good. But you bring up the next class and let them lead the way. They are all talented players and they will all contribute.”
Reynolds is coming off a year where she hit .328, tallying 12 doubles and driving in a team-best 35 runs.
While she has worked to improve on every aspect of her game, she has also looked to improve on something that doesn’t show up in a box score.
“I’ve worked a lot on my self-confidence, because if I’m confident, it makes everyone around me confident,” Reynolds said. “I’ve worked a lot on my game, limiting my errors, taking good pitches and just being the best player I can be.”
Allen batted .315 last season and belted three home runs while knocking in 29 runs. Dwyer hit .270 and Messersmith owned a .270 batting average. Former Elmwood standout Morgan Arnold hit .226 last season and drove in 19 runs. The junior catcher hit three home runs as well.
The Oilers hit .303 as a team last season.
“I like the balance of our offense,” Ammons said. “We have hitters who can go long, we have table setters and we have good speed. If we can execute on the field, we’ll be fine.”
Whited will anchor the pitching staff after going 14-5 last season. She fashioned a 2.83 ERA and allowed 68 runs on 118 hits. Whited struck out 98 and walked 40.
Nicole Motuza and Bonnie Zappitelli will also see time on the mound. Motuza was 1-2 last season and Zappitelli went 1-1.
The Oilers are set to head to Florida next week where they will play 10 games. The harsh winter has kept UF indoors for practice but Ammons is looking forward to seeing his team compete.
The trip begins with a game against University of Sciences at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
“It’s a grind to be inside the whole time, especially trying to keep variety in the practices,” Ammons said. “But we’re close to getting outside and things have picked up. Sometimes the thrill of just being outside can carry you.”
As for the GLIAC, it will as be rugged as usual. Grand Valley State won the regular season title and WSU was the tournament champion. GVSU went on to win the Midwest Regional title and played in the national tourney.
“The GLIAC is tough every year, but we have a talented team and feel confident we can compete. We know if we play well, we can beat anyone on any given day.”