Clark likes mental toughness of 2008 Softball team
· 2008 Texas Softball: |
Ask Connie Clark about the 13th edition of her softball team and she'll mention the versatility and balance of the squad. She also will note that this club returns six starters and four pitchers, losing only three letterwinners.
Clark will show a wide smile regarding the return to health of Desiree Williams, a .333 hitter with 12 home runs and 39 RBI in 2006 who played only eight games in 2007 because of a knee injury.
But most of all, Clark will make it apparent that this team has something that sets it apart from all of her others.
Mental toughness -- not listed on your scorecard, but a facet of the 2008 Longhorns that enables Clark to have great confidence as she awaits the start of the season Feb. 9 with a doubleheader at McCombs Field against UT San Antonio.
"That is the thing we like most about this club," Clark said. "The players have the best mental toughness of any group we ever have had. Certainly, we've had talented teams in the past, but this group is mentally tough.
"We've talked a lot about it. This team has more players that are just more mentally tough."
All the more reason to believe that the Longhorns can make their fourth straight NCAA Regional appearance and, perhaps, a trip back to the Women's College World Series. Not to mention claiming their fourth regular-season Big 12 Conference title and their fifth Big 12 Conference Tournament crown.
The 2007 edition wound up 35-20, losing to Florida in Gainesville in the NCAA Regional.
"We've got everybody healthy this year, so that is a great start," Clark said, noting the loss of Brittany Chalk for two-thirds of last season because of a broken wrist, as well as Williams being sidelined.
The impact of the loss of catcher Megan Willis to graduation may be lessened with Clark turning to junior Kacie Gaskin and freshman Amy Hooks as a backstop tandem.
That pair also is an example of the versatility of the squad as one or the other will be in the outfield when not catching. Gaskin's 32 RBI a year ago was tied for the lead on the team and Hooks has a great arm, according to the head coach.
And speaking of arms, the return of hurlers Meagan Denny, Torrey Schroeder and Erin Tresselt, as well as the addition of freshman Brittany Barnhill, is cause for optimism this year.
Denny, a senior who was 21-16 a year ago, is the leader of the staff.
"Meagan's experience is important," Clark said.
Denny also has gained mental toughness in the last three years, her coach noted.
Sophomores Schroeder and Tresselt will make things exciting. Tresselt was 12-3 in her freshman year and embodies the idea of mental toughness, according to Clark.
"Erin has the mental game," Clark said. "She just really knows how to do it. She's living up to all of my expectations."
Tresselt and Schroeder's finesse will be a great complement to Denny's power.
Then, enter Barnhill, a flame-thrower from Justin Northwest High School.
Texas enters the season ranked 22nd in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Top 25.
Clark admits that she finds it hard to believe that this is her 13th year as the only softball coach Texas has ever had.
"Time flies," she began, with a laugh. "I am proud of our program. Our foundation is set. I have great assistants. I am proud of what we have accomplished, although we still want that National Championship sooner rather than later."