by Joe Azar
The last time Colorado Mesa Softball was in a competitive ball game, their glass slipper was crushed with one swing of the bat. Up 3-2 in the final half inning against the best team in the nation, West Texas A&M, Brooke Hodgson gave up a two-run homer to centerfield to lose in devastating fashion in the NCAA Tournament.
The Mavs took the nation by storm with a 29-game win streak enroute to a RMAC Regular Season Championship and once again captured the spotlight when they took West Texas A&M to the limit. Last year, they were one of the Cinderellas of the RMAC. This year, they seek to plant the seeds of a dynasty.
In the Preseason polls, the Mavs were selected as the undoubted favorites to reclaim the RMAC crown and even earned the 19th spot in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Poll.
“There’s no surprises anymore,” Head Coach Ben Garcia said. “We’re not going to sneak up on anybody. The rankings have really put a target on our backs. So, we know are not going to be a snake in the weed. Teams are going to come out and say ‘hey, this is the team we want to beat.’ And we like that because that’s where we want to be.”
Yes, the team is now the one to beat in the conference. But like Garcia has said, that’s the way he and the players want it, and the roster at the coach’s disposal compares to a military-grade artillery to their foe’s slingshot. Catcher Zoe Pakes, outfielder Brooke Hodgson, third basemen Kaila Jacobi and designated player Courtney Robbins were all selected to the Preseason All RMAC Team. Joining them on the team is McKenzie Surface, who was selected as the conference’s Preseason Pitcher of the Year.
“We have players that are ready to fill in and be able to get us to where we need to be,” Garcia said. “I think we have it, the experience that we have from last year we need to be able to carry that over and be able to push through that. I think that’s really going to help us develop through the season.”
Outside of the stars, Garcia also praised some of the lesser-known players on the squad that add tremendous depth. Baylee Boren was selected to last year’s All-Region and All-Conference team.
“She didn’t get any exposure but very good ball player,” he said.
As far as new faces, Garcia has value in freshmen infielders Bailey Kleespies and AnnMarie Torres.
“They’ll probably get a lot of playing time early on,” Garcia said. “I’m really looking forward to them progressing like I said. The future looks bright it really does.”
To begin the season CMU will travel to rivals Metro State for MSU Denver Classic. The Mavs will play the Roadrunners and the University and Nebraska Kearney both on Saturday and Sunday. For the Mavs, this is not only an early test, facing the team picked second in the RMAC Poll, but also a shot of redemption. MSU was the team to not only end CMU’s unbeaten run, but also knocked the hosts out of the RMAC Tournament last season.
“The thing that we need to be able to get over is that obstacle that Metro has our number. And they have the last couple of years, I’ll give them credit, they’ve played very well against us. It’s been great games, they could’ve gone either way. We need to learn how to win those kind of games. Last year, we were trying to figure out how to win against good teams. And if we’re not as good as them, the next time we beat them we figure it out.”
This weekend the incredible work done by CMU’s players last season officially becomes old news. When the first pitch is thrown 1PM on Saturday, the new season will begin, and with it the beginning of the team’s ability to show that their top ranking is deserved.