The Ottawa High School softball team went through a lot of growing pains last year.
The Cyclones lost a few heartbreakers in an 8-9 campaign.
The Cyclones feel those experiences will pay dividends in 2014. Ottawa returns an experienced team with some young talent.
“We are extremely excited to get going this year because of our seniors,” second-year Ottawa coach Joe Serna said. “It is a great mix [of talent].
“We are anticipating going a long way this year. We have everything we need.”
The Cyclones return several players that softball is their top sport and play the game year round.
“They love the game,” Serna said. “They want to get better. They are coachable kids. You could not ask for anything more.
“Having the strong senior leaders is like having extra coaches for your team. They have taken the underclassmen under their wing.”
The Cyclone returners are headlined by senior all-league and all-area selections Kendall Blanco and Hannah Hedges. Those two are interchangeable middle infielders and hit in the No. 2 and No. 3 holes in the order.
Other returners include senior MyKenna Hadl, juniors Kylie Foster, Amy Grace-Wilson, Corie Fischer and Tatum Knight, along with sophomores Bayleigh Nelson, Courtney Clayton and Shea Mesik.
“They know from last year about the games that slipped away from us,” Serna said. “They know what the other teams are going to have. They know they are going to have to compete.”
Ottawa will have tough competition in its league with the likes of defending 4A state champion De Soto and state-qualifier Paola.
“We can compete with those schools and beat those schools,” Serna said. “We have to take it one doubleheader at a time.”
Serna said this team has the ingredients to play at a high-caliber rate consistently.
“We are strong up the middle,” he said. “That is what we need to be.”
Ottawa will rely on Knight and Mesik to eat up innings in the pitcher’s circle.
“Tatum Knight is a strong varsity pitcher,” Serna said. “Shea Mesik will get a lot of innings for us.
“It works out nice because Kendall will be in the closer role. We have the right players to move around.”
Serna said Blanco, who has been a starting pitcher the past two seasons, can come in and be a difference maker with her experience.
Ottawa, which struggled to score runs early last season, has turned that aspect into a strength.
“We finished strong with hitting,” Serna said. “We know we have the offensive power to put up runs with anybody in the league. We should be solid one through nine.
“MyKenna Hadl, who did not get a lot of a lot at bats last year, is tearing it up in practice. Wilson has looked real good hitting the ball. She is hungry. She is ready to come unglued.”
Nelson sets the table for the Cyclones.
“Having her in the leadoff spot with her speed is great,” Serna said. “We have no doubt they are up to the challenge.
“We have to go out and play and prove it.”
Ottawa opens the season Thursday at Spring Hill.