The key to a team's success at any level can often be directed to veteran presence and leadership.
With four players having combined for over 400 games played in a Thresher uniform, Bethel is not lacking in this area.
The Threshers are coming off their best season in the program's eight-year existence. Their record of 19-24 set a new standard for wins in a single season, and helped clinch the first postseason berth in the program as well. Bethel was 10-12 in KCAC play, qualifying for the KCAC post-season tournament for the first time since it was restricted to the top eight teams.
The hunger to improve is still there.
"Last year we made it to the tournament, this year we want to win the tournament," senior shortstop Michelle Schrag (sr., Moundridge) said about the KCAC Championships.
Schrag, the reigning conference Gold Glove winner at shortstop, leads a defensive unit that was ranked third out of the then 12-member KCAC in terms of fielding percentage (94.4 percent) a season ago.
"Every year we strive as a team to be better than the last. That definitely doesn't change this year."
Helping lead the Threshers' efforts this year includes fellow senior infielders Leisle Hoffman (1B, sr., Wichita), Alexis Wilson (2B, sr., Wamego), and Madison McDowell (2B, P, sr., Basehor). Together these four seniors already hold 23 program records, with many more likely to come this season.
"For me it is just about leaving it all on the field with no regrets," McDowell said. "I want to be able to say I did everything I could to push my team to be the best they could be and leave my mark on the program as both a hitter and a pitcher."
These four seniors have been through the high's of the program, but were also part of the building years.
"Being a four-year contributor is a rare thing, and I am excited to see where this team will go," Hoffman said. "I believe this is the strongest team we have had both on and off the field. Everyone is blending together really well and we have become one big happy family."
In his second season as head coach, David Middleton is thrilled with how the team has overcome adverse situations and stepped up to new challenges and expectations. He notes there is an added motivation as well with the preseason KCAC rankings, which predict Bethel to finish ninth of the 13 teams.
"I really like what I see. Our team chemistry overall is better than its ever been. They have challenged each other individually and as a team to accept nothing less than a championship."
Alexis Wilson noted that the team has been all-in with attaining their goal.
"We've been training hard in the off-season between lifting weights, cardio workouts, hitting and fielding whenever and wherever we can depending on weather."
Joining the senior core from last season include outfield speedsters Jordan Hill (sr., Augusta), Kerrigan Simons (jr., Riley), and Sydney Harper (so., El Dorado). Hill saw the most action of the trio as she finished second on the team with 44 hits and 35 runs scored. Joining them in the stable of outfielders returning include Cami Mills (so., Wichita) and Rebecca Mullen (sr., Wichita).
Katelyn Boston (so., Newton) is also back, adding depth to the infield.
Emalee Overbay (so., Louisburg) looks to take over catching duties with the graduation of two-year starter Katie Schrag.
"Emalee spent a lot of the offseason working with Katie and learning from her," shared Middleton. "That only helps us and also gives this team another leader."
Also helping add to the catching depth for the Threshers with Jonna Adams (so., Junction City) and Lauryn Dwyer (so., Olathe) is Peyton Uznanski (fr., Olympia, Wash.), who Middleton described as having a "cannon behind the plate."
The Threshers have brought in quite a few newcomers to help boost their efforts this year, particularly with their power-hitting.
Spring transfer Riley Johnson (jr., Salem, Ore.) was able to record a .409 batting average with 18 home runs in her final season at Northeastern Junior College (Colorado), and according to Coach Middleton will also "add depth to the pitching staff.
Labette Community College transfer Laura Pineda (jr., Lyons) also figures to be a center-piece to the offense this spring, being named an All-District team member.
"Laura can also cover first or third, and has some pitching skills as well."
Also helping add depth while growing into the new collegiate competition are Bailea Crist (fr., McPherson) and Rilynn Anderson (so., McPherson), a pair of speedsters from McPherson.
"The underclassmen have come in and brought a tough mentality of wanting to improve every day," offered Schrag. "This pushes all of us to be better players making our team the best it can be."
McDowell added that the freshmen have "brought more energy when some of us upperclassmen are feeling our age!"
She also adds that this experience of putting on a Bethel uniform has meant a lot.
"I am thankful for all of the coaches and relationships that I have made through this sport. I know that I wouldn't be the same person without the game."
The Threshers will need the energy early, as they face some stiff competition in their opening tournament, the NAIA Cowtown Classic in Fort Worth this weekend. Their pairings include games against Bellevue University (receiving votes in the national poll), as well as the preseason no. 1 team in the nation, Oklahoma City University.
Spirits are high though, as they should be, as this season's squad look to put their stamp on the program history.
"All in all, I am very excited for the season," Hoffman said. "I think this year's team is destined for greatness."
You can catch all of Bethel's home games at Wedel Field on Bethel's campus, with the full schedule and other info found on www.bethelthreshers.com.
"All of our hard work will show this season," said Wilson. "I hope everyone comes out to our games to witness history being made."