Going into her third season, Enid head softball coach Danielle Smith has high hopes for the Pacers.
“I think we’re going to compete better this year,” she said. “It’s just kind of been a mentality change. Our kids are really buying into the process.”
The Pacers open the season Monday afternoon with a doubleheader at Choctaw. The first game is slated for a 3 p.m. start, followed by Game 2 at 4:30 p.m. The Pacers return home Tuesday for an evening doubleheader against Broken Arrow at David Allen Memorial Ballpark beginning at 5 p.m.
Enid returns nine players — two juniors and seven sophomore — from last year’s 3-25 team. In the days leading up to the season-opener, Smith said she did not have a solidified starting nine.
“We’re still trying to piece a few positions in,” she said. “We’ve got a good idea … but we still have some kids fighting for some positions.”
Smith said tinkering with a new roster is a challenge she’s faced every year.
“We graduated some outfielders so that's kind have been a spot where kids have been really fighting,” she said. “That's been our biggest fill-in. We had a lot of freshmen who started for us last year that are sophomores now.”
Smith said she has a “good bulk of freshmen” coming in who will see quite a bit of playing time, starting on the pitcher’s mound with Tomieya Barick-Stewart. The freshman will also share the mound with sophomore Kimbree Layton.
Sophomore Tiara Henry and freshman Jada Stovall will share time at third base and behind home plate. Sophomore Keelah Williams, a returning starter, could share some time at shortstop, second base and outfield.
The Pacers are looking at freshman Sahrena Williams, junior Mackenzie Sutton, sophomore Kylee Stanley and sophomore Mariah Pryor sharing time in the outfield.
Megan Hart, one of five seniors on the team, will be at first base and could see some time at third, too.
“We’ve got a good mix of older and younger kids who can make a big impact for us,” Smith said.
Smith said while she and her staff are still trying to figure out who will play which positions, the final say will come down to who is hitting well.
While the starting nine isn’t concrete, yet, Smith was pleased with how her club performed in the three scrimmages against Blackwell, Firelake and El Reno. She said it was “the best defensive play Enid’s had in a while.”
“We got to do a bit better in hitting,” she said. “But those are some minor adjustments that are easily fixable for these kids. We just have to help them get there a little bit quicker.”
It’s a task that should be well-suited for Smith’s new coaching staff, which she said is the strongest coaching staff she’s had.
“I think it’s already made a big impact in the weeks since we’ve been practicing,” she said.
The new coaching staff consists of assistants Jana Williams and Jenna Rosine, both of which share a history with Smith. Williams, the head softball coach at Northern Oklahoma College Enid last season, was Smith’s old head coach from her playing days at Hutchinson Community College (Kan.). Smith and Rosine were teammates at Hutchinson, also.
Smith said a lot of her softball knowledge came from learning under Williams.
“And she’s been helping pass that along to the kids,” she said.
Smith said the coaching staff will have high expectations for this year’s team.
“We know the expectations we have and how we want the kids to get there,” Smith said.
Pacer volleyers aim for assertive tone
The Enid Pacer volleyball team aims to adopt a “killer instinct” this season.
“Last year, we had a hard time finishing games,” said head volleyball coach Shannon Robinson. “We didn't have that killer instinct. This year, I think we’re getting the desire to win and wanting to finish and be the best.”
That mentality starts with senior team captains D’Sani Levy, Gabi Cotarelo and Kelci Wilson, as well as Haylee Lofton, Memory Latdrik and Kylie Cataline.
“Our seniors are doing an amazing job with the leadership,” Robinson said. “Their attitudes have been great.”
The Pacers are coming off a 16-14 season that ended with a loss to then-No. 7 Edmond North in the Class 6A regional tournament.
In addition to finishing games, Robinson said the Pacers are looking to be more efficient in their strikes.
“We want to make kills,” she said. “We have to hit the ball. We’re not going to win by tipping and pushing. We’re going to win by hitting the ball and getting to 25 before the other team.”
Robinson said the Pacers were able to apply their mechanics and cleaner play in the preseason scrimmages against Ponca City, Piedmont, Yukon and Chisholm.
“I was very pleased with how we looked and played,” Robinson said.
The Pacers open the season on the road Monday against Moore for a 6 p.m. game. They return to Enid Thursday for their home opener against Putnam City North at NOC Enid at 6 p.m.