The Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) softball team begins the 2018 season in the Cowtown Classic February 16 and 17 at Fort Worth, Texas. The Bears will play Hill College, Navarro College and Highland Community College on Feb. 16 and will face Fort Scott Community College and Clarendon College on Feb. 17.
DMACC opens the season ranked fourth in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II poll. The Bears are coming off a 47-9 season in 2017. They were 24-2 in the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference (ICCAC), won the NJCAA Region XI-A championship and qualified for the NJCAA Division II National Championship for the fourth consecutive season and the fifth time in six years.
Head coach Bob Ligouri returns five sophomores from his 2017 team, including All-American Molly Jacobsen, a pitcher from Adel. Jacobsen was named the NJCAA Division II Pitcher of the Year by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) in 2017. She was 25-4 with a 1.08 earned run average.
"The quality of a team is based on its leadership in the upper classes and we couldn't be happier with the five players we've got coming back," Ligouri said. "We feel really good about the returning players. All of them are going to be impact players."
Returnees in addition to Jacobsen are pitcher Gabby Schnathorst of Carlisle, catcher Bailey Richards of Des Moines, Taylor Briley of Creston and outfielder Bre Hunter of Boone. Briley earned all-region honors as a second baseman last season and has been moved to first base this season.
Jacobsen and Schnathorst are two of five pitchers on the roster and Ligouri said he plans to use all five throughout the season. Freshman pitchers joining the team are Alexis Groet of Oskaloosa, Kayla Jennings of Prairie City and Taylor Graven of Greene. Ligouri said Payton Parker, an all-region member of the DMACC volleyball team, will also see time in the circle.
"We put all of our pitchers on a pitch count early in the season to make sure we're strong at the end," Ligouri said. "This could be the deepest pitching staff that DMACC has ever had. I think all of them are going to contribute."
Richards and Briley are expected to be fixtures at catcher and first base respectively. Rounding out the infield will be freshman Mia Ruther of Burlington at second, freshman Avery Guy of Cedar Rapids at shortstop and freshman freshman Ellie Dixon of Iowa City at third base. Hunter is expected to open the season in left field with freshman Kelsey Hora of Ainsworth in center and freshman Jayci Vos of Monroe in right.
Ligouri said Jennings and freshmen Tara Lance of Solon and Kaisha Wells of Topeka, Kan., will also see playing time in the outfield. Wells, and freshmen Moran Nealey of Urbandale and Kila Carbine of Adel are vying for the designated hitter position and freshmen Hunter Raymond of Madrid and Katelin Schumacher of Leawood, Kan., will provide depth at catcher.
"We've done everything we can do to try to get them toughened up," Ligouri said regarding the season. "We played eight NCAA Division I scrimmages last fall and I think our freshmen really responded well."
Ligouri said his team has an incredibly difficult preseason schedule that includes several NJCAA Division I and II schools who are annually among the best in the country.
"I want us to go see that southern speed and at their (home fields) under the toughest of circumstances so that we get seasoned," Ligouri said. "People might look at us and we may drop a few games early and they may worry about what kind of team we're going to have, but frankly, it's almost by design. I want to do it on the road because that is the toughest you can get and I think we'll respond pretty well. I have a lot of confidence in our players."
Ligouri said his concerns regarding the season are getting established as an offensive team and avoiding injuries.
"Coaches (Daron) Harris and (John) Wilkinson always do a great job of deleting our hitters, but it's a work in progress," Ligouri said. "Every team is vulnerable to injuries. That's obviously a concern."
Ligouri said the expectations within the program are to return to the national tournament.
"We've got good players, they've got good attitudes and things are in place for us to have another good team," Ligouri said. "But you have to earn it and you have to have some luck to go along with it. If you earn it and you get some luck, there's no reason why we shouldn't compete for (a national championship)."