Really Big Rings for a Really Big Team by Corey Rholdon.
The Mississippi College softball team has built a foundation of success the past few seasons. The team won the NCCAA championship in 2016 and won the GSC tournament last season. The team has centered their culture on family and Christ, and that has helped them get through all of the ups and downs of the season.
This is Coach Brooke O’Hair’s 12th season as the Head Coach of the Lady Choctaws. O’Hair knows that many teams have talent, but not many of them have the chemistry to win a championship. “We try to build a family atmosphere, and we try to put Christ first. Since we have that strong foundation, all of the ups and downs of the season do not affect us that much. That is the main reason that we were that successful. Yes, we had talent; yes, we had the power and the speed, but there are a lot of teams that have all of that, and the thing that sets us apart is that foundation with Christ,” O’Hair said.
Senior Kathrine Lee is the school’s all-time leader in stolen bases and hits in a season. Lee is the leader of the outfield, and she sees a team that loves to be around one another. “We held it together; we loved playing with one another. If you love being on the field with someone, then you are going to play well together,” Lee said.
Junior Kristen Qualls came from a championship program at Madison Central so she knew what a championship program was like before coming to Mississippi College. “I came from a winning culture in high school, and when I came here I wanted to continue to bring that winning culture to MC,” she said.
The NCCAA championship in 2016 wasn’t just the first softball championship for Mississippi College, but it was the first softball championship for the entire state of Mississippi. That is a historic accomplishment and it will always have a special place in Coach O’Hair’s heart. “It means everything, that national championship is the very first national championship in the state of Mississippi. So not only was it huge for Mississippi College and our softball program, but it was huge for the state of Mississippi,” O’Hair said.
No one expected the Lady Choctaws to win the GSC last season, even after a NCCAA Championship. It was Mississippi College’s first season eligible to compete for a title. But O’Hair and her squad did not care. “That one was sweet too, just because back when we were Division II, I was not a part of that – so being able to do that again and to go out in our first season of eligibility and win the GSC (which is the toughest conference in Division II) is amazing. Who would have thought that we would have done that in our first season? That was special because no one expected it but us,” said O’Hair.
All of these rings show how much progress the softball program has made over the years, and Qualls now wants a National Title. “It shows how much progress we made; we came from Division III, where we were successful, and went to Division II, where we have been successful. We just want to keep winning and showing people that we are good enough… so far, we have built up the winning and we are going to try to continue and go for a Division II ‘Natty’ this year,” Qualls said.
Lee sees her legacy beyond the diamond as something that could be special for years to come. “It builds a foundation for the future, and it shows that our programs are definitely something you should want to be a part of,” said Lee.
Every team is different, but this year, the Lady Choctaws will have a lot of new starters, but that doesn’t mean the expectations aren’t high. “They got a little bit more spunk in them, and we do not have anybody that is on our bench that couldn’t also start for us,” O’Hair said. “We haven’t always had that, so our depth is really good. So if we have an injury or someone is in a slump, we can go to the bench and not skip a beat. That is going to really help out this program this season,” said O’Hair.
The biggest thing young teams have to overcome is consistency and communication. The Choctaw veterans know this. “We have a lot of new people on the field, and we have to try to figure out how to play beside somebody and how to communicate properly, learning the system. With all the weather, it has been pretty difficult to work on the communication and work on the strategy,” O’Hair said.
“I think we are a very talented team. That is for sure, but our consistency is not there right now. We are going to get to a point to where the consistency is going to be there, and when that happens, we are going to be very successful,” Qualls said.
Now that the team has won the NCCAA Championship and the GSC Championship, they want a bigger prize; a National Championship. “I want another championship, and the key every year is to win a championship. Of course, it is not always a national championship. Last season we won the GSC and went to postseason play in Division II. Now it is all about going further in the postseason to work for that national championship,” said O’Hair.
The team starts GSC play early this season, so they will find out how much grit they really have. The Lady Choctaws will play in the GSC Opening Weekend Festival this weekend.