Lady Choctaws Finding Their Groove As 2018 Season Gets Into Full Swing Josh Clark,
A season in any sport is kind of like a ball of clay in the hands of a potter. It may be solid in the beginning, but it’s got some obvious flaws. It may be rough, misshapen, or even unbalanced. But that’s why the potter is there to smooth everything out and turn it into a work of art.
The 2018 Mississippi College Lady Choctaws softball team is a lot like that blob of clay. In the beginning, they started out with plenty of kinks. But those kinks are quickly being molded out as the season goes along. And that’s exciting for the 2017 Gulf South Conference Tournament champions.
The Lady Choctaws started their season on Feb. 3, 2018 in the Southern Softball Showdown against Palm Beach Atlantic University. Here we are one month later, and it’s clear that MC isn’t exactly where many expected them to be at this point.
The softball team currently sits at a record of 7-7 including a 2-4 mark in GSC play. While that I not necessarily a bad spot to be, it’s not exactly the ideal start, especially for a championship-caliber team that qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season.
“So far, we’ve had kind of a rocky start,” said junior third baseman Kristen Qualls. “But I think we’re finally getting it together and figuring out what we need to do, where we need to be, and people’s roles on the team. I think it’s coming together well.”
While this is an encouraging sign to hear, it’s also an encouraging sign to see.
When the Lady Choctaws began their 2018 season, the only consistent thing seemed to be their inconsistency. MC would win a game 8-3 and follow it up a few days later with a 10-2 loss. After going through some ups and downs through the first two tournaments of the year against non-conference opponents, the Lady Choctaws finally settled into conference play at the GSC Opening Weekend Festival.
But the festival ended up bringing even more uncertainty. The Lady Choctaws went 1-2 throughout the weekend and were outscored 25-13 over the span.
Was it time to hit the panic button? No, because there’s still over 30 games left in the season. But it was definitely a time to question just how prepared MC was to defend their title and reputation.
The Lady Choctaws then headed off to West Georgia where they dropped the set two games to one. The series loss turned out to be another frustrating step in the road of progress.
But that’s what it is all about: progress. The Mississippi College Lady Choctaws know that, and still believe that this season holds incredible potential.
“There have been a lot of highs and lows and a lot of ‘test’ for this team,” said assistant coach Leigh Streetman. “I think with that happening early on is going to push us through with GSC play and the remainder of our midweek games. We have enjoyed seeing the team friendships being formed and life of the team. This group is special and has no limits.”
That’s due to a few different factors. For one, the Lady Choctaws are still showing signs of being a great team on the mound, in the field, and at the plate. Their offense and defense are taking significant steps in the right direction with each passing game and turning up the heat.
“We are showing snippets of what we could do as a whole,” said Qualls. “I think that when the hitting becomes consistent for the duration of the season, the pitching and defense are there, and all of the aspects of the game are there, I think people are going to be surprised at what we bring to the table.”
“We have a great pitching staff, a great offense, and a great defense,” said junior pitcher Penny Nichols. “Once those come together, it’s going to be an amazing thing. We are going to explode and do great things in the GSC and hopefully win another championship and go further.”
Another promising aspect of their play this season is quite simply their leadership. Of the 18 Lady Choctaws on the roster, 11 of them are either juniors or seniors. That not only injects a lot of returning talent into the lineup, but also gives MC certain players to lean on in different situations.
“Both senior and junior classes play a huge role in leadership as they outnumber the underclassman,” said Streetman. “The younger ones look to them for guidance in certain areas. The upperclassman are the ones with experience in big games and allow the freshman and sophomores to grow and mature to prepare us for postseason.”
Qualls is one of those leaders as she is currently in the middle of her third season with the Lady Choctaws. Qualls is second on the team this year in homeruns, including back-to-back homers against the University of Montevallo in MC’s first GSC win of the season.
“Just trying to make sure everyone’s head is on straight,” Qualls said of her role as a leader in the dugout. “Sometimes, my head isn’t on straight and I have to take a step back and remember that I am a junior this year that has to lead by example and lead by what I say. [I’m] just trying to take these younglings under my wing and get to a championship.”
But there’s also a new crop of Lady Choctaws in the lineup that are chomping at the bit to help keep the MC’s tradition of success alive on the softball diamond. One of those is freshman second baseman Kayla Murphy.
“I think after getting to know each other as the season goes on and getting to grow as a team, there’s nothing that will be able to stop us at all,” said Murphy about the potential that the team has yet to reach.
And as we’ve seen throughout the history of sports, confidence can help a team dig into the fight as well.
But where will that confidence spawn from? It could come from the Lady Choctaws’ next matchup this weekend at Shorter University. Maybe it won’t show up until next weekend when they take on Lee University at home. Or perhaps it already spawned on Tuesday at Miles College.
MC picked up two decisive wins against the Golden Bears, and many Lady Choctaws are hoping that those wins will serve as the turning point for their season going forward.
“Definitely,” said Nichols in regards to whether the wins over Miles could help the Lady Choctaws turn a corner. “We saw things starting to come together there. Hopefully we put things together there and go from that point.”
There is still a long way to go before MC reaches the finish line on their 2018 regular season, and the Lady Choctaws have a lot left to prove. But that’s exciting for this new group that’s having fun with each other both on and off the diamond as they continue growing into a singular unit.
“We have a lot of crazy personalities on this team, but that’s what makes us special,” said Qualls. “I think that’s one thing that will lead us to a lot of success this year. That’s what we do: we have fun when we play and when we do that, we’re successful.”
“We have a ton of energy in the dugout,” added Nichols. “Everyone is up and crazy. It shows on the field too. Everyone has each other’s backs. It’s awesome.”
The 2018 Lady Choctaws are a lot like a rough ball of clay pulled from its container. Without a potter, they are nothing. But with the idea of progress serving as the potter, there is a whole world of potential on what they could become. And as the season goes along, they are quickly smoothing out and finding their shape.
“I’m excited that people are going to be upset,” said Qualls. “People are going to be shocked when we come back from 7-7 and we’re going to be successful and continue to compete.”
“The run will come,” added Streetman. “We just have to trust the process and know it’s still early. This team is special and when we show up we will be hard to beat.”
With a full slate of GSC opponents on tap over the next few weeks, all we can really do is sit back and watch as the 2018 Lady Choctaws continue finding their form. But that’s what makes the journey all the more exciting out at the MC Softball Complex. Let’s see just what this Lady Choctaw softball team can become.