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New faces for Tiger softball this season

By KLINT SPILLER

kspiller@dailynews.net

The middle of the field didn't change for the Fort Hays State University softball team from last season to this season.

However, the rest of the team will feature some new faces in new positions. Half the infield will feature freshmen, and the pitching staff will have more depth.

The new-look softball team was set to make its debut at 1 p.m. today at Tiger Stadium against Nebraska-Kearney

"We do have a bunch of new girls this year, a lot of freshmen and a lot of transfers, but they are all incredibly talented," said senior pitcher Maddie Holub. "I think we'll be really fun to watch. I'm really excited."

The Tigers, who finished 31-19 last season, were selected No. 4 in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association preseason coaches' poll. FHSU was third in the MIAA standings last season, but the addition of the University of Central Oklahoma dropped the Tigers a spot.

"It didn't surprise me," Kinberger said about being tabbed in the top half of the conference. "I think it shows that people have respect for us."

First and second base were previously manned by Adriana Wortley and Taylor Nelson, two of FHSU's top hitters last season, but Kinberger said she expects her freshmen replacements to do well.

Kinberger didn't want to disclose who would start where, but she said she expects freshmen Tori Beltz and Courtney Dobson to be factors in the order right away.

"They look really good," Kinberger said of her new infield. "They are really strong at the plate for sure, and defensively, they are coming along. I don't think you'll see any holes."

Junior Kellsi Olsen is the lone returning starter from last year's infield. She'll start at shortstop, and junior Danie Brinkmann will move to third base.

Brinkmann, who used to start at shortstop, sat out last season with a broken ankle.

"(Brinkmann) looks really good," Kinberger said. "She really made a good adjustment going to third base. It's nice to have an upperclassmen in that position."

The middle of the lineup is back.

The Tigers' second-best hitter, sophomore center fielder Amanda Vaupel, will anchor the outfield. Vapuel hit .333 last season, and junior Callie Wright, who hit .258 last season, return at catcher.

Holub, a first-team all-MIAA selection last season, again will be FHSU's top option on the mound, and she also was FHSU's best best hitter last season.

Holub led the squad with a .361 average, 10 home runs and a .589 slugging percentage. She also posted a 1.62 ERA, 19-9 record and 306 strikeouts in 195 innings pitched.

However, Kinberger said Holub's relief options have improved this season.

Kinberger expects freshman Paxton Duran, from Brighton, Colo., to see plenty of time as well as junior Jordan Jones, who transferred from Connors State (Okla.) College.

"Maddie is averaging anywhere between 62 and 64 miles an hour," Kinberger said.

"Our freshman is averaging between 60 and 62 miles an hour. She's a really good pitcher. We are excited to have her."

The games today will not count toward the MIAA standings since the Tigers will see them later in the year, but it will be a chance for the freshmen to demonstrate their abilities.

Holub said it's a big jump from high school to NCAA Division II.

"It's a different level completely here," she said. "It's going to take a little bit of transition. The game is faster. The game is more intense. You have to pay a little more to the details, because you won't get away with what you get away with high school here."

However, Holub said these freshmen are different.

"They are really coming into that really quickly, so I don't think you'll see a lot of freshmen mistakes like you would expect," Holub said.

"We brought in a great freshmen class. They are right there talent wise."