Youthful vibes have Huskers eager to make sure that ‘Nebraska softball is Nebraska softball’
Maybe it was the short break from the cold. Maybe the warmer air signaled that the start of the college softball season being very close.
Whatever it was, the 2019 Huskers had a full-of-life start to an outdoor practice in Wichita, Kansas, over the weekend.
“There was just an innocent spirit about just the group being outside for the first time,” Nebraska coach Rhonda Revelle said Tuesday. “I felt like I was back to coaching T-ball.
“I just feel like with youth comes a playfulness, and there’s a real playfulness and everything is new.”
Nebraska is taking a youthful and fresh approach to the upcoming season, which officially starts Friday at the Lone Star College Classic in Houston.
It will mark the 27th opening weekend as Nebraska’s head coach for Revelle, but even this one feels much different.
“It’s Year 27, but it feels like Year 1,” said Revelle, who is 968-537 at NU. “The reason it feels that way is because of how this team has gone about their work.”
Driving that are a couple of factors. Of the 20 players on the roster, 12 are either freshmen or sophomores. Meanwhile, the upperclassmen are eager to get the Huskers back on track after missing the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season.
“We’ve talked about changing the culture, getting us back to where we want to be, and I think we have a great group to do that this year,” junior shortstop Tristen Edwards said. “This is my favorite team that I’ve ever been a part of, and I think that says something for being on a team with 19 other girls.”
Revelle has praised her team’s efforts in the offseason. It started with an added emphasis on strength and conditioning, and it carried over into the fall when players were open to position changes or playing multiple positions. Now, the Huskers are looking to carry that energy into the new season.
“Just their attitude and philosophy about making sure that Nebraska softball is Nebraska softball, and the culture that’s been instilled for years and years and years,” Revelle said. “They’re really driving that bus.”
So what makes Nebraska softball Nebraska softball?
“I’ve always said it’s two things, and if you take care of these two things, everything is going to be OK,” Revelle said. “Heart and hustle. And that’s from the top of your head to the bottom of your toes.”
Nebraska’s hopes of returning to the NCAA Tournament rest on a roster blended with veterans who have logged a lot of innings and at-bats, to newcomers who are anxious to make an immediate impact.
Edwards and senior right fielder Alyvia Simmons have started since their freshman seasons and will be the top two anchor points in the batting order. Bri Cassidy (catcher) and Madi Unzicker (first base) bring a lot of experience and leadership to the table, too.
Youth will be a major factor in the circle. NU’s pitching staff has a combined two years of NCAA Division I experience. Despite the inexperience, Revelle said pitching will be a team strength, as freshmen Courtney Wallace and Lindsey Walljasper are expected to help sophomore Olivia Ferrell and senior Regan Mergele carry the arms load.
Revelle said the team opted against picking captains this season, noting there are six upperclassmen sharing leadership responsibilities.
Nebraska’s first step to regaining its edge starts in Houston. Nebraska will see Lamar, Texas Tech and Omaha over a three-day stretch beginning Friday. NU will play an exhibition game against Team Japan on Thursday in Houston.
″(Junior) Bree Boruff said it best,” Edwards said. “We owe it to our seniors to end on a significant note. We owe it to the juniors to step foot on a regional field, and we owe it to the freshmen and sophomores to make something of ourselves, not just for this team, but for everybody that will play.”