The Lincoln University softball team has had to be so flexible in this young season, the Blue Tigers are turning into a bunch of contortionists.
We're less than a week into the season, and the Blue Tigers have already made two major scheduling changes.
Lincoln was supposed to kick off the season last weekend with a tournament in Arkadelphia, Ark. But weather issues canceled that event, meaning the Blue Tigers wouldn't get off to their earliest start in recent memory.
"The main reason we scheduled that early is we'd go down to tournaments and everybody would have six to 15 games on us," Lincoln coach Nicole Stacey said. "I just wanted to get out there and get started early and hopefully do great things early on."
But the cancellation meant the Blue Tigers would have to wait until this weekend, when they were set to travel to Goodwell, Okla., to play four games. However, this week's snows nixed that idea.
So in an interesting twist, the Blue Tigers now find themselves going to a substitute event in ... Arkadelphia.
"This is actually our third option this week," Stacey said. "We had another tournament lined up in Texas in case Goodwell canceled, but the Texas one filled up before (Goodwell) made the decision.
"Hopefully we'll get four games in. Right now, weather looks pretty good. Of course, things seems to change every five minutes, so we'll have to see."
And while the Blue Tigers haven't been able to practice outside because of the snow, even practicing inside has been a challenge.
"The hard part is getting people to practice, with all of our kids living off-campus, a lot of them have been trapped and not able to get out. So it's been interesting," Stacey said.
But there has been a silver lining.
"Everybody is healthy," Stacey said. "That weekend off actually helped us heal up some injuries and get a few over the flu, so it was a blessing in disguise."
BY THE TIME the Blue Tigers get to the later stages of this season, they may be looking back with fondness to that extra week off.
That's because Lincoln is going to be coping with a small roster this year, as some health issues have caused the roster to shrink to just 12 players. And out of that group, just six have seen playing time for the Blue Tigers.
"Out of the six that return, three of them have been with me since their freshman year," Stacey said. "They've definitely matured. Compared to past years, we're not as emotional a team, and I think that's going to play a big part this year.
"There's a lot of leaders, which I haven't had. And they're leading by example, not words, and that's another big difference. In the past, I had a bunch of talkers but no workers."
That work ethic has come in handy with the offseason issues that translates into a short bench.
"One of those was our starting pitcher and losing her, I thought we're either going to crumble and play "poor me,' or we're going to fight," Stacey said. "These girls have fought. I've had girls step up and say, "I can play that role, I can give you a couple innings here and a couple innings there.' ... My team is rallying around each other. It's a pretty awesome feeling as a coach to watch that happen because it could have easily gone the other way. I'm really proud of them for that."
Carrying the load in the circle this year will fall on Alyssa Laudwig, a junior who comes to the Blue Tigers from John Wood Community College.
"Alyssa pitched every game pretty much for her juco, which helps out, because she's now in that same role for us," Stacey said.
The other two hurlers for the Blue Tigers are junior Jessica Cook, a transfer from North Central Missouri College, and freshman Madison Gooden, who was recruited mainly as a position player but will now pitch as well.
"Jessica was injured all fall and just released (by doctors) in December," Stacey said. "She's still working her way out. If she was healthy back in the fall, I'd be a little bit more at ease. We've still got to watch her knee.
"Not only is Madison brand-new to the whole thing, but now it's, "Hey, come to college, and now you're pitching.' But she'll do fine, she's a competitor and that's what I like most about the kid."
AMONG THE POSITION players, leading the way for Lincoln is dual-threat sophomore Sam Kircher.
The shortstop led the Blue Tigers in four major offensive categories last year, taking first in average (.336), runs (18), hits (43) and RBI (19), while placing second in slugging percentage (.492) and tying for fourth in home runs (4).
"She's a big hitter for us and real strong defensively," Stacey said. "As a freshman, she led us in errors, but she's improved dramatically. She's rock-solid, she's tough.
"She's a much more vocal leader this year. I expect a lot of great things out of her, not just good in terms of Lincoln, but good things out of the conference as well. She's got the talent and hopefully everything works out for her."
Close behind her in most of the offensive output is senior first baseman Erin Sommerer. She led the squad in homers (7), was second in RBI (18) and slugging percentage (.504), while tying for second in runs (14) and finishing third in hits (32).
"Consistency, that's what I expect out of her," Stacey said. "She's not so emotional as she's been in the past. She's has much more fight to her right now."
Another key returnee is senior catcher Shantae Duren, who tied for second in runs (14) last year and tied for fourth in homers (4) and slugging (.460).
"Shantae has definitely grown and developed," Stacey said. "I expect good things out of her hitting and defensively at catcher, although she also needs to be ready to go elsewhere."
If necessity means Duren needs to move to another defensive spot, senior Kelsey Hight could step in behind the plate.
"Kelsey didn't get much playing time last year, but her hitting has come along, and that's what held her back a lot last year," Stacey said. "Finding a place right now, that's up to her."
Another returnee is Amanda Coffelt, who in the past has played catcher, left field, right field, first base, third base and designated player.
"She's been everywhere for us and she's now going to be playing second base," Stacey said. "She needs to be consistent in her hitting, which is something she struggled with in the past. But she was not playing consistently, so it was tough for her to get in there and feel confident. There's not going to be much of that this year."
The final returning Blue Tiger is sophomore third baseman Jessica Wolken.
"She's much stronger now that she had more experience toward the end of last year," Stacey said. "She and Sam work really well together, communcation-wise."
In addition to Gooden, who could see time at first base and in the outfield when not pitching, other outfielders include junior Kassidy Borland in center field and sophomore Cassidy Janicek and junior transfer Allyson Corry.