Tracy Bunge won't have to wait long to determine how good high school sensation Kassie Humphreys will be at the college level.
Humphreys, a 5-foot-11 right-handed pitcher, was Arizona's high school player of the year as a senior, and she'll make her collegiate debut on home turf this weekend.
A native of suburban Phoenix, Humphreys will start at least three games this weekend when the Jayhawks open the season at 3 p.m. today against Northwestern and 5 p.m. today against Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz.
"I foresee Humphreys as a workhorse," Bunge said. "She's a competitor. She wants the ball."
Bunge would rather not overuse Humphreys, but the eighth-year KU coach will have no choice if veteran right-hander Kara Pierce has any recurrences of shoulder woes.
Pierce, who has won 50 games during her first three seasons, underwent minor shoulder surgery in June and rehabbed through the fall season. Pierce has been given a clean bill of health, but hasn't recaptured her old form.
"She's really looked good at times," Bunge said about Pierce, a 5-11 right-hander who also hails from suburban Phoenix. "We'll have to be very careful with her. Right now I see her as being close to the level she was early last year."
Bunge's only other proven pitcher is Serena Settlemier who won 12 games two years ago with a team-leading 1.88 ERA, but missed all of last season with an injury to her pitching arm. Settlemier is back but has not been cleared to pitch.
"Serena is nowhere close to being ready on the mound," Bunge said. "At least we'll be able to use her as the designated player. In December, she was shut down totally."
Settlemier hit .297 two years ago -- a batting average that would have led last year's team by nearly 30 points.
Kansas finished 26-22 and a disappointing 4-14 in the Big 12 Conference in 2003 mostly because the Jayhawks fashioned a league-low team batting average of .218. KU also had one of the league's lowest on-base percentages at .286.
"We've been focusing on shortening swings," Bunge said, "and we're preaching about being more aggressive at the plate. We need to score more runs."
Kansas slammed a school-record 37 home runs last season -- 11 by second baseman Jessica Moppin -- but too many were one- and two-run shots.
Moppin, an Olathe South product, was one of five freshmen who won regular jobs last year. She led the Jayhawks in slugging percentage at .559, but she hit only .266 and drew just three walks in 48 games.
"I'm looking to concentrate a lot more on drawing walks this year," Moppin said. "Last year I went up there swinging."
On the flip side is keystone mate Destiny Frankenstein who led the team with 27 bases on balls, but hit only .214 with nine extra-base hits as the every-day shortstop.
"Last year I was really patient," Frankenstein said. "This year I'd like to be a lot more aggressive at the plate."
Bunge has another sophomore back on the infield in third baseman Nettie Fierros, but the KU coach wishes she had her entire infield back intact. Junior first baseman Lindsey Weinstein won't play this year because of an undisclosed injury.
Bunge, citing new privacy rules, said only that Weinstein suffered the injury last summer and missed fall ball because of it. Weinstein batted .206 last season -- the lowest average among the every-day players -- yet was the unquestioned leader of the infield.
"Lindsey is a real presence vocally," Bunge said. "We'll miss that leadership. She's also a very good fielder. She made only two errors last season."
Weinstein's replacement will be either fifth-year senior Leah Mountain or freshman Nicole Washburn.
Kansas is not scheduled to open at home until March 31. When the Jayhawks do play their first game on campus, it will be in the new Arrocha Ballpark, named after the father of benefactor Cheryl Womack.
"We had one practice day there before the weather set in," Bunge said. "We spent an hour and a half there, and that wasn't enough time to get a good feel for it. But it's wonderful."
KU will play Northwestern and Arizona State in single games over the next three days. Next weekend the Jayhawks will travel to a tournament in San Antonio, Texas.