Though Megan Smith has spent the past eight months acquainting herself with the Kansas University softball program, the first-year coach admitted Thursday she won’t truly know the makeup of her team until she sees it in action.
“In practice, people emerge on a daily basis, and we think we know (what we’ve got),” Smith said during the team’s annual media day. “But we really don’t know until we see them in game situations.”
For Smith, that opportunity will come today, when the Jayhawks take the field for a season-opening doubleheader against No. 22 Louisville (11 a.m.) and Sam Houston State (1 p.m.) during the Marriott Hobby Invite in Houston, Texas.
On paper, Kansas — which finished 21-31 overall and 6-11 in the Big 12 last season — appears to be in for a rebuilding year after losing half its starting lineup and all but one regular pitcher —senior Sarah Vertelka — from a team that finished last in the Big 12 in team batting average and second-to-last in pitching and fielding last season.
As a result, Smith will be counting on a number of the team’s seven incoming players to step in immediately and help fill the void, including outfielders Rosie and Maggie Hull, centerfielder/pitcher Alex Jones and third baseman Mariah Montgomery.
“The basic theme for our team this year is we do not have a lot of depth, we do not have a lot of experience,” said Smith, who spent the past three years as an assistant at LSU and replaces 13-year KU coach Tracy Bunge. “But we have girls who work really hard, who understand what we need from them, who understand that they have to work hard on every single play. They want to win, and (they) work as hard as they can to do that on a daily basis.”
Lately, much of that work has come indoors, as an unrelenting winter has mostly relegated the team to Anschutz Pavilion and made this weekend’s trip south a welcome reprieve from the Midwestern elements.
“I’m just excited to go out there and see how we’ll do,” said Rosie Hull, who along with twin Maggie starred at Free State High. “We’ve been putting in the hard work all fall and for these past couple of weeks, and ... I’m just really excited to see how it goes.”
Smith, for her part, seems to be entering the season with a cautious optimism, expressing excitement at the prospect of kicking off a new era of KU softball, but aware, too, that the program’s transformation won’t happen overnight.
“Certainly, wins and losses are important — I’d be lying if I said they weren’t,” Smith said. “But for what we’re trying to do, we’re looking at things other than wins and losses this season. We’re trying to build a foundation, and it’s about changing their mentality, changing their outlook on things and changing how they approach the game.
“And that’s what we’re looking for this weekend.”