David Reeder

Special to the Grove Sun

KANSAS-Never mind the fact that the Kansas fast pitch softball team graduated four starting seniors last season . . . .never mind it because this year the Lady Comets could field an entire team of 12th graders if they wanted to.

But an infusion of gifted underclassmen will certainly add to both the depth and potential of the 2011 Kansas team. And in the words of Coach Steve Odle, “We’ve got a great group of younger kids coming in and I can see that several of them are going to be in competition for a starting spot.”

Despite losing one starting pitcher to graduation and another to injury, the Comets will be looking to a trio of underclassmen to take the hill this season. Paige Fielden, Kinsay Hayes and Nikki Bernard are expected to each see their fair share of pitching time in the upcoming campaign. Multi-year starter, senior Haley Blackwood looks to have a firm hold at the shortstop position as does the class of 2012’s Barb Helton at catcher. In addition to being a slick infielder, Blackwood could, at some point this season, see some time at backstop as well. The talented 12th grader also hits for both power and average.

What Helton may lack in offensive finesse, she certainly makes up for with some considerable pop in her bat. Fresh off a grueling schedule of summer basketball, a slimmed down junior Heather Marshall appears to be the heir apparent at first base. The 6-3 junior has obviously spent the past few weeks getting into shape, which should translate well in both softball and the upcoming basketball season.

Another pair of seniors destined to see plenty of time on the field are Courtney Cowan and Kelsey Barnwell. Cowan has steadily improved offensively for the Comets, while the always versatile Barnwell, when not in the starting lineup, drives opposing defenses crazy as the team’s designated runner, ala Claudell Washington. According to Odle, seniors Krysten Dozier, Courtney Barnard, Danielle Presley and Holly Wofford as we well as McKenzi Armbrister, Summer Higgins and Bailey Owens will all be vying for playing time too.

After tearing through their regular season and the district playoffs, last year’s Lady Comets had the misfortune of landing in the Tahlequah-Sequoyah regional tournament, where they were treated to a large, obligatory helping of Indian home cooking. This season won’t be any less daunting for the Kansas girls as they open with a triangular match versus Jay and Wyandotte, Tuesday, August 9, at Lady Bulldog Field. And by late September’s postseason, the Lady Comets will be tested at the Grove, Keys and Inola tournaments (just to name a few).