By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
After posting a 5-18 record in 2016, Bolivar’s rebound took several steps forward last year.
The Lady Liberators finished the season with a 12-15 mark and were co-champions of the Central Ozarks Conference Small Division before falling in the district semifinal to Osage.
While his team fell short of a district title, head coach Brian Thompson was pleased with the overall progress.
“I feel that we met most of our expectations,” Thompson said. “The girls definitely learned a lot on how to deal with adversity. This year, I firmly believe that they will be able to handle whatever situation is thrown at them and will come back as hungry as ever for a district title.”
For Bolivar to take another step forward, it will first need to find replacements for a quartet of graduated seniors in Taylor Dial, Charlotte Waddelow, Jacey Follis and Shelby Davidson.
Dial, a second-team all-state selection, will continue her athletic career this fall at Central Methodist University in Fayette.
“We will definitely miss Taylor’s leadership and competitiveness, not to mention her bat and defense,” Thompson said. “She will be very hard to replace.”
The Lady Liberators return a solid core of senior leaders in outfielder/first baseman Carsyn Julien (.425 / 37 hits / 30 runs), outfielder/pitcher Grayson Rogers (7-12), second baseman Malerie Stanton (.257), and third baseman Rachel Evans.
They will be joined by a quartet of sophomores in catcher/outfielder Ashton Lynn (.262 / 11 runs), center fielder Emme Hall (.360 / 32 hits / 15 RBI / 6 SB), pitcher/infielder Katie Brooks (.457 / 17 RBI) and Karissa Rickman, along with junior Hayley Tygart.
Brooks, a Florida State commit, suffered a back injury during the season and is healthy once more heading into the fall season.
A strong freshman class including Avery McClure, Jadyn Hamilton, Kirsten Dickerson, Brooke Henry, Mollie Klaser, Paige Severns, Trinity Sprague, Shae Smith and Apryl Zeno could also compete for varsity playing time.
“There are several young ladies in this group that could have an immediate impact at the varsity level,” Thompson said. “There’s a ton of athleticism and ability in this group and we are excited to see what the future holds them.”
Bolivar’s strength this season resides in the circle, with both depth and talent.
“Katie Brooks will definitely be our ace when it comes to the circle,” Thompson said. “She has very good velocity and comes into this season having added an additional pitch to her repertoire.”
Rogers, Hamilton and Dickerson will provide the Lady Liberators with additional depth in the circle and keep arms fresh for a postseason run.
Preparing for that postseason will be a bit different in 2018, as Bolivar finds itself without a conference affiliation. The Lady Liberators will play an independent schedule that includes a host of Class 4 opponents including Willard, Nixa, Camdenton, Republic, Branson, Lebanon and Smith-Cotton.
“We are very optimistic about this season and should see a battle for playing time at several positions,” Thompson said. “I feel that we have an excellent shot, with this group of athletes, to go out and have a successful regular season and compete for a district title. Our schedule continues to be very strong and competitive and we fully expect to be in every game from the first pitch to the last pitch.”
Bolivar opens its season against Willard Aug. 24.