By Matt Turer — @MattTurer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
HEAD COACH: Amy Marshall
2017 RECORD: 24-5
2017 POSTSEASON: Lost 6-1 to Rogersville in districts
Nearly 150 wins and two district titles happened to West Plains since Amy Marshall joined as an assistant under long-time head coach Donnie Long in 2009.
Now nearly a decade since that partnership began, Long has handed the role to Marshall, who will head up a program coming off three consecutive 20-win seasons and back-to-back district titles but will face a bit of a rebuild this year.
“There is definitely some pressure taking over a program with the success we’ve had in recent years,” Marshall said. “I’ve learned so much from coach Long in the eight years that I coached with him. He never took a break. He was always looking to get the best out of our teams. The fact that he told me when he retired he knew I’d do a great job meant a lot to me. There isn’t anyone I respect more when it comes to softball.”
The transition won’t come without some difficulties with the Zizzers graduating seven starters from last year’s district championship team, including one of southwest Missouri’s best arms in Abbey Gann. Gann finished last season 17-4 with a 2.43 ERA, striking out 141 in 122.1 innings. She struck out 381 batters over her final two seasons.
Two of West Plains best hitters in Karsyn Smith and Kasey Bonham are also gone, and the Zizzers return just three starters from 2017.
“I know that this season will be tough after losing seven starters but I expect to maintain that high level of success West Plains has had,” Marshall said.
The three returning starters are catcher Alyssa Sims, infielder Abbi Thompson and Taylor Cecil. Sims will be the heart of West Plain’s lineup after batting .432 with 11 doubles, two triples, five homers and 27 RBIs last year. Thompson hit .333 with 16 steals and Cecil .359.
With Karsyn Smith (47.0 IP, 1.72 ERA / .417 AVG., 17 2B, 25 RBIs) also graduated, West Plains is starting completely fresh on the pitching side. Marshall is looking to sophomore Sunshine Jones and junior Madison Anderson on the mound.
Other returners include senior outfielder Paige Vick, junior third baseman Maggi Davison and sophomore infielders Kelsey Bonham and Savanna Summers. Freshmen include infielders Brooke Chitwood, Jacie Cotter, Kylie Kittrell and Emmie Howell and outfielder Megan McCracken.
“We’re going to be extremely young this year,” Marshall said. “The exciting news is we have the largest group of freshmen we’ve had since I’ve been at West Plains. There are some athletic girls in this group with a lot of speed. Our goal will be to get better each game and we definitely hope to challenge for a district title.”
West Plains opens with the Sullivan Tournament on August 24.