By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Eight years. Seven district titles.
High expectations are nothing new for Ozark softball, and as head coach Jimmy Nimmo enters his third season at the helm, the Lady Tigers will aim for yet another 20-win season and deep run into the postseason.
Last year’s squad finished 23-10 before falling to Raymore-Peculiar in the Class 4 quarterfinals.
The Lady Tigers stumbled out of the gate with a 6-5 start which, according to Nimmo, played a key role in the team’s development and late-season success.
“Those losses, I feel, were important to our growth for the remaining part of the season,” Nimmo said. “[The losses] were disappointing, but allowed us to reevaluate our approach at the plate and what we really wanted as a team by districts.”
For Ozark to continue its dominant run, the roster will once again need to be reloaded.
The Lady Tigers lost six starters (and 33 of the team’s 44 home runs last season) to graduation, including Nya Morgan, Lily Sullivan, Madison Reese, Emma Taylor, Makenna Harmon, and Kara Ford.
Morgan will continue her softball career at Southwest Baptist University this fall.
“This was a great group of seniors,” Nimmo said. “They became the leaders we hoped they would become. Their leadership will be missed along with their stats, especially the offensive side of things — those numbers will be difficult to replace.”
Despite the losses to graduation, Ozark returns a host of players with valuable varsity experience, led by sophomore outfielder Abby Ford (.459 BA, 39 hits). As a freshman, Ford earned first-team honors at the conference, district and regional levels.
Four juniors also return for the Lady Tigers, including shortstop Ashlei Coonrod (.340 BA, 34 hits, 20 RBI, 3 HR), pitcher Hattie Depee (6-4), infielder/outfielder Tiffany Nichols (.300 BA) and catcher Raegan Dickinson (.292 BA, 1 HR).
Sophomores Kenna Mayfield (.275 BA, 1 HR) and Emily Schmucker (.300 BA, 27 hits, 22 RBI, 6 HR) round out Ozarks returning core.
“This group of returnees have a high ceiling and are fast and athletic,” Nimmo said. “Our home-run numbers may not be as high as last season, but our speed and athleticism should make up for a lot of that. I feel our offensive numbers in most other categories will be similar to last year, and our defense will get the job done again.”
For the third season in a row, Ozark will feature a new ace in the circle, and Nimmo expects great things from Depee.
“Hattie Depee was able to throw about 40% of our varsity innings last season,” Nimmo said. “She will be our workhorse and she will carry a big part of our schedule on her shoulders. If Hattie can work the zone early in the count to her advantage I feel she’ll have a lot of success. She throws hard when she’s at her best and working in multiple speeds will benefit her greatly.”
Mayfield also brings varsity experience in the circle for the Lady Tigers, and Nimmo believes his team could be three deep as the season progresses.
“We do have a little depth this year on our staff,” Nimmo said. “So, time and early success will dictate who we run with closer to districts.”
Nimmo feels a difficult early start to the schedule could once again pay dividends down the road.
“We will be tested early,” Nimmo said. “How we handle defeat will determine our success in conference and district play.”
Ozark opens the season at home against Jefferson City on Aug. 30.