Rebel Preview: 2014 Softball Season

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Three things from Ole Miss softball head coach Windy Thees, previewing the 2014 season and the Rebels' first tournament, the FGCU/Four Points by Sheraton Invitational at Florida Gulf Coast, which starts Friday:

1. Year Three Of Thees Era

Ole Miss head coach Windy Thees enters her third year leading the Rebels, coming off a 25-31 season in 2013, a three-win improvement over the 2012 season (22-32). The Rebels return eight of nine starters and four of their five pitchers from a season ago.

"They know the drill," Thees said. "The first two years was difficult because it was a new system for them and then it was a lot of new players. Now that we're in year three, there's a big comfort level and a lot of confidence being built over the years because we have had a couple of years of more success than they have had in the past, and we're hoping to continue to build on that."

2. Taking Care Of Business

The Rebels open the 2014 season in Fort Myers, Fla., where they will compete in the FGCU/Four Points by Sheraton Invitational on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University. Ole Miss will play five games over the three-day tournament (Feb. 7-9), highlighted by the tournament opener against Western Kentucky, an NCAA Tournament team a season ago.

Ole Miss will also compete in tournaments in Charleston, S.C., and San Diego, Calif., as well as host the Red & Blue Classic from Feb. 21-23, where they will play Bowling Green, Buffalo, Northern Colorado, Saint Louis and Tennessee-Martin. The Rebels open Southeastern Conference play on March 7 at Florida, the first game of a three-game series against the Gators.

"The first thing is to take care of business, and that's taking care of business without even thinking about SEC schools," Thees said. "SEC play is the second half of the season. The first half of the season is going out and playing in these tournaments, where you're playing top-100 RPI teams from other conferences.

"This weekend, we play Florida Gulf Coast and Western Kentucky, two NCAA Tournament-type teams that are really solid, but we need to go in there and we need to win. We need to win the games we're supposed to win.  We need to compete with those teams and make sure we come away with a lot of wins out of conference, and that builds our confidence going into conference."

3. Restoring Pride, Turning A Corner

Coming off a 14-39 season in 2011, Thees and her staff and players have helped restore in the pride in the Ole Miss softball program. The Rebels have increased their win total in each of the past two years and hosted the largest crowd in the Ole Miss Softball Complex's history.

"The players have a lot more pride," Thees said. "The pride in Ole Miss has grown over the years. And because of that, the whole school and community want to support all the teams. Everybody is just waiting for us to win. As soon as we start winning, the crowds are going to continue to build and build, and we have already started the process of that. That's why our crowds have gotten bigger."

The SEC led all conferences with 11 teams selected to the NCAA Tournament last season, and it remains as challenging as ever. Leading the Rebels to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history, Thees said, would turn a corner.

"It's easy for me to recruit to the campus, education and community that this school offers," Thees said. "Our coaching staff is dynamic, and we can bring kids in. We want to beat the top schools for kids. To do that, you have to get to the NCAA Tournament because every kid wants a chance to go to Oklahoma City and play in the World Series. 

"The first step is getting into the postseason, and once you get into the postseason, it's all about hitting your stride at the right time and matchups. Turning the corner and getting to the NCAA Tournament and becoming a perennial NCAA Tournament team, that's our job at Ole Miss, and that's where we're hoping to take that step this year."

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