FORT MYERS, Fla. - After weeks and months of preparation, the 2014 season has finally arrived for the Ole Miss softball team. The Rebels will head south to Fort Myers, Fla., to the home of Florida Gulf Coast University to compete in the FGCU/Four Points by Sheraton Invitational.
Ole Miss begins play at the tournament Friday against Western Kentucky at 1:30 p.m. CT. The Hilltoppers won the Sun Belt Conference regular season championship last season after going 20-3 in league play. WKU enters the 2014 season receiving votes in the preseason USA Today/NFCA Coaches top 25 and the preseason ESPN.com/USA Softball top 25. The Rebels will then turn around and play host school Florida Gulf Coast at 3:45 p.m. CT.
"We want to get off to a fast start," Ole Miss head coach Windy Thees said. "We've been swinging the bat a lot because of this horrible weather, so we've gotten a lot of extra cuts in the cages. We've been able to have a lot of at-bats and swings, so we want to make sure we're scoring a lot of runs this weekend.
"Our pitchers have done a really good job of developing all of their pitches and all of their pitches at different speeds. The speed differential is what I'm really focusing on this year to take us to the next level as a pitching staff and hopefully bring that ERA down so that if we score four runs we're going to win no matter what."
On Saturday, Ole Miss will face Georgetown at 9:00 a.m. CT, followed by a matchup against Liberty at 1:30 p.m. CT that same day. The Rebels will close out play in the tournament on Sunday with the opponent and time of game dependent on performance in the tournament.
The Rebels return eight of nine starters from a year ago, including four of five pitchers and 13 of 16 letterwinners. Ole Miss will be looking to build on its fantastic defense from a year ago where it set a program record with a .979 mark, which ranked fifth nationally.
With the season finally here, Thees said it's a funny balance of wishing the season would finally arrive, and then realizing it actually is here.
"The preseason is like, `Oh man, this is going on and on,' and now that the season is here you're like, `Wait, did we put this in, did we do this, did we do that?' " said Thees, who is beginning her third season at Ole Miss. "We've gone over our first and third plays, our bunt and slap defense, we've gone over cuts, but then in your head you're like, `Did we go over it enough?' A few weeks ago you're like, `Man, can we get the season here?'
"As a coach, the season is great because your players are playing, but your opportunities to teach kind of shrink down. Now you're just making minor adjustments throughout the season," Thees said. "Now it's more about strategizing, preparing for games and teams. It's a different type of coaching, whereas before it's actually teaching the game and instructing the players. This is game time, x's and o's, putting the right people in and making the right substitutions."
Ole Miss got off to the second best start in program history through 25 games last season when it began 16-9. The Rebels will look to top that mark this season and continue to re-write the record books under Thees' tutelage.
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