STILLWATER, Okla. — Vanessa Shippy remembers the first time she put on the Oklahoma State orange and black uniforms; it doesn’t feel that long ago to the senior.
However, the time has flown by and the utility player from Couer d’Alene, Idaho, is starting her last first day of collegiate softball when she and the Cowgirls open their season Friday.
While Shippy isn’t trying to think about it being her senior year, she is excited for all the young players on the Cowgirls who will get their first bit of action this weekend in the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Arizona.
OSU, nationally ranked in the preseason for the first time in seven years (ironically the last time the Cowgirls played in the Arizona tournament), opens against Oregon State at 10 a.m. followed by a nightcap against No. 7 Arizona at 6 p.m.
The No. 21 Cowgirls will round out the tournament with games against Missouri, New Mexico and Western Michigan on Saturday and Sunday.
Shippy, who has played mostly at catcher the past two years, will start the year off at third base on the heavily experienced squad and is ready to test the Cowgirls’ mettle against top-tier talent right out of the gate.
“I really wanted in our team since day one here is for us to understand that we can go out and beat anyone,” Shippy said. “We have proved that the last couple of years here and we didn’t think we could. I don’t think the majority of us walked into Florida thinking that we could beat them and we did. I think just knowing that we can beat any team that we can play will make us better. I am excited to see how that plays out.”
Her coach, Kenny Gajewski, also said he believes the team needs to use some confidence the program has built in his first two years to go out and get a signature win early. He will be entering the season with yet another seemingly new pitching staff, with transfers Samantha Clakley and Emmie Robertson expected to contribute immediately.
Another position where Gajewski is seeing some new blood is catcher as sophomore Mackenzie Thomas and freshman Raquel Dominguez are battling for the spot behind the plate.
Despite the newness in the battery, Gajewski is confident that it and the rest of the team will step up when the umpire says ‘Play ball.’
“This team has prepared very well throughout this whole spring camp, and I’m just ready for them to just go out and play and see how we match up with some of the best teams in the country,” Gajewski said. “That’s all that’s on my mind right now.”
OSU’s first two opponents in the Beavers and Wildcats both were tournament teams a year ago, just like the Cowgirls. Oregon State was swept in a regional while the Wildcats went toe-to-toe with Baylor for a spot in the Women’s College World Series only to lose in the final game of a three-game series.
Gajewski said he thinks the team is ready for the challenge as this tournament is one of just five to start the year off as the Cowgirls will be road warriors until their first game back home on March 2 against Omaha in the Mizuno Classic.
“These kids are ready and I can see it,” Gajewski said. “This is as far as we’ve been along at this point – we’re as far along to start a year as we’ve ever been – in my time here. I know it’s not a lot of time, but it’s our third year and they’re ready to go. This is the first time I’ve felt like that. It’s the first time I’m tired of watching us scrimmage against each other and to me that tells me that we’re ready. I can see it in these kids’ eyes and I can see it all week.”
Robertson, a senior transfer from Pittsburg State in Pittsburg, Kansas, said games like Friday’s are part of the reason she came to Stillwater. Robertson will most likely be the No. 2 pitcher in the rotation behind Clakley, Gajewski said.
The Lamar, Missouri, righthander said she is ready to step up in the circle the first chance she gets and whether it is Thomas or Dominguez catching, she said the team will be fine and soon the fans will see there is nothing to worry about.
“To me it is exciting because to be the best, you’ve got to play the best and playing high level competition just gives the opportunity to prove who we are and that we are where we are supposed to be and that are we meant to be in the top tier of teams,” Robertson said.
Bishop writes for Stillwater News Press, a CNHI News Service publication.