April 10, 2013
By Michael Eldridge | UTAMavs.com
ARLINGTON, Texas - Having one of the youngest teams in the Western Athletic Conference, the UT Arlington softball team has shown the fight needed to be successful.
The Mavericks (17-19, 2-7 WAC) are fielding a squad with five underclassmen -- two sophomores and three freshmen -- regularly starting. The young team has been competitive against some of the top competition in the country. The Mavericks opened up the season with a 15-11 record in their first four tournaments, despite having only five upperclassmen on the roster.
Nine games into the conference slate, the Mavericks are digging deep to show they have what it takes to win. UT Arlington plays host to Texas State at Allan Saxe Field in a three-game WAC series beginning with Friday's doubleheader at 4 p.m.
"Right now it is all about confidence," UT Arlington coach Kristie Fox said. "We have to have that fight and swag no matter what the circumstance is. The juniors and seniors have been through this lull in the season. They have to pull the freshman and sophomores in and make them understand that our season is not over and we still have games to win. There is no reason to crumble right now."
Leading the charge on offense has been sophomore Meagan Michele. The infielder leads the team with her .311 batting average and three home runs. Michele has started all of UTA's 36 games this season and said that playing with a lot of young players is an advantage for the Mavericks.
"Once you start off doing something enough, and you are doing it right, you keep building up the right stuff," Michele said. "Having a bunch of new and young players is a huge advantage for us. It doesn't matter who is on the other side of the field, as long we play our game, we can win."
The Mavericks are in their one and only season in the Western Athletic Conference before the team moves to the Sun Belt next year. Facing the challenge of playing new teams is preparing the team to be ready for the rest of this season and beyond.
"Our record might not show it, but we found our spot last week even though we got swept," Michele said. "If we play like we did against one of the best teams in the conference and play our game we should have no problem with any other team."
The confidence gained from playing preseason favorite New Mexico State was shared by Michele's teammate, freshman Rebecca Stokes. Stokes has also started all 36 games this season. Stokes said continued practice will only make the team better through the rest of this season.
"Having so many young players says that we will get even better and have more room to grow," Stokes said. "We have room to grow in our hitting and being more consistent with our hitting."
Fox said since so many young players usually do not start in Division I, the team has done pretty well and it's speeding up the learning curve. Sophomore Nina Villanueva, and freshmen Britnea Barilli and Jolene Schaefer have also played significant roles this season.
"Playing at the college level is the crème of the crop," Fox said. "Having them get the experience right out of freshman year is going to really help us in the future and give them confidence that they can play at this level.
"They came into a situation where they were going to get the opportunity to get a spot. We didn't know who we had when we got here and it was a clean slate for everyone. They really took advantage of the opportunity and improved themselves to get the starting spot in the spring. Every day is a competitive battle on who's going to keep that spot."