Even as the LSU softball team convened at Tiger Park on Wednesday afternoon for its first practice of the 2016 season, emotions were prevalant.
“No matter how many times I do this, the first day is always so exciting and fun,” Tigers coach Beth Torina said. “You’re nervous, you’re hopeful, you’re optimistic. There are so many emotions that go with it.”
Another emotion in this year’s equation was described as anger, revenge and disappointment as the players recalled the third-place finish in the Women’s College World Series last season.
“(The WCWS) really set the tone for who we are and what we’re all about,” sophomore right-hander Carley Hoover said, “but at the same time it wasn’t enough for any of us.
“When people told me ‘congratulations’ or ‘great season,’ I wasn’t really taking the compliment because it wasn’t good enough for me. And I’m pretty sure my teammates feel the same way.”
The Tigers won their first 25 games last season and were ranked No. 1 for the first time in school history. They won 52 games and made their fourth trip to the WCWS.
“We wanted to win it last year. We had a chance to and we fell a little bit short,” senior first baseman Sandra Simmons said. “We’re here ready to work hard enough to be able to win that national championship this year.”
LSU figures to be ranked in or near the top five when the preseason poll comes out in a few weeks. They have their top pitchers back in Hoover and fellow sophomore right-hander Allie Walljasper. The only everyday starter to graduate was center fielder A.J. Andrews.
“I think this team has a lot going for them,” Torina said. “Whether or not they accomplish everything that they’re capable of, I guess that’s up to our coaching staff and (the players’) buy-in to our system. They have a lot of potential and a lot of opportunity to do some big things this year.
“This team is very good on paper, but you don’t win or lose a game on paper. You have to go out there and do it. I think you have to reinvent yourself all the time.”
Torina said the incumbent outfielders — right fielder Bailey Landry and left fielder Emily Griggs — will get a look in center field.
“Both of those kids are trying out for the national team today, so I feel like we can’t go wrong whichever direction we go,” Torina said.
Landry, Griggs and shortstop Bianka Bell are in California trying out for Team USA.
Five players are competing for the third outfielder spot and wherever the winner best fits in the outfield could determine who winds up in center. Two veterans, senior Alayna Falcon and sophomore Taylor Lockwood, are competing with Sydney Bourg, who started at second base as a freshman late in the season season, as well as two newcomers who were signed as infielders — Elyse Thornhill from St. Joseph’s Academy and Amber Serrett from Spring, Texas.
Torina said Serrett is “an unbelievably talented shortstop” who will be “a mainstay at shortstop in the future,” but she’s unlikely to unseat Bell, a senior who was one of five LSU All-Americans last season. The others were Landry, Hoover, Walljasper and junior infielder/catcher Sahvanna Jaquish.
Other newcomers are second baseman Shemiah Sanchez and right-hander Sydney Smith.
The Tigers will take advantage of the week before classes begin next Wednesday to have lengthy workouts.
“I bring them back before school starts because I like to have them focus on just softball and get their bodies back in shape,” Torina said. “I think no matter what they’ve done during the break, having a three-hour practice and having conditioning when they’re sore and tired, it’s nice to let them have that singular focus before they have to become student-athletes.”
LSU opens the season against Ohio State on Feb. 12 Tiger Park, which will be the site of 21 of its first 26 games.
Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.