Of all the things Kacy Tillery likes about her 2016 Kansas City Kansas Community College softball team, patience tops the list.
Right now, the Lady Blue Devils are without a field and have been since last fall. Practices this spring have been on a makeshift field at one corner of the all-weather soccer field.
"But no one is making excuses," says Tillery. "They know what they're up against and what they have to do. There are a lot of things you don't realize you miss until you don't have them. For instance, our pitchers have not pitched off a real rubber."
Hopefully, that will end Tuesday, March 8, when the Blue Devils are scheduled to open their new state-of-the-art all-weather field at the south end of the campus. "Everyone is excited," admits Tillery. "While this is one of our most inexperienced squads, it's a very competitive group, willing to work hard and cope to being without a field."
Meanwhile, the season opener will come Wednesday at Ottawa University JV and Tuesday, March 1, at Maple Woods. Johnson County will be the foe in the home opener March 8.
On paper, the Blue Devils do not look inexperienced with 13 sophomores and 10 freshmen. In reality, KCKCC may not have one position player who started in the same position as last season.
Savannah Dungen, who hit .276 and earned second team All-Jayhawk Conference honors, returns behind the plate but is getting a stern challenge from freshman Amy-Grace Wilson of Ottawa. Morgan Oroke, a sophomore outfielder from Tonganoxie who batted .315, has shifted to first base where she's locked in a battle for a starting position with Geena Harris, a Bonner Springs grad who transferred from Neosho County.
Mekayla Guerrero, a .319 hitter from Garden City, saw action in 22 games at shortstop last season before being sidelined for the season with a broken fibula, returns but to centerfield while Makayla Foskett of Leavenworth is dueling with Highland Park freshman LaTisha Thomas for the starting job in rightfield. Foskett batted .315 in 37 games last season. Van Horn freshman Hannah Bishop will draw the starting call in leftfield.
That leaves Tiffany Killam of Wapaun, Wis., as the only certain returnee to the starting lineup as the designated hitter where she batted .316 and led the team in home runs with five and RBI with 42.
Kaylynn Stratton, a freshman from Turner, and Megan Carlson, a frosh from Topeka Seaman, will occupy the left side of the infield at third base and short with backup from Katherine Stringer, a freshman from Coffeyville. Sam Sudac, a freshman from SM South, may have the edge at second base but is being challenge by Kennedy Rasmussen, a sophomore transfer from Barton County.
It will be an entirely new pitching staff – but not one that's untested. Brittany Gustin, a sophomore transfer from Barton County, has earned the No. 1 starting spot but has not pitched for two seasons while Elizabeth Seimers of Ottawa was on the KCKCC starting staff two years ago but missed last season because of an elbow injury. Allyson Budine, a freshman from Troy, will also see duty on the mound along with a couple of position players, Tiffany Killam and Geena Harris.
Tillery has a wealth of depth in sophomores Serena Escobar of Turner and Reagan Clough of Galena on the infield, catcher-outfielder Hannah Moore of Turner and outfielder Lauren Johnson of Perry LeCompton and freshman infielder of Kara Leeper of Ash Grove and fleet outfielder Marrissa Nevarez of Turner.
"We have five pitchers, two starters and three others who could step up and contribute," says Tillery. "We're going to need them to pitch well. Defensively, I think we'll be solid. Offensively, we're going to be more like the Royals. We may not hit a lot of home runs but we have more speed than we've ever had which we'll use to our advantage. They're quick and aggressive, like to run and are smart about it."
In her 16th season as head coach, Tillery will again be assisted by Tiffany Jennings, a former Blue Devil player.
Progress continues to be made on Kansas City Kansas Community College's new softball complex scheduled for opening Tuesday, March 8. Meanwhile, the Lady Blue Devils have practiced on the soccer field preparing for their season opener at Ottawa Wednesday. (KCKCC Photo by Alan Hoskins)