Creighton softball coach Brent Vigness isn’t one to discourage his players from setting high goals.
And a smile came to Vigness’ face Thursday when he heard that one of his star players said she wants to end the 2013 season in the women’s College World Series.
“I love that mindset,” Vigness said. “It’s been a couple of years since we won a championship around here. To me, it seems like 20, and I’m not handling that well at times.
“Our goals and expectations are to win championships, and they’re working their tails off. We know what we need to do, and they’ve made a conscious effort of cleaning things up defensively and improving in the circle. Hopefully, we’ll see dividends from that.”
Creighton hasn’t played in the women’s CWS since 1986 but at least gave itself a chance by earning NCAA tournament appearances seven times between 1999 and 2010. The latter season was the last time the Bluejays won the Missouri Valley tournament, a season after they won their last regular-season title.
This season’s team is out to change that. The Bluejays return seven starting position players and four of their five pitchers from a team that went 28-25-1 last season. Creighton finished fifth in the Valley with a 15-11 record.
Being picked fourth in this season’s preseason poll provides the Bluejays with some motivation.
“Being picked fourth is better than the sixth we’ve been picked the last couple of years,” Creighton senior catcher Amy Baker said. “We thought we’d be picked higher, considering how did last year.
“It just gives us three more teams to prove that we’re better than come MVC time.”
Baker is coming off a season in which she hit .340 with eight homers and 46 RBIs. She’ll team with pitcher-first baseman Alexis Cantu to provide Creighton’s lineup with plenty of pop. Cantu earned Valley newcomer of the year honors after hitting 17 homers to go along with 48 RBIs and a .357 average.
Junior outfielder Ellen Homan (.370) and utility player Bri Lingl (.338, 10 homers, 43 RBIs) also return from a lineup that set several school records and led the Valley in batting average (.294), homers (56), RBIs (275) and slugging percentage (.464). Creighton finished 20th in the country in scoring, 22nd in home runs per game and 27th in slugging percentage.
While Baker has her sights set on the CWS, Cantu has some scaled-back expectations.
“Our goal is to win the conference championship,” she said, “and then go on from there. Whenever we hit a tough spot in practice or start to get tired, it’s always, ‘Let’s go, conference championship.’ We remind each other of that each and every day.”
In order to contend for a Valley title, the Bluejays need to play better defensively than they did a season ago when they committed 61 errors in 54 games. Creighton’s pitchers also will need to be sharper after compiling a 3.66 ERA and allowing opponents to hit .262.
Junior Becca Changstrom is the top returning pitcher, having compiled a 17-13 record and a 2.38 ERA. One of Changstrom’s priorities include cutting down on her walks after giving up 84 in 182 13 innings.
“I just want to go out and win games for my team,” Changstrom said.
Creighton opens its season next Thursday with a pair of games at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. Chances are the first game will mark the first time the Bluejays will be outside as their on-campus field is snow covered.
With temperatures in the single digits Thursday, Vigness is thankful for the new Rasmussen Sports and Fitness Center. The facility’s 40- by 60-yard artificial turf field house provides an ideal practice venue, Vigness said.
“It’s probably more helpful for us than any other sport on campus,” Vigness said. “The size of the facility is similar to the size of our game field. We’ve been able to do things inside that we never were able to do in the past.
“Our outfielders have even taken some fly balls in there. We’re as well-prepared as we’ve ever been with this kind of weather, and we’re very blessed to be able to work in the Ras Center.”
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