Black Hills State University is in softball mode even if the weather isn't.
The Yellow Jackets will open the season Saturday in Minot, North Dakota, of all places, for the Minot Dome Invitational. They'll face host Minot State University and the University of Minnesota Crookston for games on Saturday and Sunday.
"There is a different feel in practice, we are showing great focus on every aspect of the game," BHSU coach Lane Leedy said. "Falling one game short of the RMAC tournament last year has motivated this group of young women to new heights."
The Yellow Jackets look to improve from last season's 9-23 record in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and 9-31 overall record. The nine wins were the most conference victories in the school's program since joining the RMAC.
Leedy, entering her fifth season, returns 16 players and seven of nine starters, including Alex Wiley, Maddi Fidler and Maddie London. Wiley and Fidler were named RMAC Honorable Mention in their junior and freshman seasons, while London earned RMAC Player of the Week during week nine of conference play.
Black Hills State is led by four seniors this season, pitcher Wiley, catcher Samantha Gill, second baseman Katelyn Odle, and outfielder Morgan Smith.
"This senior class has embraced their leadership role and is ready to lead this program to new endeavors," said Leedy. "As upperclassman they have garnered several conference athletic and academic awards. They are an incredibly hardworking group and I know they are ready to leave it all on the field."
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Other returners include Makenzi Strong, Samantha Schoen, Kindall Bethke, Dominique DiManna, Crystal Koch, McKayla Perry, Darian Gottfried, and triplets Brittany, Breanne, and Bryce Henricksen.
Crystal Amaral and Kyndal Wallace highlight the newcomers to the pitching staff, while Hailey Franklin, Lizzy Johnson, Caitlyn Graves and Seanna Simpson round out the freshman class.
"I have been so impressed with the extra work that they have put in outside of practice and in the weight room. You can see it in every practice and every individual meeting, and I believe that will be in direct correlation with the product we put on the field," said Leedy.
Black Hills State was selected to finish 10th in the RMAC Preseason Poll. Dixie State was favored to finish first after receiving seven first place votes in their first season in the RMAC. Colorado Mesa was selected second with six first place votes, followed by Colorado Christian in third.
Colorado School of Mines junior infielder, Clara Larson was selected the Preseason Player of the Year after last season's performance. Larson ended the season with a .425 batting average and .839 slugging percentage. Colorado Mesa's Kimbri Herring was elected as the Preseason Pitcher of the Year, after striking out 168 batters in 130 2/3 innings, collecting 22 wins and a 2.25 earned run average.
RMAC play will begin at home on Feb. 23-24 for the Yellow Jackets, with a matchup against Colorado School of Mine