BY CHRISTIAN PHILLIPS
Head softball coach Adrian Pilkington is entering her seventh season at Fort Hays State University, logging 116 wins during her tenure. Last season, Tiger softball was cut short due to the national COVID-19 pandemic. The Tigers started their season 15-13 overall and were 2-4 in MIAA conference play before the season was cut short.
The 15-13 start was historically strong for Tiger softball and the abrupt end to a season could affect the team’s momentum entering 2020-2021. Pilkington had no concerns regarding building upon their continuous improvements under her reign.
“I think the girls are extremely motivated after the abrupt ending to the season last year. We have a large senior class, some of which are returning seniors, who are motivated to get one more shot at a final season,” Pilkington said. “I believe having our season cut short has really altered our team’s perspective on the opportunities they have as athletes here at FHSU and that nothing is guaranteed. They are working hard and motivated to perform to the best of their ability as individuals and as a team. As a group we got a taste of success and what we can accomplish as a group so there is a motivation to be even better than we were last year and take nothing for granted.”
FHSU softball held their Black and Gold scrimmages in mid-October to introduce newcomers and to welcome back returning players. With multiple months left until play resumes in the spring, these scrimmages could bring both positive and negative areas to focus on for the upcoming season. However Pilkington took away more positives than anything.
“As a staff we have seen a lot of great things from our team through our black and gold scrimmages,” she said. “It has given us an opportunity to mix up positions and lineups and to see what all our kids can do and where we need to improve. After six months off we needed to just get back to the fundamentals of the game and provide some healthy competition. Ultimately our scrimmages have allowed us an opportunity to get out on the field and just compete.”
The scrimmage gave Pilkington and her staff an opportunity to see players showcase their talents, especially some of the younger athletes, which she said have come into their own over the last couple of seasons.
“Now with a partial season under their belt I think Loren Beggs, Kristen Reed and Elise Capra have started to shine on the field and are going to be an important part of our leadership core in the future,” Pilkington said. “We also have some new kids we brought in this fall that are doing some good things for us on the field. I believe we will have a solid leadership core moving forward. Ultimately, these young kids have a great opportunity to learn the ropes under a solid junior and senior class. They will be ready when our upperclassmen pass the torch down to them.”
With coronavirus cases still at large in the Ellis County area, following COVID-19 protocols is the only way to ensure that a softball season can transpire during the off season and regular season. Pilkington and her staff have been proactive about advising players to take precautions outside of the facilities. The staff has not advised players to isolate themselves, but rather the team is advised to wear masks, social distance and limit contact with others as much as possible when outside of practice.
Rules and guidelines are in place in order to decrease the spread of COVID-19, but this can come with complications. Student-athletes are put under the microscope under normal circumstances, and adding additional screenings can add unwanted pressure. In lines with how the team is handling COVID-19 restrictions, Pilkington believes they are handling things very well.
“I believe they are handling it extremely well. After getting canceled halfway through the season last year I believe they are motivated to make sure they do everything in their power to have a season this year. Our girls are following several restrictions at all team activities in order to stay safe and mitigate the spread of the virus,” Pilkington said. “Currently they screen daily based on the guidelines set forth by our training staff, they wear masks during practice and attempt to social distance as much as possible. In addition, we make efforts to clean all equipment on a daily basis.”
Fort Hays State Softball is scheduled to debut their season on February 6th, but their opponent has not been determined. Before that is possible players and staff will need to follow all COVID-19 protocols to guarantee that a season starts as expected.
“At this point in time we are expecting and preparing for the season to start on time,” Pilkington said.