The Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) softball team begins the 2019 campaign with its participation in the Cowtown Classic February 15 and 16 at Fort Worth, Texas.
The Bears will face Hesston College (HC), Blinn College (BC) and Alvin Community College (ACC) on Feb.15, and will play Ranger College (RC) and Johnson County Community College (JCCC) on Feb. 16.
DMACC is coming off winning an Iowa Community College Athletic Conference (ICCAC) championship in 2018 and a third-place finish in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II Softball Championship. The Bears will begin the 2019 season ranked fourth in the NJCAA Division II Preseason Poll.
Among the departures from last season is two-time All-American Molly Jacobsen who, DMACC coach Bob Ligouri said, can't be replaced.
"I'm not sure a Molly Jacobsen walks through the door very often so the idea is not to replace her because you're not going to replace somebody like that," Ligouri said. "The good thing is we're going to replace one with four."
"We think with those four we have a really solid group we can count on," Ligouri said.
Infield position players returning from last season include sophomore second baseman Mia Ruther of Burlington, sophomore shortstop Avery Guy of Cedar Rapids, sophomore third baseman Ellie Dixon of Iowa City and sophomore Katelin Schumacher at catcher.
Ruther, a preseason All-American, led the Bears in hitting last season at .519 with a .558 on-base percentage and a .659 slugging percentage.
Ligouri said first base is open to a host of candidates, including freshman Maddie Karr of Center Point, Swafford, Anderson and Dunbar.
"We feel good, we just haven't settled on who's going to be out there at first because of the competition there," Ligouri said. "We're going to give every one of them an opportunity because they've worked hard and they deserve that."
Schumacher, who missed much of last season because of injuries, is battling freshmen Bri Netty of Waterloo and Ally Schuemann of Marion at catcher.
Also returning from last season is sophomore utility player Kaisha Wells of Topeka, Kan. Wells slammed 15 home runs and drove in 54 runs last season.
Jacobsen finished her 2018 season with a 26-2 record and an 0.47 earned run average. She averaged 13.34 strikeouts per game, meaning things will be a bit different for the Bears this season, offensively and defensively.
"She struck out nearly 14 batters a game meaning our defense only had to make seven plays," Ligouri said. "Our pitchers right now are not established 14-strikeout-a-game pitchers so there is going to be a lot more balls put in play, we're going to have to be a lot stronger defensively, we're going to have to be able to throw runners out and make situational plays," Ligouri said. "The other thing is, when you have somebody who has a 0.47 ERA, you didn't have to score a lot of runs to have a great chance at success. We're approaching it much differently this year. Hopefully, we'll be able to score more runs if we need to."
Even though DMACC begins the season with that No. 4 national ranking and a 22-game winning streak in the ICCAC, Ligouri said he has been stressing to his players that every year is different.
"If (winning) is going to get done, we have to do it on the field and not talk about it," Ligouri said. "This team has not earned anything. They got ranked because of last year's team. This team has to earn their own thing and hopefully, they understand that and are going to have the process and work ethic to play and keep getting better and not ride on the coattails of all the other great teams we've had.