By TERRY GROOVER
At the beginning of last season, the Yukon Millers softball team was virtually written off even before the first ball was thrown.
Katie Hoke was in her first year as the team’s head coach, and everyone expected it to be a rebuilding year. After all, the team had lost players like Chyenne Factor, who is now a starter for the Oklahoma State softball team, and Anna Icenhower, who is playing at Butler County Community College in Kansas.
But, the Millerettes proved everyone one wrong. The team finished the season one run away from the state tournament, including hosting a regional tournament.
So, Hoke’s been here before.
This year, the Yukon softball team is in better shape with six returning starters and virtually everyone back in the infield. There are two exceptions — pitching and third base.
But Hoke is not concerned.
“We’ve got some strong kids coming in,” she said, pointing out that there are several incoming freshmen who are strong players, and Kaley Bradley is expected to lead the way on the mound.
While Brie Johnson was the primary pitcher for Yukon last year, Bradley, an incoming junior, handled herself well whien Johnson went down with an injury.
“Kaley stepped up and really did a good job,” she said.
Bradley also moved up to an older team for summer league and faced more experienced hitters.
“My hope is that she got some good practice this spring and summer and will be able to slide into that starting role,” Hoke said.
Bradley started six games for Yukon last season and pitched in 12. That included games at Westmore and closed in a Moore game that helped solidify the team’s second-place finish in the conference and helped it host a regional tournament.
“She came in for big key situations that really helped,” Hoke said.
Meanwhile, Hoke said she is hopeful that last season’s success was proof to her players that anything is possible.
“If they want it bad enough, they can get there, no matter what cards are dealt. They rallied together with a lot of new faces on that field. It was fun to see them come together and really push in spite of everything that was said,” the coach said.
Hoke said she always had faith in the team.
“I knew the people who were come in to replace (those who graduated) were very good players. They needed to believe in themselves,” she said.
Losing most of your starters from the previous season could have been a reason not to believe, Hoke said. But for last year’s team, it was motivation. She’s hoping for the same thing this season.
“These kids who are here are very, very good players. This group, too, has what it takes. They just have to believe in themselves,” she said.
The biggest change for Yukon this season is the schedule. The team changed districts during the off season and now will face some powerhouse softball teams.
“We don’t have any easy games in our district this year. Every game is going to be a challenge. Every game they are going to have to come to play,” Hoke said.
The outfield is made up of seniors with plenty of experience.
“That doesn’t worry me at all. Actually, nowhere on the field am I worried. They’ve got what it takes,” she said.
The coach said that while the defense will be stout, she expects much of the same from the offense.
Johnson was a big stick for the team last year, but other players have stepped up.
“Offensively we can do it too. It is a very similar makeup to what we had last year,” Hoke said.
Hoke said her goal for the season is to host another regional tournament.
“I would love to see us hosting a regional again,” she said.
Hoke will get her first look at the team on Wednesday when it begins practices.