FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The Arkansas softball team kicked off its road to the start of the 2010 season last week, beginning its first spring practices under the direction of first-year head coach Mike Larabee at Bogle Park.
Larabee and his coaching staff are ready for the challenge that faces them in the Southeastern Conference.
"Being our first year in the SEC we are going to learn a lot about the different coaches and the different teams," Larabee said. "But we are excited because this is the best softball conference in the country, so obviously, if you are competitive you want to be at the highest level and we are at that level right now. So we are excited. I know our players are excited."
The Razorbacks have been working hard coming off of the Christmas holiday in order to prepare themselves for the upcoming season. The Razorbacks return 15 letterwinners including five position starters and four pitchers from a squad that went 27-29 last season.
"The team has a really good work ethic," Larabee said. "We have been working them hard and long and they have just been fighting through the fatigue. Coming back off of break is always tough because they are not used to getting up at 5:30 and lifting. But I think they have done a good job of working through that fatigue and they have kept a great attitude."
With a strong senior class that includes outfielder Jessica Bachkora, pitcher Miranda Dixon and infielders Brittany Robison and Sandra Smith, Larabee knows this team has the leadership necessary to have a successful year.
"I think team chemistry is about as good as it can be," Larabee said. "I thought it was great in the fall and I think that has carried right over into the regular season here in January. I really believe that they think this is going to be a special year."
Bachkora is coming off a 2009 season where she finished third on the team with a .270 batting average and tops on the team with 32 runs scored. Dixon finished last year with team highs in home runs (11) and RBIs (40) which both ranked as the third highest total for a season in program history. With those numbers, Dixon became the first player in Arkansas history with at least 10 home runs in back-to-back seasons and at least 40 RBIs in back-to-back seasons. As spring practice continues over the next three weeks, Larabee has certain things he will be looking for in the team’s performance.
"We need to play a high level of defense and then have timely hitting," Larabee said. "Getting our bat speed where it needs to be and being able to execute our game; whether that is bunting, slapping, bunt and run and suicide squeeze is what we need to do in practice. When we get to Minnesota we just want to be playing at a very, very high level."
Arkansas starts the 2010 season Feb. 12-14 at the Metrodome Classic in Minneapolis, Minn., against Western Illinois, Drake, Minnesota, Iowa State and Iowa.