Holly Hesse talks with the softball team

Head coach Holly Hesse talks with the softball team before a game on April 27, 2019 at Killian Stadium.

As head coach Holly Hesse begins her 32nd season at the helm of the Missouri State softball team. The team has experience and youth on its side.

The softball Bears won at least 31 games in their past two seasons and a combined 31 conference games in the same timeframe.

The Bears’ schedule is not an easy one — 11 opponents played in the NCAA tournament last season. Hesse said she thinks it is going to be a good opportunity for the team to know what they need to work on.

“It always helps to play a highly competitive schedule,” Hesse said. “Hopefully we’ll win some of those games. We will have multiple opportunities to see what the best of the best looks like.”

The Bears open their season on Feb. 7 in Florida at the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Lead-Off Classic against Mississippi State. The next day they will play Minnesota and Notre Dame. Notre Dame went 38-17 last season and made a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Hesse said she believes the Missouri Valley Conference is wide open this year.

“Traditionally the conference has a lot of parity in it, and it’s a challenge and a grind every year,” Hesse said. “Top to bottom, I think every team can compete.”

The fall semester is focused on preparation, and Hesse said it went well.

“We were outside a lot with good weather — really like what we see out of the team,” Hesse said.

Hesse said the pitching staff is going to be a strength this season.

Junior Steffany Dickerson won 20 games last season and posted an ERA of 2.37, senior Erin Greisbauer, who had a 3.60 ERA, and junior Madison Hunsaker, who had an ERA of 4.04, will be carrying the bulk of the load this season.

Hesse said Dickerson will be the staff ace.

“(Dickerson) is our hardest thrower, she has the power to compete,” Hesse said. “Twenty-game winner as a sophomore — she gets better and better. It’s going to be amazing what she can accomplish before she exhausts her eligibility here. She’s going to be one that ‘as she goes so are season goes.’”

Hesse has high expectations for the team, including postseason aspirations.

“I really think this team can compete for a regular season championship, and compete in the NCAA Tournament,” Hesse said. “Last year we had a lot of injuries, so a lot of young players had opportunities to get a lot of experience. That’s really going to pay off for us this year.”

The Bears play their home games at Killian Softball Complex. Their first home game is March 11 against Southern Illinois.