By Neil Riley, Staff Writer

The highly anticipated beginning of the Big Red softball season, which marks this as the first issue featuring every 2014 spring squad.  Indeed, while the their classmates were enjoying sunwashed beaches and sleeping late, the team was spending their week playing their first 10 games in scorching Tucson, Arizona heat against strong non-conference competition.

Even blistering Tucson temperatures were welcomed by both head coach Tiffany Ozbun and her players.  Frigid Ohio weather had kept practices indoors and, according to pitcher Rebecca Dyer ‘14, “after a long preseason inside, the team [was] ready for [its] busy game schedule” that slates Denison for a doubleheader almost every other day until the end of April.

Coach Ozbun, who returns to look for her seventh solid season of success in Granville, will be thankful for the experienced 2014 team around her.  The Big Red boast nine upperclassmen who have tasted victory in the NCAC championship game and have played in the NCAA regional tournament.

Coach Ozbun has nothing but pride for the six seniors on this season’s squad.  “They have grown a lot over the past four years and that’s one of the fun things as a coach: To see them grow up and develop not just as players, but as people” said Ozbun.  “They have a lot of experience as far as winning games and winning championships [and] what it takes to do those things, and with a big freshman class, we have asked our seniors to step up and to be great mentors to our freshman.”

There is no lack of talent returning for the Big Red ladies.  Rebecca Dyer, who has already had success this year, receiving NCAC Player of the Week honors for her performances last week, earned All-NCAC laurels for her 2013 seasons, not to mention a spot on the NCAC All-Decade softball team.  Julie Rooney ‘15 also repeated as an all-conference honoree alongside Rachel Laughlin ‘14 and Meghan Edwards ‘14, who both made their debut to the squad.

The relatively large class of 2017 will definitely benefit from the experience of the teammates around them.  Dyer was nothing but optimistic about the seven new additions to the roster.  “We were lucky to have an amazing class come in this year” she said.  “We have two pitchers who are going to help Kelsey Hager ‘14 and I on the mound.  Also a first baseman, a second baseman, two outfielders, and a catcher who have already shown success in Arizona, and will contribute to our goals of a conference title this year.”

Despite the strength of schedule through the first 10 games, Denison had relative success, going 6-4 in Tucson.  Said Coach Ozbun, “spring break is a measuring stick for us.  I don’t want to go to spring break and play a bunch of teams who aren’t going to challenge us and challenge us to be a better team.”

Certainly, there were times when the Big Red was challenged, especially against the elite Central College Dutch, where Denison was silenced 12-0, and against Marian and Pomona-Pitzer.  There were other games where the ladies showed up to play, specifically against respectable teams like Augsburg and Gustavus Adolphus, where the Big Red topped the Lions 7-4.

Overall, Dyer was happy with her teammates’ performances far from home.  “After struggling the first couple games as a team, we came together and went on a five game winning streak, run-ruling three teams in the process,” said the pitcher.  “It was great to see every member working together, and become [the] close team that we need in order to be successful.”

Arizona represents only the first test facing a Denison team that will be looking to redeem itself after not qualifying for the 2013 NCAC tournament. And after a cancelled pair of matches against Hiram in Granville, the ladies will be itching to take the diamond again to open conference play.