Texas opens with championship aspirations behind veterans

Seth Forman

Last season, Texas fell just one game short of the 2019 Women’s College World Series. The Longhorns made it into a Super Regional Series with No. 8 Alabama before losing Game 3 of the three-game series.

This weekend, Texas will go into 2020 on the backs of its veteran players who return with title aspirations.

One of the biggest players to watch will be star pitcher Miranda Elish, who is returning this season after an injury in Game 2 of last year’s Super Regional that would take her out for Game 3. Elish suffered a facial injury after her catcher, Mary Iakopo, attempted a throw the ball to second, but unintentionally struck her in the face instead. Surgery was not required, though Elish will be wearing a mask this season. 

Elish left Oregon after her sophomore season along with Lauren Burke, Mary Iakopo and Shannon Rhodes. All four left to follow head coach Mike White from Eugene, Oregon to Austin, Texas. The quartet of players made a big splash in their first year in Austin, and this year White thinks the team will really come together.

“I feel like our team is close this year,” White said. “This year we believe … I think the blend of the team’s a lot stronger (than last year), the clubhouse is definitely stronger.”

Another key player to keep an eye on will be freshman pitcher Courtney Day, who White also believes is the most consistent power hitter on the team. Several other freshmen will look to make a quick impact on this year’s roster. White calls freshman infielder Alyssa Popelka “the fastest kid on (the) team,” and has high praise for freshman Grace Green as well. White expects Green to draw some pinch hitters with her left-handed pitching. 

Texas will also have a new voice in the dugout via new assistant coach Steve Singleton. Singleton played shortstop and second base for the Minnesota Twins and was the hitting coach for Fort Myers High School in Florida. Singleton was also hitting coach for the MLB All-Star Futures Game and will be hitting coach for the Texas Longhorns. 

Elish was not shy when it comes to the impact coach Singleton has had in his brief stint in Austin. 

“Coach Steve is awesome,” Elish said. “He’s definitely brought so much toward me. … We’re super lucky to have him. He’s not only a great hitting coach, but a great person.”

The No. 6 Longhorns will take on Wichita State twice, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Lamar University, Colorado State and Maryland on opening weekend at the Texas Classic. With six games in four days, there’ll be plenty of softball for Texas to get off to a quick start this season.