To say there is going to be a new look for the Barton softball team this year may be an understatement.
There is a new coaching staff. Only two players two players return from last year’s team. There are just three sophomores total on the roster.
But it goes beyond that. Joel Prickett was brought in to take over the program. He had great success at Odessa Community College. After a year off to pursue business interests, he was ready to get back into coaching.
But in the fall, the Odessa job opened back up and Prickett left Barton to return to Texas.
Enter Tyler Gunnelson. Gunnelson was hired as an assistant by the Cougars in August and a couple months later was the team’s head coach.
“It’s been a crazy few months,” Coach Gunnelson said. “To come in August as an assistant then suddenly be the head coach was crazy.”
Those crazy few months have all led to Saturday and the season opener for the Cougars. Barton will host Cowley for a doubleheader starting at 1 pm at Cougar Fields.
Fortunately for Gunnelson he has had head coaching experience. But his experience was in baseball.
Gunnelson spent four years as the baseball at Brown Mackie until the program was dropped and the school eventually closed down.
“The cool thing about it is the transition from baseball to softball is not as scary as you might think,” Coach Gunnelson said. “We were able to hit the ground running with this group.”
Chelsea Walecki, a Great Bend High School product who played collegiality at Pratt will be his assistant.
With Gunnelson coming to Barton in August then Walecki added in January, the two coaches have a roster that was already in place. Several players did not come back after Marc Benjamin was let go after last season.
“It doesn’t really matter how the roster was put together,” Coach Gunnelson said. “This is my team. I have taken full ownership of them.”
Kat Frakes and Andreana Reynolds are back from last year. Frakes hit. 375 last season for Barton in a utility role. That came with 3 HR and 22 RBI.
Reynolds .324 with 4 HR and 34 RBI.
“It’s good to have those back,” Coach Gunnelson said. “They both produced when they were in the lineup. We are looking for them to have even better years this year.”
Some new faces Coach Gunnelson is looking to help pitching this years are not far from Great Bend.
Allison Panning, from Ellinwood High School, and Emma Horsch, from Lyons High Schoool, will join Frakes as the main pitchers for the Cougars.
“Allison was arguably our best pitcher in the fall,” Coach Gunnelson said. “Emma is a great athlete. She can play just about anywhere in the field.”
In the field, newcomers Alexis Sharples and Nasadiya Salazar will be looked to for major contributions.
“Alexis will play infield and lead off for us,” Coach Gunnelson said. “She will be able to get on base and let the kids behind her play.
“Nasadiya will be a mainstay in right field. She is a good leader in the outfield and we will look for her to contribute in the middle of the order.”
After the Cowley doubleheader Saturday, the Cougars will host Hutchinson for two on Wednesday.
Conference action will start later in February when 2-time defending NJCAA Champion Butler comes to Great Bend on Feb. 28.
“We just want to get better each time out,” Coach Gunnelson said. “When the season is over we want to be able to say we are better players and better people then when it started.
“Obviously we want to have success. Everyone in the conference is looking up at Butler. We have some talented pieces and a I feel like anything is possible with this team.”