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Jeff Kolpack, Published February 08 2012

NDSU softball opens new season today

FARGO – Perhaps the ESPN voices have faded a bit in their memories. Or maybe the team picture is not displayed as predominantly as it once was.

But it was three years ago, now, when the North Dakota State softball team shocked the college softball world with a NCAA Division I regional championship.

“I remember on SportsCenter, that it was Cinderella or it was a fluke and that it wasn’t supposed to happen,” said Bison outfielder Taylor Mortensen. “But I also remember the Oklahoma coach saying they’re pretty good and that you have to beat them.”

The freshmen on that team, like Mortensen, are now seniors, and NDSU opens its season today with the eventual hope of getting somewhere close to that NCAA tournament goal. Even head coach Darren Mueller took a glance at the team photo the other day.

“My thought was, those players had no idea at the beginning of the year what they were getting into,” he said. “It’s been a long time, but it’s still a fresh memory, which is nice.”

What will Mueller’s team this year be getting into?

The three-time Summit League tournament champions will begin the season with a different look, both in returning players changing positions or new players coming in.

“In a lot of ways, I think we’re ready to go out there and start playing and in some ways, I still feel like we need to practice for two more weeks,” Mueller said. “But it’s time for us to play in the dirt and see where we’re at.”

Mortensen is one of three of the top four returning hitters from last year’s team that went 30-27. Leading hitter Katie Tamayo, who hit .349 with five home runs, returns along with third baseman and .297 hitter Brea Konz.

All are seniors.

“Offensively, we’ll be fairly strong this year,” Mueller said. “We have a little more power than we’ve had in the past.”

Also back is No. 1 pitcher Whitney Johnson, who was 23-13 with a 2.48 earned run average.

“We have a lot of talent,” said Mortensen, who was then asked on the prospect of another deep tournament run. “It’s something you always strive for, but you can’t expect it. We’re excited about the good competition we play. Maybe last year we just wanted to hang with them. Now we want to compete with them and beat them.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia