The Rolla softball team didn't have the season they were hoping for in 2017. The Lady Bulldogs won just three games, but there were some positives. The biggest positive was a lot of playing time for a young core.

All but one of the Lady Bulldogs return for the 2018 season and they'll be joined by a huge group of 12 freshmen. New head coach Jessika Zink Cook is looking forward to what comes from this youth movement. 

"We are looking forward to this season coach (Ken) Hohe and I, the coaching staff, we're really enthusiastic to see the work ethic that these girls have and their dedication to the game," said Zink Cook, who was promoted from assistant coach in the offseason. 

Coach Zink Cook is looking to make sure that her huge group of young players is fighting for a spot each and every day, so she isn't focused on naming starters across the board. In the circle, they'll have a ton of new faces. Bailey Pierce had some experience toeing the rubber and she'll be joined by freshmen Ramona Giddens, Callie Harmon, Sierra Spencer, Makenzie McCarter, Riley Wassilak and Jordan Watkins. 

"We will have a lot of depth at each position, definitely on the mound," said coach Zink Cook. "We're giving them a lot of opportunities. Ability-wise, they all have great talent, so we look forward to that depth." 

Around the rest of the diamond, competition is key. Last year's starter Cheyanne King returns for her senior season and she'll be pushed by a pair of freshmen in Keira Chrisco and Laney Hoffman. Moving around the infield, Maycie Montgomery got a lot of experience at first base last year as a freshman. Other experienced returners include a senior in Chloe Wood, juniors Emalee Grooms, Kristynn Hufford and Lauren Moersch, who missed a majority of the season last year with an injury. A second sophomore in Fiona Giddens will also play on the infield. 

Along with those players, Rolla will have a ton of freshmen vying for spots on the infield. Harmon, Wassilak, McCarter, Spencer and Watkins will look to get some work on the infield when they aren't pitching. Zoey Barr, Reagan Reedy and Madison Mace will also compete for time on the infield as freshmen. 

In the outfield, Rolla has some experience coming back in junior Alex Foltz and sophomores Kassidy Chrisco and Pierce. They'll be joined in the outfield by freshmen Ramonda Giddens, Reedy, Mace and Sheradyn Kartchner. 

"We have a lot of healthy competition. The girls are pushing each other at practice and taking us to the next level each and every day," said coach Zink Cook. "We're improving every practice, so it's been exciting to see them come together and push each other as a team to reach that next level. 

"We're proud of all 22 girls. We have 12 new incoming freshmen that will see the field, as well as our returning upperclassmen, so it's going to be a very exciting season," continued the new Lady Bulldog head coach." 

Coach Zink Cook isn't worried about setting expectations as far as their win-loss record is concerned. She just wants to see her team compete each and every game and get better throughout the season. 

"Being competitive this year," said the Rolla head coach about her expectations this season. "We have a lot of girls that are itching to get onto the field. They want that play and they have that passion."

With a ton of youth the last two seasons, coach Zink Cook is really excited about seeing where this program will be able to blossom to over the next few years. 

"Our feeder programs have been a great asset to the program," said Zink Cook. "Right now, with a large group of freshmen coming up and then eighth grade and seventh grade. We're very fortunate to have girls exposed to softball at such a young age. They're keeping that passion and that competitive as they go through middle school and junior high."

The Lady Bulldogs open their season with the Union Tournament on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 24-25. They'll play Borgia at 4 p.m. and Perryville at 6 p.m. on Friday before a 9 a.m. game with Holt on Saturday morning. Rolla will open their home slate against Cuba on Tuesday, Aug. 28.