BELLEVILLE — Southwestern Illinois College softball coach Kathy Bernal isn't the least bit surprised that Mother Nature has once again put a damper on the start of the Blue Storm's season.
As Bernal sees it, the winter storm predicted to hit the metro-east this weekend is just a continuation of what has been a frustrating preseason.
"There's nothing we can do about Mother Nature. But it would be nice to get some good weather soon. It's either been 15-20 degrees or there has been snow on the ground. We've had one day of practice outside,'' Bernal said. "We've taken B.P. (batting practice) in the gym and we've been able to take infield inside, but that's it.
"I think we've got a chance to be a good team. It's just frustrating for everyone because we can't get outside to see what kind of team we'll be.''
Bernal and the Blue Storm may have awhile to wait to open the season.
Because of the forecast, SWIC's opener against Mineral Area College on Monday has already been postponed and doubleheaders later next week with East Central and Lewis & Clark College could be in jeopardy.
When SWIC does open its season, expectations are high as Bernal could have one of her deepest and most talented teams in several years.
Bernal has lost starting center fielder Katie Weis (Highland) for the season because of a stress fracture. But of the 16 players on the roster, all are expected to play key roles.
"We went 3-3 in our limited fall season. But as a coaching staff we liked what we saw because all 16 players could start and most of them can play multiple positions on the field. We'll be able to move people around and not lose anything skill-wise,'' Bernal said. "I think we can be a very good team.
"Right now we just need to play.''
For the Blue Storm one of the keys will be on the mound where sophomores Elexus Lohman (Wesclin) and Tara Hubert (Red Bud) will be mainstays.
Hubert will play second base when not pitching, while Lohman will play the outfield.
A speedy left-handed hitter, Lohman also could take over the leadoff spot with the loss of Weis.
"Elexus has good speed so she'll be in the lineup somewhere. We're going to rely on both to lead the staff," Bernal said. "Both Tara and Elexus are throwing harder than they did a year ago and that's great to see.''
Freshmen Bridget Bushong (Waterloo) and Taylor Booten (Marion) round out SWIC's pitching staff.
Calling pitches will once again be sophomore catchers Jackie Elmore (Lebanon) and Amanda Mitchell (Dupo). One of the top catchers in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference a year ago, Elmore has a great throwing arm and is one of SWIC's top offensive players, while Mitchell is also a solid offensive player who can play some third base.
Booten can play first base when not pitching. Other first base hopefuls include sophomore Bailey Setzekorn (Marissa) and freshman Brittany Rakers (Wesclin).
Versatile Kate Sullens (Highland) will join Hubert in handling second base. She also can play the outfield.
Sophomore Mone'y Black (Kokomo, Ind.) was the starter at shortstop a year ago and will be again once the Blue Storm basketball season ends.
Black is a starting for the SWIC's basketball team, which is gunning for its third straight trip to the NJCAA national tournament. Sophomore Abigail Fritz (Lebanon) also can play shortstop and is one of several players who can play third.
Freshman Claire Buechele (Lebanon) is healthy after undergoing knee surgery and can play third base, along with Lauren Horrell (Red Bud) and Mitchell.
Sophomore Ashley Slaton (Belleville East) should be a fixture in the outfield. Former Waterloo standouts Taylor Krekorian and Haley Schlecht also are expected to play in the outfield.