COLLEGE SOFTBALL: Odessa College looks to build on success with longtime assistant Cannon taking helm of program

It’s not a rebuilding project.

Odessa College sophomore pitcher Winter Ridgeway certainly wouldn’t call it that.

Yes, the Lady Wranglers are without longtime head coach Joel Prickett for the first time in more than a decade.

Yes, Prickett built the Lady Wranglers into a national power during his time with the program, guiding Odessa College softball to six appearances at the NJCAA National Tournament in 12 seasons.

Yes, Prickett stepped down from his post last September and the Lady Wranglers have been living in a new era ever since.

But now a few weeks into the first season of that new era, Ridgeway insisted she and her teammates aren’t just trying to carry on that same success that the Lady Wranglers have had in the past.

They’re not just trying to keep the ship steady, or trying to simply match what’s already been done.

No, they’re trying to take the program to even greater heights.

“Not just ‘keep it rolling’ — we’re winning,” Ridgeway said, standing aside the bullpen behind the dugout at the OC Softball Complex on Wednesday, just before taking to the field for another day of practice.

The Lady Wranglers will play their home opener on that same field today, meeting Pratt Community College for a doubleheader starting at 2 p.m.

And they’ll do it under interim head coach Karina Cannon, who has guided the Odessa College softball team ever since Prickett’s departure — and who has the Lady Wranglers believing they can keep growing the program and put together a history-making season in 2017.

“(Cannon) has been there through everything with us this year,” Ridgeway said. “Losing (Prickett) was hard, but game time is game time, and with (Cannon) being our head coach now, we’re really just in it for each other this year.”

Cannon was an assistant under Prickett the last four seasons. She helped pitch Odessa College to a third-place finish at the NJCAA National Tournament in 2005, earning NJCAA All-American honors in the process, before moving onto an illustrious playing career with the University of Utah and in playing international softball with her native Australia.

Now at the helm of the Lady Wranglers’ program, Cannon said she has been sure to try and find a balance in keeping with what has made Odessa College softball so successful in the past while still making the necessary adjustments to allow the new-look program to find its own identity under new personnel.

“There’s some things that we’ll never let go of, especially because a lot of things stem from the history of the program,” Cannon said. “But we’ve been open to change and doing things a little bit differently — but we’re still playing softball.

“I’ve got a good bunch of girls who are willing try different things, too — even the returners, who you sometimes see get stuck in their ways,” she added. “This group has accepted the change and fully embraced everything I’ve asked of them so far.”

In that group, Cannon has plenty of talent to work with.

Sophomore shortstop Vanessa Muro is back and leading the Lady Wranglers at the plate, racking up 12 hits, eight RBIs, and nine runs scored with four doubles and two home runs through nine games to start the season. She plated 65 RBIs as a freshman last season while batting .474, finishing with 90 hits and 60 runs scored.

K’Leigh Arredondo is back, too, after a freshman season batting .431 with 59 hits, 40 RBIs and 49 runs scored. She put down 10 hits and scored seven runs during Odessa College’s 4-5 start to the season.

Ridgeway leads a bullpen featuring one other sophomore in Carlotta Onofri, and four other freshmen who have taken to the circle so far this season.

 “Coach Cannon is doing a very good job getting us close together,” Muro said. “She’s doing a great job with the program, too. Girls are really coming along.

“I think she’s doing a great job. I’m really glad she’s sticking around.”

The Lady Wranglers won two of five on their opening weekend of the season at the College of Southern Nevada’s Kickoff Classic back in January, and split a pair of doubleheaders with San Jacinto College and Blinn College last weekend.

“So far we’ve had a couple of rough patches, but it’s crazy because we’re still winning and we’re still staying in our games,” said sophomore outfielder Hope Deanda, a former Odessa High Lady Broncho. “So once we can get past, let’s say, our errors or our lack of communication, there’ll be big things in store for us, I’d say.”

Yes, the Lady Wranglers are working through a transition in their first few games of Cannon’s tenure — but they see that the potential is there with Cannon at the helm.

“It was a big loss at the beginning,” Deanda said of Prickett’s departure. “It was kind of shocking, I guess. But at the end of the day, we’re here to play softball. Regardless of who the coach was we’re going to want to play hard and play to win. So I guess it kind of set us back a couple of steps, but we’re right back.

“You can tell that, of course, she was a player,” she said of Cannon. “You can see how much she wants to win. It’s kind of like she’s a player with us. I feel like she’s kind of our teammate. She’s always there to pick us up, pump us up. She definitely keeps us in the games, keeps us intense and holds us accountable, too. I really enjoy her as a head coach.”

The Lady Wranglers say they’ve bought in completely to Cannon’s vision for the program.

“They promised me from Day One with all the changes that they’d just basically be there to help and assist and they’d support everything that I decided,” Cannon said. “And I haven’t seen an ounce of them going against their words, so, so far so good.

“I’m excited about this group,” she added. “They’re a good bunch of kids and regardless of what role they play, everyone’s going to have to contribute in some way, and they’ve all accepted their roles thus far so I’m excited about that.”

Excited about the group the Lady Wranglers have — and excited about where they’re headed.

“One of my biggest goals,” Cannon said, “and I’ve said this to the girls too, is, ‘Let’s just make memories and focus on making every day a good day and one day, hopefully, we’ll look back on a history-making season.’

“That’s my goal. That’s my dream.”