Cyclones open season at Kickin’ Chicken Classic

Junior Nychole Antillon catches the ball at first for an out Sep. 23. The Cyclones defeated the Kirkwood Eagles 9-1.

Ivan Vega

Softball season is back in town with a new face at head coach with first-year head coach Jamie Pinkerton. Iowa State travels to Conway, South Carolina, to compete in the Kickin Chicken Classic, hosted by Coastal Carolina.

Iowa State will start the season in this five-game, three-day tournament, being played at Coastal Carolina Softball Stadium. The Cyclones take on Saint Francis (1:30 p.m.) and Coastal Carolina (4 p.m.) on Friday, followed by Presbyterian (8:30 a.m.) and Coastal Carolina (1:30 p.m.) on Saturday. They will close out its weekend on Sunday (8:30 a.m.) against UNC-Greensboro.

Saint Francis is coming off a 49-11 season, in which they qualified for the NCAA Tournament last year, and have already received votes by USA Today and NFCA in a preseason poll.

Coastal Carolina comes into this competition with a huge statistical home-field advantage, totaling a 31-9 record in their stadium during the 2016-17 season.

Presbyterian posted a 18-32 record last year, including a 4-16 record when playing in away games.

UNC-Greensboro are coming off a 29-24 season, with a 9-12 record in away games.

The Cyclones went 23-25 overall, posting a 7-17 away record, but are with multiple returning starters and key acquisitions.

Sydney Stites, a transfer out of Montana, was the 2016 Big Sky Freshman of the Year, and will compete for playing time throughout the year.

Her relationship with Pinkerton started last year when Pinkerton was the head coach of Montana and recruited Stites.

“As far as Pinkerton goes, I’ve known him since seventh grade,” Stites said. “The first camp I’ve ever been to was here in Iowa State, so I have known him for a very long time. So, I would say it was a large factor in me coming over here.”

Stites will not be guaranteed playing time just due to her connection with Pinkerton.

“I gotta prove myself, and that’s kinda how he roles,” Stites said. ”It’s whoever works hard at practice, and making the plays at practice, and he goes on by each game depending on how you do.”

The last time Pinkerton was involved with Iowa State was during the 2013-14 season where he was the assistant coach from 2010-13, in which he helped orchestrate the dynamic offense that broke school records. The 2013 season saw the Cyclones set records in runs (284), home runs (40), RBI (253) and walks (166).

“Obviously we have put more emphasis on offense,” Pinkerton said. “What I see in the tournament obviously, we just want to have a relaxed play approach.”

Pinkerton looks to have a more balanced offense, with more emphasis on hits rather than in last year’s stolen bases.

“As time goes and we’ll get more ending under out belt, we’ll get better defensively,” said Pinkerton on his views on playing in different conditions.

Returning starters Kelsey McFarland and Kaila Konz led the team last year in stolen bases. The Cyclones will be without McFarland due to injury.

Brianna Weilbacher, pitcher for the Cyclones, started the most games last year and will play her last season this year.

“I think this season is a little bit more exciting because it is our last-first travel season for us seniors,” Weilbacher said.

Pinkerton’s impact on her pitching has been an emphasis throughout the preseason.

“Controlling the controllable, and doing what we know how to do, is what we kinda work on a lot,” Weilbacher said.

With the addition on the new pitching coach Kate Sinnott, the third one in Weilbacher’s career, there are new things to look into with her pitches.

“Each year, as I had three [pitching coaches], they all bring something unique and different,” Weilbacher said. “So, I love learning from a new side of things, and even though its my fourth year I’m still doing new stuff.”