North Texas softball team breaks into top 25 with ease

North Texas coach Rodney DeLonge addressed his players this week shortly after the program hit a major milestone.

UNT never made it to the national rankings before finishing 24th in the pre-season D1Softball Top 25.

The Mean Greens entered the poll after earning their first NCAA regional bid last season when they reached the final of the Stillwater Regional before losing to Oklahoma State.

Ashley Peters

“We’re doing a good job of it,” pitcher Ashley Peters said. “Coach DeLonge told us we have a lot to be proud of, but not let it hurt us.”

Mean Green haven’t seen any sign of a little pre-season publicity knocking them off course over the past few days as they gear up for the season opener. UNT will face Illinois-Chicago on February 10 at the Buzz Classic on the Georgia Institute of Technology campus in Atlanta.

UNT enters DeLong’s fifth year of the best season in program history. The Mean Green won the Conference USA tournament for the first time en route to the playoffs and finished 37-16.

The run brought UNT to national attention and raised expectations for the 2023 season. At Mean Green, last season’s team returned almost unscathed.

First baseman Kaylee Gamble was named one of the top 100 players in the country by D1Softball and Extra Inning Softball. Peters won 20 games last season and will lead a rotation that also includes Skylar Savage, who won 15 games.

“It’s definitely exciting,” DeLonge said of his team’s rankings. “Being relevant is essential to the growth of the program. It is a reward for how far we have come and where we are now. This motivates us. We are always looking for more.”

DeLonge called advancing in the poll and placing among the top 16 teams in the country the logical next step. By reaching this point, UNT will be able to avoid entering the region with one of the best teams in the country.

“We deserve a place in the rankings,” said Gamble. “Last year we did a great job and beat the odds. As the season progresses, we will rise higher. The team last year was very talented. This year the team is even more talented and we are hungry.”

UNT had what DeLonge described as a productive fall season, with several players becoming potential entrants.

Utility players Tatum Sparks, Riley Nicholson and Jodie Epperson arrived in the off-season and took their roles. DeLonge said freshman pitcher Mackenzie Childers has a chance to become a powerhouse and give UNT more pitching depth behind Peters and Savage.

“We’re very excited about the girls we’ve brought in,” Peters said. “Tatum is going to bring a really big bat to the roster and we have a few freshmen who will make an impact.”

The UNT roster includes veterans who played early in their careers and will guide these young players.

“Apart from our freshmen, everyone is now used to the game,” Gamble said. “We are all juniors and have improved. We’ve been playing together for a long time and we know how each other plays.”

This experience is an important reason why UNT will open the season in the national rankings.

“We had a pretty young team that was successful in the regional championship last year,” said DeLonge. “This is very important for our growth and development. They know what it looks like and how close we were.”

UNT hopes to take another step forward as a program this season.

“We struggled to get back here,” DeLonge said. “It’s hard to wait a month after autumn to start training again. The energy was good. They are excited and work hard.”

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