The Owens Community College softball team hears it just about every day from one of its own.
Less than a year after the Express reached the championship game of the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national tournament, assistant coach Sara Fleming says:
"We have to go back there."
"There" is Mississippi, site of this year's national championship tournament. The Express finished second in the nation last year, falling 10-0 to Louisiana State-Eunice.
The trip to the national tournament provided the Express plenty of motivation entering the 2012 season.
"We want to be back at nationals again," said Ashlyn Michalak, a sophomore pitcher who is 13-0 with 137 strikeouts, 6 shutouts, and a 0.89 earned-run average in 94.2 innings after Saturday's games. "The sophomores know the feeling, and we've talked about it so much to the freshmen."
After a pair of wins Saturday, Owens (26-2, 6-0) won the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference and is ranked eighth in NJCAA Division II poll.
"All of the returning players from last year, they bring the experience and exposure they had last year to this team," said coach Duane Lanham, a Whitmer graduate who coached softball at Southview High School before taking over the Owens program nine years ago. "We set high expectations for the program. The kids work hard to fulfill them."
The Express clinched the conference title Saturday with 8-0 and 10-0 victories over Lakeland Community College. The Express entered Sunday's nonconference doubleheader against Mercyhurst North East (Pa.) having shut out opponents in five straight games, including Mi- chalak's no-hitter in the first win over Lakeland.
"The grittiness of them, the desire and the belief that they're going to win, that's what's really controlling this team," Lanham said.
The team has eight players from last season, including Michalak, a Springfield High School graduate. The roster has 15 freshmen, including outfielder Melanie Iacoangeli, who through 28 games leads the team with a .566 batting average and 38 stolen bases.
Sophomore pitcher Kasey Graham of Oregon (Clay High School) is 5-1 with a 1.98 ERA in 35.1 innings. Mareshah Scott has a .427 batting average and 20 stolen bases, and Tabitha Britt has a .343 average with 15 RBIs. Both are outfielders who graduated from Maumee High School. First baseman Katie Butler, another Maumee graduate, has 17 RBIs.
The Express opened the season 8-1 on a spring trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C. After a 10-9 loss April 10 to Grand Rapids Community College, the Express entered the weekend on an eight-game winning streak.
"Some of our first games, our bats weren't coming around," Michalak said. "We've pulled it out. I've even gotten on the team and I've said, 'Hey, we need to score some runs.' But all season, I know that if my team works hard for me, I'll work even harder for them."
The Express has a shot at a berth in the NJCAA Division II Region XII District G tournament May 9-11 at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich. The winner of the tournament advances to the national tournament, scheduled for May 17-19 in Clinton, Miss.
"Our goal is to qualify for the regional, and we can do that by winning our conference," Lanham said. And they did.
"… Our next goal is to win our regional, and it's a tough regional."
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.