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Three Missouri softball seniors are returning for one more season and taking advantage of their final year of eligibility granted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Brooke Wilmes, Kim Wert and Cayla Kessinger are all returning, meaning that the Tigers will have all but one starter back next season as they look to reach the Women’s College World Series for the first time in 11 years.

“We’ve all grown up together here in college,” Wilmes said. “Just to be able to see that everybody does want to come back and we all do want to compete for that championship is really great to see, just because we know we all have that loyalty and dedication to this program.”

Catcher Hatti Moore is the only Missouri starter from this season who isn’t returning.

“We would have loved to have had Hatti back, no doubt about it,” Wert said. “But she was ready. She had stuff lined up, so it’s just kinda one of those things. We dropped the hint multiple times like, ‘Hatti, you could (come back),’ but we’re happy for her either way.”

The returning players plan to embrace a leadership role on the team and other players will take on significant roles as well.

“I’m definitely going to be old,” Wert said. “The joke on the team is I’m already the grandma of the team, now I’m just gonna be the great grandma.

“I feel like the group that is coming back, Kendyll Bailey and everything, our whole group, we’re already kind of the leaders on the field.Just having that come back, I think it’s a huge deal because we have a big freshman class coming in.”

The relationships Wilmes has made at MU made the decision to come back for her final year of eligibility an easy one, she said. She is looking forward to one more season to continue the progress that the program has made.

“They truly are some of my best friends, and it’s great that I’ve had such great relationships with them,” Wilmes said. “It was kind of an easy decision for me, just because I knew that I would get to play with not only my best friends but also those girls that have come up who I have played with as well.”

Missouri’s season ended with a Game 3 loss to James Madison in the Columbia Super Regional. While the Dukes went on to finish one win shy of the championship series in the Women’s College World Series, there was a feeling that the Tigers could have been there in Oklahoma City. The returners and the team as a whole will be looking to take that final step to the biggest stage in college softball.

“Sitting in our dugout and watching the other team celebrate, it’s even worse because it was on our field,” Wert said. “You never, ever want to feel like that again, it lights a fire on you. You don’t want that feeling again, so it’s definitely playing for something a little bit more because we had a taste of it, and then it was just gone.”

“It’s truly going to push us to work even harder because we know what it tastes like now,” Wilmes said. “Having this extra year hopefully allows us to get there, and that truly is our goal right now. Especially us upperclassmen, since we do only have one year left just to be able to go out and get our dreams.”

The returning players are looking forward to playing one last season with each other and the rest of the team that they have bonded with. The team has grown close over the years, and it sees the goal of making the Women’s College World Series as attainable.

“It’s so fun,” Wert said. “We have a good time on the field, we have a good time off the field. We go through so much stuff together, good and bad. Just being able to be with the same group of people — it’s special. You form bonds in this realm of athletics.”

This article originally ran on columbiamissourian.com.

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