Two local area athletes, Kristi Wheeler and Jenny Young, are part of a Mesa State College team that begins play in the NCAA Division II national softball championships tonight in Columbus, Ga.
Wheeler, a 1995 Douglas High School graduate, starts at shortstop and Young is a sophomore outfielder for the Mavericks (44-10), who open with a game against tournament host Kennesaw State (53-6).
Mesa State earned the trip to nationals by winning the South Central Regional tournament on its home field in Grand Junction, Colo., capped by a 5-0 triumph in the final against Truman State (Kirksville, Mo.).
"We're trying not to be satisfied with just going," Wheeler said. "No one really knows what to expect, but I think we have a shot at winning it. We're going to give it our best shot."
The Mavericks, riding the crest of an 11-game win streak, have been building toward nationals all along.
"At the beginning of the season, hitting was our strength," Wheeler said. "We have power throughout the lineup. The last couple of weeks, our defense has really been tight. We've allowed only one run in our last five games. And our pitching is getting a lot stronger.
"We're just kinda cruising right now."
Wheeler was hitting .354 with 11 doubles, four home runs and 28 RBIs through last weekend's regional. She earned honorable mention recognition on the All-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference team this season.
Chuck Smock contributed to this story