Adversity is already a familiar opponent for Chickasha baseball, and the season hasn't even started.
Before anything began, the Fightin' Chicks players had to deal with the fact that one of their own, senior Jonathan Gushing, was laying in a hospital back fighting back to life following a traffic accident in January. The team went to work, organizing charity drives and a breakfast to benefit the Gushing family.
Within the past week or so, news came that Jonathan was up and improving. It was a welcome boost, especially to senior members of the squad that went to visit him last weekend.
"That's special," Head Coach Erik Hughes, in his first year with the team, said. "It goes to show us that anything is possible. That first weekend when he was in the hospital, he wasn't expected to live. When our seniors went to visit him, and he was back to being Jonathan."
The news lifted spirits in the Chickasha preseason camp, Hughes said. The Fightin' Chicks are preparing to follow up their 5A State semifinal appearance last year, but they will face fresh challenges by dropping down to Class 4A.
Hughes has experience with smaller school ball, having coached Marietta for the past three seasons. The biggest thing to expect, he said, is increased competition.
"The biggest difference is the multitude of teams," Hughes said. "In 5A, you can pin point the teams that you really need to beat. In 4A, there's always a surprise. It's one of those things where you come up against a team you've never seen before in the playoffs."
Chickasha's move to 4A also draws battle lines closer to home. In addition to the Duncan rivalry, Grady County teams Tuttle and Blanchard have been thrown into the mix.
Both claimed state titles within the past two years, with the Tigers claiming the 2014 crown and reaching the 2015 final where they were edged by rivals Blanchard. It's now Chickasha's turn to try and join that class of powerhouses.
"The Tuttles and Blanchards are the two to beat in this class," Hughes said. "We've been trying to be consistent in everything we do, not just worry about one or two teams. It can't be a deal where we take a day off."
Momentum is on their side. Chickasha returns the majority of last year's team, and almost all of its pitching rotation that Hughes said will be the biggest contributor this season.
"We have the deepest pitching staff in all of 4A," senior Brooks Bush said.
Hitting has been a growth area in the offseason, Hughes said. On days last season when hits were hard to come by, Chickasha perfected its small-ball game to squeeze out the necessary runs.
Now, Hughes said the team is preparing to do that and add to its power-hitting game. Junior catcher Jake Womack, whose home run helped power Chickasha into the state semifinals last season, has the potential to be a big contributor in this department.
"We lifted a lot this summer, and all of the players have been hitting better," senior Brayden Belden, one of the team's leading pitchers, said. "We've got to take ourselves back to 2002, get a championship. Last year, it was a big deal for me."
Bush is another returning part of the strong pitching rotation who will also lineup in the middle infield, or possibly at third, this season. He credits maturity and experience to Chickasha's improved offense.
"We had a lot of kids mature this offseason and start hitting," Bush said. "They know what to expect. We have a much more mature team this season."
Chickasha will scrimmage three more times this season, with a final home encounter against El Reno on Tuesday, March 1. They are scheduled to open up the season at home against Ardmore on March 5 at noon.