UNO will open its softball season in Texas on Friday with one of its players on its mind.

First-year UNO coach Amanda Eberhart said earlier this week that senior outfielder Taylor Conkling has been hospitalized because of what she described as a medical event that occurred on Jan. 25.

Eberhart read from a prepared statement, which provided no other details, after she and her players met with the reporters for UNO’s preseason media day. She said family of Conkling, a junior college transfer from Oklahoma who played for the Mavericks last season, appreciated well wishes and their privacy.

The Mavs will wear Conkling’s No. 2 on their jerseys and stickers that read “Play for Tay” on their helmets, Eberhart said, when they play five games over three days at the Lone Star Collegiate Classic.

“She’s in our thoughts and prayers, and she will continue to be in Houston this weekend,” Eberhart said.

Eberhart was named UNO’s head coach last July after spending two seasons as an assistant coach at Purdue. She’s familiar with the Summit League, having previously coached at IUPUI for four seasons.

Her first Maverick team returns 12 letterwinners, but has only seven juniors and seniors on the roster. Eberhart called her team a young squad with a challenging schedule, but sees a lot of promise ahead.

“We’re excited to see how that’s going to help us compete and be a top team in the Summit League,” Eberhart said. “Our goal is to grow as a team as the season goes, with hopes of playing our best softball in May. We believe if we’re playing our best softball in May, good things will come.”

The Mavs were picked to finish fifth in the Summit League’s preseason poll. Senior catcher/outfielder Natalie Mostek and junior pitcher Sydney Hampton were on the conference’s players to watch list.

“This year has already (exceeded) expectations. I’m having the most fun I’ve had throughout my college career,” said Mostek, who batted .261 last season. “It makes me sad that I’m a senior. This is my last year to witness it. But I couldn’t be more excited for my teammates and what my future holds for them.”

Hampton, a sophomore, went 11-13 in 28 appearances last year and is UNO’s most experienced pitcher. Eberhart said the Mavs will feature a first-year catcher and an infield with three juniors and a freshman.

Junior infielder Emma Dargy, a Papillion-La Vista graduate, is UNO’s top returning hitter. Dargy batted .273 last year, and she and Mostek each hit seven home runs. The duo combined to drive in 40 runs. Senior outfielder Savannah Fisher is the team’s returning RBI leader as she brought in 23 runs in 2018.

Dargy said the transition with the coaching change has gone well, adding that she loves this year’s team.

“We have a lot of personalities that blend well together,” she said. “It’s more (of) a fun environment and atmosphere. The thing I’m excited for is everybody has bought in to what we’re doing. The culture she’s bringing on here is one of passion and unity — getting things done together and doing it the right way.”

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