OTTUMWA — Like Kassidi Henderson last season, Ashlyn Thompson entered this season with some big shoes to fill.
And, much like Henderson, Thompson has done an outstanding job of at least partially filling the massive shoes of one of the many great players to go through legendary softball coach Frank Huston's revered program over the years. While Henderson did a tremendous job replacing all-star shortstop Paige Schreiner last season, thus far Thompson has done an equally impressive job of replacing Olivia Roark.
Although she saw more varsity time last season than most of this year's youthful team, Thompson spent the breadth of the season watching Roark, who plays for Missouri State (she is the 12th player to play Division I ball in the history of Ottumwa softball), from the dugout. Far from being a passive observer, Thompson earnestly studied the style of the former Bulldog great.
"I definitely learned a lot from Olivia," Thompson said, "just watching her play. Since she's a slap hitter and I'm a slap hitter I've worked with her for quite a few years on slap hitting. She's been like a mentor to me."
When one watches Thompson slap a conspicuously Roark-esque ground ball to the left side of the field and beat it out for an infield hit, it's hard not to draw comparisons between the two. Yet, given the bountiful pedigree of accomplishments Roark has compiled in her four years at Ottumwa — multiple all-state honors (including making first-team all-state her junior season) and all-Metro conference honors — it might be unfair to exert that kind of pressure on the junior Bulldog.
Still, a glance at Thompson's statistics only serves to strengthen the temptation to make this comparison. The junior Bulldog leads Ottumwa in a slew of categories including batting average (.457), on-base percentage (.544) and stolen bases (22). Hitting-wise, Thompson has parlayed her track and field experience into an impressive batting average.