Weather permitting, Northeastern A&Mís sixth-ranked Lady Norse softball team opens the regular season Thursday with a 2 p.m. double-header against Labette (Kan.) Community College on the NEO diamond.

Coach Eric Iversonís two-time defending Region II Champions advanced to the second round of the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Fast Pitch Tournament at Plant City, Fla.

The Lady Norse finished ninth in the nation with a 36-13 overall record.

During Iversonís 13 years as head coach he has become the winningest coach in NEO sport with a 562-134 overall record.

He has guided the Lady Norse to the national tournament in 2000, 2007 and 2008.

Six returning sophomores and a transfer provide a solid nucleus for the Lady Norse.

Returning to anchor the Lady Norse pitching staff are veterans Brittany Plaisted and Taylor Rolland along with freshmen recruits Kalleigh Chrz and Maria Buckingham.

Plaisted, of Grove, led the Lady Norse staff last season with a 12-4 record in 92 innings pitched. She posted a 2.05 earned run average with 49 strikeouts and 32 walks.

Rolland, of Broken Arrow, compiled a 9-4 record last year in 966 innings of work with a 2.55 ERA. She struck out 46 and issued 19 walks.

Chrz earned all-state honors in fast-pitch softball, slow-pitch softball and basketball at Welch. Her senior year she logged her 100th career win, 1,000th strikeout, and 100th career RBI.† Her overall record was 112 wins and 28 loses with 1,196 strikeouts.

Buckingham, of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, attended Rivier Academy during high school, where she was named to the all star team at the World Series.

Coweta sophomore Cara Dearmore returns to handle the catching chores for the Lady Norse. She hit for a .343 average in 143 at-bats with 49 hits, 33 RBIs, 26 runs scored and five home runs. Dearmore was selected to the NJCAA Region II second team.

Freshman Lydia Niemegeers, of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, provides depth at catcher. She graduated from the Weyburn Comprehensive School in Radville, Saskatchewan. As a Lady Eagle she earned female athlete of the year and the sportsmanship award.

Freshman Maddelyn Fraley of Adair is expected to start at first base. She earned all-state softball honors and broke seven school records for batting. Her senior year she had 60 hits and a .504 batting average with 35 RBIs, 14 doubles, two triples, and six home runs.

Veteran Alyssa Poole, of Sand Springs, returns at second base. Last year Poole hit .263 in 76 at-bats with seven doubles, 13 RBIs and 13 runs scored.

Transfer Lauren Iverson, of Grove, will start at shortstop for the Lady Norse.

She played in three games at third base as a freshman at the University of Arkansas. Iverson set Grove school records for most home runs and doubles in a single season, and the most career home runs. She hit .423 with 38 RBIs as a senior.

Returning at third base is sophomore Kyrie Panter of Miami. She was selected NJCAA second team All-Region II honors. She hit .269 with 39 hits and scored 36 runs with 14 stolen bases.

Providing depth on the infield are freshmen Cheyenne Gipson of Skiatook and Kacie Ryal of Henryetta.

Freshmen Ashley Tellez, of Greeley, Colo.; Rachel Bailey, of Tulsa Union, and Kiarra Bonner, of Brazoria, Texas, are expected to start in the Lady Norse outfield.

Sophomore Kayla Odle of Kansas will see considerable playing time in the outfield after hitting .296 in 54 at-bats last year. She scored 15 runs.

Freshmen Amy Gill, of Yukon, and Paige Johnson, of Wagoner, provide depth in the outfield.