The beginning of every season presents an array of challenges for any team. For the softball team, this season is certainly no exception. Looking to improve upon a 2006 campaign in which they went 22-23 and failed to make the postseason, the Owls must survive a grueling 14-game road trip to kick off the season before setting foot on home soil.
The Owls open the season against Middle Tennessee State in the Worth Wildcat Tournament in Tucson, Ariz., Friday.Making matters worse, the trip includes contests with perennial national powerhouses Arizona and Oklahoma. All this, while spending the preseason preparing in gymnasiums rather than on the diamond, due to the consistent cold weather.
Regardless, second-year coach Casey Dickson
accepts the challenge at hand and will face it with an optimistic approach.”It has been proven that in order to be the best, you have to play the best,” Dickson said.
Dickson might be breathing a little easier because of two new additions to the coaching staff. Enter Ashley Moore and graduate assistant coach Lauren Nicholson. Moore, a 2003 Auburn graduate, has been delegated duties in the outfield while Nicholson, a 2006 Maryland-Baltimore County alum, will lend her experience to the pitching staff.
Dickson said having a solid and well-balanced coaching staff by her side is necessary.
“It is huge,” Dickson said. “It is extremely important no matter what level coach you are to have good assistant coaches.”
If the Owls are going to make any noise in the Atlantic Ten Conference, they are going to have to get consistent outings from their young and mostly inexperienced pitching staff.
Katie Burdeaux, a sophomore hurler from Winter Springs, Fla., will anchor the mound. Burdeaux went 10-8 last season in 34 appearances. She posted a 4.05 earned run average in 133.0 innings of work.Burdeaux showcased her ability to strike out batters as well as the ability to go the distance.
She made 70 batters take a seat while adding five complete games to her resume. She said she’s constantly looking to improve.
“This offseason, I didn’t just want to practice my pitches, I wanted to perfect them,” Burdeaux said. “I changed my motion a little bit as well in order to be more deceptive.”
Junior college transfer Brianna Dairy, freshmen Ashley Smuda and Shannon James round out the pitching staff.
The pitching staff will have some help in the form of fielding. Defense has been the topic of conversation for Dickson and the Owls after the Owls posted the worst fielding percentage in the A-10 last season.
Dickson is excited to see her team in action, believing that hard work in the offseason will pay off.
“We worked and worked on our defense because our defense was not all that hot last year,” Dickson said. “We missed the postseason by one game last year and we had the worst fielding percentage in the conference.”
Anchoring the defense and providing the leadership will be the Owls’ only two seniors, former high school teammates Jessica Rohn and Adrienne Repsher.
Rohn, who has started 129 games in her career, will lead the outfield alongside junior Brittany Burks. In 45 appearances last season, Rohn rebounded from a redshirted season in 2005 with a .283 batting average and 17 runs batted in. In 34 starts last season, Burks led all Owls with a .340 batting clip while scoring 21 runs and knocking in 15.
The infield will lean on Repsher, a first baseman who will return for her final season having started 138 consecutive games as an Owl. The 2006 academic all-conference selection batted .302 while scoring 18 runs, posting 16 RBI and jacking three home runs. In addition to nabbing six stolen bases on seven attempts, Repsher finished tied for first among the Owls with a .980 fielding percentage and second with seven doubles.
Repsher believes the Owls can use the element of surprise this season in a conference that a recent A-10 coaches poll has the Owls projected to finish fifth.”I think we can surprise a lot of people this year,” Repsher said. “I think defensively we have improved and I really feel that offensively we are more of a threat. We can be in the running for the A-10 championship.”
The Owls kick off A-10 play Sunday, March 25 when they take on Charlotte at the Ambler Sports Complex.
Mike Fiscus can be reached at email@example.com.