The 2016 campaign was quite impressive for local college softball teams. If Spring Hill College had completed its transition into the NCAA, the Badgers would have joined the University of South Alabama and the University of Mobile in competing for postseason berths.
So what is on tap for the three local squads in 2017? A brief glance at the programs follows.
University of South Alabama — Becky Clark enters her 11th season at the helm. Last season, the Jaguars were 33-18 overall and finished second in the Sun Belt Conference with a 17-6 mark.
Among the dozen letterwinners returning for Clark are six offensive starters and two pitchers. USA will need them against a formidable schedule that includes 10 NCAA Tournament teams, including three that advanced to the College World Series (Florida State, Alabama and LSU).
“I look forward to the spring because I know we have put in the work and I look forward to having everyone healthy this year and being able to put a great product on the field every single game,” said Clark, whose team did not get an at-large bid from the NCAA despite its impressive record.
After earning first-team all-league honors last season, juniors Devin Brown and Kaleigh Todd have been named to the SBC preseason all-conference squad. Brown, a graduate of Theodore High, was one of the league’s top pitchers last year. CollegeSportsMadness.com has named her an All-American.
“Devin put in a lot of work in the off season last year, and that work paid off for her on the field,” Clark said. “I think she was stronger and in better shape going into last season, and that helped her from an overall stamina standpoint considering her innings increased considerably from her freshman year.”
The right hander, who was 20-12 with 11 shutouts, struck out 10.97 batters per seven innings (second in the NCAA). Brown recorded the third perfect game in USA history in an 8-0 win over Louisiana-Monroe. She also starred in the classroom by being named to both the SBC Commissioner’s List and NFCA All-American Scholar Athlete list.
Todd starts at second base. She ranked third in the league in batting average (.415), fourth in on-base percentage (.495) and stolen bases (22) and seventh in hits (68). Her batting average and on-base percentage in 2016 ranked second on USA’s single-season chart.
Two USA outfielders earned second-team SBC honors last season. Junior Haleigh Lowe hit .333 in conference play with a team-high 18 runs batted in, while sophomore Haleigh Lane hit .382 in league play with 16 RBIs.
In the conference preseason rankings, South came in third behind defending league champion Louisiana-Lafayette and Texas State.
USA officially opens the season Thursday, Feb. 9, at 5 p.m. when they welcome Central Arkansas. The Jaguars will host the Sand Dollar Classic at Jaguar Field, with Houston Baptist, Jacksonville State and Alabama State in the field with Central Arkansas.
University of Mobile — The Rams enter the season with new head coach Korie Fontenot, a UM graduate. She has spent the last three years as an assistant to Terri McCormick, who guided the squad to 297 wins, two conference titles and four trips to the NAIA Tournament.
Last year’s team finished 28-21 overall and 8-12 in the Southern States Athletic Conference. Returning veterans include senior third baseman Anna Blake Barnette (started all 49 games, .242 batting average), junior first baseman Victoria Lewis (started 47 games, .210 batting average), junior outfielder Tyler Winkler (started 49 games, .333 batting average, 20 runs batted in), junior shortstop Kaitlyn Wood (started 49 games, .271 batting average), sophomore outfielder Emily Fleetwood (.333 batting average in 30 games) and sophomore catcher Ashley Sprayberry (37 starts, .250 batting average).
On the mound are senior Mackensie Williams (5-3 record, 2.61 ERA), junior Karley Sanders (10-4 record, 2.17 ERA) and junior Sydney O’Connor (whose career 1.56 ERA ranks 10th all-time at UM).
In the preseason coaches’ poll, William Carey has been picked to win the conference. The Rams are projected to finish fifth.
Spring Hill College — This is scheduled to be the Badgers’ last transitional season before becoming full members of the NCAA. Their Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference rivals are in no hurry for the move.
In 2016, the team was 37-14 overall and a perfect 24-0 mark in the SIAC. This marked the second straight unbeaten league record. The Badgers hit for a .331 average while the pitching staff had a 1.35 ERA.
For the effort, Badger head coach Alison Sellers-Cook was named the SIAC Coach of the Year. Through 11 seasons, she has led SHC to a 296-247 record. In 2013, she directed the team to the runner-up spot in the NAIA National Championships.
Back after having earned first-team all-conference honors are sophomore catcher Kali Clement (started all 51 games, hit .366 with 5 home runs and 47 RBIs) and sophomore outfielder Katelyn Wilson (a Mary G. Montgomery grad who led SHC with .382 batting average). Senior center fielder Jenna Charnock (a Baker High grad who led Badgers with 24 stolen bases and added a .348 batting average) was on the second-team unit.
Others who started every game are junior shortstop Carmen Byrd (Citronelle High grad, .351 batting average), junior third baseman Rene Kausin (.326 batting average) and sophomore infielder Madeline Burchell (.340 batting average). The only other senior is catcher/infielder Mary Glass (.280 batting average).
Clement, Wilson and Charnock are all on the first-team SIAC preseason squad. On the second-team unit are Byrd and sophomore pitcher Danielle Clark (Saraland High grad, 11-6 record, 1.95 ERA, 105 strikeouts).
• Gov. Robert Bentley has announced $1.3 million in grants to enhance recreational opportunities in Alabama. The awards are through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Mobile received $386,525 to construct a 1.7-mile multi-use trail along Three Mile Creek and to install fitness stations, lighting, benches and signage. Semmes got $130,000 to construct walking trails, install playground equipment and improve drainage at its city park. Each city is providing identical matching funds.
• Former USA volleyball star Mechell Daniel has signed a professional contract with Oriveden Ponnistus of the European Volleyball Confederation in Orivesi, Finland. She made her debut against Pieksamaki on Jan. 18, helping her team to a 3-1 victory. At USA, Daniel was a four-time all-Sun Belt Conference honoree, two-time SBC Commissioner’s List recipient and 2013 SBC Freshman of the Year. She is the career leader at South Alabama in double-doubles (45) and total attempts (4,444).