Local college softball teams are ready to take the field, and all three plan to be in contention for championships when the season ends.
Spring Hill College hosts North Alabama on Thursday before playing this weekend at the Gulf Coast Invitational. The University of Mobile will join SHC in the Gulf Shores tournament starting Friday. South Alabama will take its first swing on Thursday, Feb. 11, when the Lady Jags host UAB.
Here is a brief glance at the squads:
UM is ranked seventh in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics preseason Top 25 poll. The Lady Rams went 38-14 last season and advanced to the NAIA World Series.
Head coach Terri McCormick returns all four pitchers, who combined for a 1.79 earned run average. Pitcher Makayla Scott earned honorable mention All-America honors after going 12-4 with a 1.51 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 120.1 innings.
Six position players are back, including three who started all 52 games — Taylor Clinkenbeard, Anna Blake Barnette and Kaitlin Wood. Clinkenbeard (.401, 51 runs, 23 steals) and Jordan Coleman (.383, 39 RBI, 23 extra base hits) pace the returning hitters. Clinkenbeard, an outfielder, was the Southern States Athletic Conference Newcomer of the Year and on the NAIA All-Tournament team.
Also highly ranked are SSAC rivals Auburn-Montgomery at No. 1 and William Carey at No. 9. Following the Gulf Shores tourney the Lady Rams play their first home game Feb. 13 against Talladega.
SHC has been quite impressive the last few seasons. Head coach Alison Sellers-Cook led the Lady Badgers to a 49-17 record in 2013 when they finished as the NAIA national runners-up. In 2014, SHC followed with a 42-12 record and was the SSAC tournament champion.
Spring Hill transitioned to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II last year but didn’t miss a beat. The Lady Badgers were 36-7 overall and a perfect 18-0 in Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association play. Because of the move to the NCAA, they were not eligible for postseason action then or this season.
Back for her senior year is pitcher Caroline Sagrera, who was a first-team academic All-American for the second straight year. She had a 26-6 record, with a 1.39 ERA and 350 strikeouts in 212 innings. She has thrown six no-hitters and owns the school records for career strikeouts (1,267), wins (103), complete games (118) and shutouts (45).
Other key returnees are sophomore second baseman Carmen Byrd (.430, 7 doubles), junior left fielder Jenna Charnock (.386), junior catcher Mary Glass (.324, 38 RBI, 3 HR), senior first baseman Lauren Stewart (.324) and senior right fielder Taylor Lahasky, who joined Sagrera on the National Fastpitch Coaches Association scholar-athlete All-America squad.
University of South Alabama has three players on the preseason All-Sun Belt Conference squad. Senior outfielder Stephanie Pilkington is on the roster for the second time, while classmate Emily Messer was chosen at third base after being on the 2015 SBC all-tournament team.
Sophomore Devin Brown was one of two pitchers named. She was the winning pitcher in the SBC Tournament title game last season and finished fourth in the NCAA in strikeouts per seven innings (10.9).
USA is rated No. 25 in the USA Today/NFCA Division I preseason poll. This is the third straight year the Lady Jags begin the season ranked.
Head coach Becky Clark’s team finished 40-13 last year after claiming a third SBC tourney title in the last four seasons and advancing to the NCAA Regional final. Other returning veterans are utility player Amanda Minahan, infielder Kaleigh Todd, infielder Kristian Foster, catcher Alex Breeden and outfielder Haleigh Lowe.
USA is set to face No. 3 LSU, No. 5 Alabama and No. 11 Louisiana-Lafayette this season. The Lady Jags are predicted to finish second in the SBC behind Louisiana-Lafayette.
Volleyball players honored
Two members of USA’s fall recruiting class have received special recognition. They are Ashlyn Roberts of Sneads, Florida, and Alahna Diaz of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Roberts, a libero/setter, was named to the CBS MaxPreps Small Schools Third-Team All-America squad. She ranks nationally in aces per set with 2.4 after leading her school to a third straight state title. Roberts is the Florida Athletic Coaches Association’s Player of the Year.
Diaz has been picked to join the Puerto Rico National Beach team. The defensive specialist is one of eight players on the unit. They will form four doubles teams to represent the island in international competitions.
Badgers’ coach recognized
James Beeston, the assistant coach on the Spring Hill College men’s soccer team, was recently honored by the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. He was named to the league’s 35th anniversary All-Fall Sports squad.
A native of Newcastle-Under-Lyme, England, Beeston is the only Siena College player to be on the first-team all-MAAC in two seasons (2012 and 2013). He is the team’s all-time leader with 29 assists and ranks seventh with 51 career points. Beeston was also on the MAAC All-Academic Team and Academic Honor Roll in each year of eligibility.
SHC places in cheerleader competition
The competitive cheer team for Spring Hill College earned a seventh-place finish at the Universal Cheerleaders Association Nationals in Orlando, Florida. SHC was in the Small Coed Division II classification.
The final evaluation stated, “The Badgers from Spring Hill brought solid stunts and unique transitions to their performance.”
Carrie Clayton, the Spirit Program coordinator, said this was the first cheer competition in which SHC participated. The overall winner was Wilmington University from New Castle, Delaware.