Southeastern’s softball season starts Friday when coach Ron Faubion’s LadyStorm open play in the St. Mary’s University tournament in San Antonio, Texas.
A rainout took away Southeastern’s opportunity to win or tie for the championship in the inaugural season of the Great American Conference.
SE finished second to Arkansas-Monticello with a 22-6 conference record to Ark-Monty’s 21-5. Monticello split with East Central, then didn’t play the last doubleheader because of the weather.
This is a new season and a new set of weather. Buckle up, hold on and come along for the ride.
There are eight returnees and five starters on the 2013 roster, along with nine newcomers who will be battling for playing time.
There will be more team speed and more flexibility among position players. Several players can hit it out, but the long ball will likely take a back seat to average. Perhaps the most important ingredient is attitude.
Coach Faubion said, “This group is excited about the season. They are enthusiastic and ready to go. We hit the field and it’s a new world every day. These kids do their absolute best to do everything you ask of them.
“That means a lot to a coach.”
Last year’s team posted a 40-16 record and reached the finals of the Great American Conference tournament. The five returning starters are seniors Paige Priest and Courtney Moore, along with sophomores Darrian Williams, Jacee Bennett and Whitney Hamilton.
Priest is a speedster in center field who batted .345 last year while starting all 56 games and turning in some spectacular catches. Moore started 49 games behind the plate and hit .272 with three home runs and 38 runs batted in.
Williams started 29 games and played outfield and designated runner. She hit .277 with three stolen bases in four attempts. Hamilton batted .306 in 27 starts with six home runs and 23 RBIs while limited by injury. She also delivered some crucial pinch hits.
Bennett was 3-3 in the circle with 16 appearances and nine starts. She is the lone pitcher on the squad with experience at this level and will be counted on to carry a heavy load.
Other returnees are senior Dakota Palmer, a second baseman/outfielder who crossed the plate 10 times as a designated runner. Senior Kaija Morris is a former Durant High School player who hit .333 in 24 starts and 40 appearances. She will be starting at third base this year and can also catch, play the outfield and serve as a runner. Sophomore Lauren Renneker hit .214 last season and is slated to see time at first base.
Southeastern will be featuring an entirely new infield for 2013.
The double-play combination is pretty well set with junior Lacie Cook at short and freshman Jessica Simmons at second. Renneker and freshman Rachel Jones will see time at first base with Morris and junior Brittany Wilson at third.
Priest will open in center field with Williams in left. A three-way scramble in right field features junior Kelsey Overacker and freshmen Laramie Beal and Courtney Riddle.
Juniors Mindy McElroy and Shayna Milam will join Jones and Bennett to comprise the pitching staff.
The schedule again is like one of the inner rings of Dante’s Inferno.
The LadyStorm will open play in the St. Mary’s tournament in San Antonio at 4 p.m. Friday against Texas A&M-Kingsville, then play Tarleton State at 6 p.m.
Saturday’s slate will have Texas Woman’s at 2 p.m., followed immediately by Incarnate Word. The Storm will tangle with host St. Mary’s at 11:30 a.m. Sunday.
Ten of Southeastern’s first 14 opponents reached the regionals last year and that includes four of the six in the Southeastern Regional Invitational February 8-10 at the Durant Multi-Sports Complex.
The first three opponents in the NFCA D-II Leadoff Classic (Tucson, Arizona) made the regionals last year. The Storm will open at 9 a.m. Friday, February 15, against Augustana College of South Dakota, then take on the University of California-San Diego at 1 p.m.
The Tritons of UC-San Diego won the national championship in 2011 and finished as runners-up in 2012.
“Our schedule is difficult on purpose,” Faubion said. “These tournaments are the only opportunities we have to play truly top teams and be seen by the raters. We start with three-straight tournaments and that can be wearing on the players, but it will also let us know where we stand and where we need to improve.
“We have a lot of new faces this year and it will just take some game time to see where all of the pieces fit. Our kids really work hard and I think they will represent Southeastern well.
“Some people may think all our kids do is play softball and that’s simply not true. They are here to get an education and they work as hard at that as they do playing ball.
“Fourteen of our 17 players made the Athletics Director’s Honor Roll and four made the President’s Honor Roll. Overall, our team finished 10th in the country for the 2012 season with a cumulative 3.46 grade-point average and placed 10 players on the Division II All-America Scholar Athletes team as named by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association.
“Our players know the value of a great education and I couldn’t be more proud of them for the way they balance education and athletics.
“We’re all ready to quit beating up on each other and face some live opposition. It’s never easy and we don’t expect that to change.
“I know we’re expecting a great Regional Invitational starting February 8 and we’re really looking forward to playing for our fans here at home.”
Faubion will be assisted this year by 2012 graduates Lindsey Lacy and Courtne St. Claire, who each started all 56 games. Lacy played second base last year, hit .344 and led the team with 24 stolen bases. St. Claire played left field and batted .312 with three home runs, 25 RBIs and 10 stolen bases.