The cold winter is starting to thaw, and the softball team opens its season Thursday – a sure sign spring is fast approaching.
The Wildcats are coming off the most successful season in school history and are eager to take the next step. The 2009 season saw the ‘Cats win a team-record 43 games en route to a second-consecutive NCAA regional appearance. They also captured the Lone Star Conference South Division; however, they have yet to win an overall LSC title.
Preseason polls pick the Wildcats to finish second in the LSC South, with Angelo State as the preseason favorite. Head Coach Chantiel Wilson is entering her seventh season as coach, and she thinks her team has the tools and the grit to compete in a stacked LSC field.
“The LSC is an extremely competitive conference,” Wilson said. “We know that we’ll have to go out and play every game like it’s our most important game of the season. We are going to go out there and try and win the South just like we did last year.”
If the Wildcats want to win the LSC this season, they will have to do it without some familiar faces. The team has only four seniors, after losing some key players to graduation, including all-American catcher Jessica Shiery, who led the nations in walks last season. Despite the loss of Shiery, Wilson anticipates a more balanced team in 2010, with a combination of youth and experience.
“We did lose Jessica Shiery, who was a two-time all-American for us and a tremendous hitter,” Wilson said. “However, I think we’ve become stronger throughout our lineup and become a better-hitting team.”
Additionally, the Wildcats will have to lean heavily on transfer talent. The Wildcats will be stronger up the middle this season with the additions of Shawna Barrow and Andi Anti. Barrow and Anti were teammates at Palomar College in San Diego County, Calif., before transferring to ACU for this season.
“Transfers will play a key role for us this season,” Wilson said. “Shawna Barrow and Andi Anti played together at their junior college, and they will come in and play second and shortstop for us. They are talented and good leaders.”
The Wildcats’ lone returning infielder is all-LSC third baseman Nancy Sawyers. In 2009, Sawyers finished third on the team with a .333 batting average and was second in home runs with 10. The Wildcats will also return two outfield starters in seniors Caitlin Nabors and Jenny Culp and reserve Erin Fudge.
A talented pitching staff will complement the Wildcat offense in 2010. The team returns two star players in Jacque Gregoire and Kim White but will count on contributions from others like freshman Shelby Hall. Gregoire will again be the staff ace after compiling a 22-6 record in 2009. Gregoire led the Wildcats in innings pitched and strikeouts.
Despite the skills her team possesses, Wilson thinks the intangibles make her group unique, intangibles she thinks have Wildcat softball headed in the right direction.
“This is one of the hardest working teams I have ever been a part of,” Wilson said. “They come out and give 100 percent every practice. When we get into games, they won’t freeze under the pressure; they’ll come out and be ready to play.”