PULASKI, Tenn. - Union University has been selected as the top team in the 2012 TranSouth Conference Softball Preseason Coaches' Poll. Union University who finished second at last year's tournament, earned seven first place votes.
Martin Methodist College was picked second and received the other first place vote, while Freed-Hardeman University was voted third, Cumberland University fourth, Bethel University fifth, Lyon (Ark.) College sixth, Mid-Continent (Ky.) University seventh and Blue Mountain (Miss.) College eighth.
In addition, the NAIA also released their preseason rankings today with both Union University and Martin Methodist College listed. Union finished last season receiving votes with a 41-15 mark, and catapulted to No. 17 to begin the 2012, while Martin Methodist earned 11 votes to be listed as receiving votes.
2012 TranSouth Softball Preseason Poll | NAIA Preseason Poll
# School - POINTS (1st Place Votes)
1. Union University - 63 (7)
2. Martin Methodist - 52 (1)
3. Freed-Hardeman - 46
4. Cumberland University- 42
5. Bethel University - 34
6. Lyon College - 22
7. Mid-Continent - 16
8. Blue Mountain - 13
UNION UNIVERSITY LADY BULLDOGS
JACKSON, Tenn. -- The Union University Lady Bulldogs open the 2012 season looking to build on a runner-up finish in the TranSouth Conference from last season. The Lady Bulldogs finished the 2011 season 41-15 overall and 24-6 in conference play. This season, Union is ranked No. 17 in the NAIA Preseason Polls and has been picked No. 1 in the TranSouth Preseason Coaches' Poll.
The Lady Bulldogs will be led by two seniors, Ali Bozza and Katie Davis. Bozza has been a starter for the Lady Bulldogs for three seasons and will see significant playing time as a utility player in 2012. Davis has also been a starter since her freshman year and will contribute to Union's offense.
The junior class consists of seven players. Keaton Kirk, Stephanie Saunders, Tobie Joy, Brooke Thomas, and Sam Geisler all return from the 2011 season. Two newcomers join the junior class, including DeShuni Sanders and Jenyce Spence. Kirk returns as a two-year starter in the pitching circle and was named to the first team all-conference last season. Saunders returns after contributing to Union's offense last season and was also named to the second team all-conference. Joy returns as a starting second baseman and was named the TranSouth Newcomer of the Year last season. Thomas returns for her third season as a starting pitcher and was named to the first team all-conference. Geisler returns for her third season with the Bulldogs.
Three sophomores make up the Lady Bulldog roster. Shelby Lamb, Katie Beth Fesmire, and Caroline George all return from last season. Lamb will contribute to Union's offense and was named to the first team all-conference last season. Fesmire returns and will see a lot of time behind the plate. George returns for her second season and will contribute to the pitching staff.
The largest class on Union's roster is made up of freshmen. Natalie Neal, Alex Williams, Kohnley Wade, Lacy Fisher, Kelly Robey, Taylor Hargrove, Paxton Sisson, Lacey Hodge, and Kristen Powell will start their college careers with the Lady Bulldogs.
MARTIN METHODIST COLLEGE REDHAWKS
PULASKI, Tenn. -- Martin Methodist comes off a 33-29 finish overall, and a third place finish in the 2011 TranSouth Softball Championships, and are picked to finish second in the TSAC this season. The RedHawks are already receiving votes in the NAIA preseason poll, as they return a host of talent. Head coach Brandie Paul returns for her 11th season at the helm, returning assistant coach Hector Lora for his second year and manager Brittany Trevarthen for her fifth year. New faces to the staff include pitching coach Ashley Altman and student assistant Jessica Ayers.
MMC returns five everyday starters, including NFCA All-Region selection junior third baseman Amber Kinsey, and TranSouth First Team selction, junior starting pitcher Katlin White. Senior Sam Queen, a TranSouth Second Team selection, returns to first base, while Chrissy Worth, Kandace Christopher, Beth Wilson, Joanna Jones, and Megan McKean round out the senior class.
Incoming junior college transfers junior Veronika Fukunishi and sophomore Cynthia Takahashi hail from Miami Dade Community College where they helped their team to a state championship. Fukunishi will easily see time in the starting lineup for the RedHawks, as she earned the NFCA NJCAA Division I Catcher of the Year award, turning in a solid .374 season at the plate, and an errorless season behind the plate.
Junior pitcher Chrissy Darnell will make her way in the rotation in the circle, coming as a standout from Southwest Tennessee Community College, as Jasmine Crenshaw from St. Petersburg College, and returner Chae Ellis round out the junior class, both outfielders.
Sophomore hurler Caroline Ezell returns with a year of collegiate competition under her belt, while a five-player group of incoming freshmen are expected to make some impact for MMC, including Ashton Cowan and Megan Anderson, both infielders, who will look to compete early for starting roles.
The RedHawks will open the season with their annual MMC Meltdown tournament in Pulaski, and then head to several early season tournaments to face off with a host of Top 25 competition, including the NAIA Leadoff Classic in Panama City, Florida, and the prestigious Gulf Coast Invitational in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
FREED-HARDEMAN UNIVERSITY LADY LIONS
HENDERSON, Tenn. -- It is not often that a team's roster is heavy with both seniors and freshmen, but that is what the Freed-Hardeman Lady Lions' roster looked like last season. After finishing 2011 with a 23-23 record, FHU graduated five seniors but will also bring back several underclassmen that saw plenty of innings. So while the 2012 version of Lady Lion softball will have only one senior, it will not be a team that lacks in the area of experience.
As head coach Todd Humphry enters his 12th season at the helm of the program, he expects that the experience his players have gained as freshmen and sophomores will translate into more improvement in the new season.
"Any time a player gains experience it benefits the player. How these young ladies use that experience will be a factor this year," he said. "The type of players we have on the roster this year will use that experience to help the team this season because of the type of players that they are. These girls want to win and want to get better each day. I expect a great showing from the team this year."
Five regular starters in the field as well as the team's top pitchers will be back for the Lady Lions, led by senior first baseman Brittany Yates. Always a strong finisher, Yates hit .450 in April and May with six home runs and 25 RBI. She was a first-team all-conference selection after hitting .324 with nine home runs and 33 RBI for the season. She will again anchor the lineup in the clean-up spot in the batting order.
FHU's top three pitchers from last season all return, led by TranSouth All-Conference and All-Freshman selection Sarah Elizabeth Cousar. Cousar went 14-10 in the circle last season with a 3.34 ERA and 97 strikeouts and finished the season strong by winning three of her last four starts. Her combination of velocity and location should help her continue to improve in her second year in the circle.
When not pitching, Cousar will see plenty of time at third base where she started 23 games last season. As the team's leadoff hitter in 2011, she batted .285 and had an average of over .300 for the most of the year before going through a slump to end the season.
After struggling with control issues as a freshman, Savannah Cole surged in the second half of the season and became the team's No. 2 starter behind Cousar. Over her last nine appearances, she went 4-2 with an ERA of 2.50 and issued only three walks against 21 strikeouts in her last five appearances.
Also returning is sophomore Tiffany Tucker, who missed the second half of her freshman season after a solid start. In 12 appearances, she had a 4-5 record and an ERA of 3.95.
Both of last year's catchers return in junior Amber Vansandt and sophomore Bailey Morgan. Morgan, the team's primary catcher, cut down 38 percent of base-stealers last season and was third on the team in RBI with 19. Vansandt spent most of her time as the designated player and backed up Morgan behind the plate, a role she will likely fill again this season. Vansandt hit .287 last year with two home runs and 22 RBI.
Sophomore Natalie Nelson is the lone returning starter in the outfield after starting all but one game in right field. As a freshman, she hit .254 with 15 RBI and twice had four hits in a game and had some clutch hits during the year.
She will not, however, be the only experienced player as the Lady Lions get Caneisha Turner back in the lineup after redshirting last season. In 2010, she hit .350 with six steals after moving into the starting lineup near the end of the season. The team's only slapper, she will provide speed at the top of the order along with Cousar and is expected to take over defensive duties in center field.
The team also adds three newcomers including two with college experience in junior college transfers Mercedes Norfork and Shelby Cummings. The remaining newcomer, Kamara Trice, had a very successful high school career. Both Norfork and Cummings had stellar sophomore seasons at Jackson State (Tenn.) Community College - Norfork hit .444 with 19 doubles, seven home runs and 45 RBI while Cummings hit .449 with 18 doubles, 33 RBI and 20 steals.
CUMBERLAND UNIVERSITY BULLDOGS
LEBANON, Tenn. -- All-TranSouth performers Allison Blackwood and Megan Lavery return for Cumberland from last year's 31-27 club, but fourth-year head coach Heather Stanfill must replace three-year starter Stephanie Gutierrez as well as CaSarah Gilliam, both All-Conference honorees in 2011.
Blackwood has compiled a .334 batting average with 24 doubles, 12 home runs and 78 RBIs in two seasons at the plate for the Bulldogs while also posting 26 victories with 180 strikeouts in 330.0 innings of work. The lefthander was 15-12 with 14 complete games and 159.1 innings last season. She and Courtney Maynard will form the backbone of the CU pitching staff again this season after combining for 27 victories in 313.0 innings, 83 percent of the team's workload in the circle.
Lavery showed her versatility in 2011, starting 33 games at catcher and 21 others either in second base, leftfield or designated player. The Mt. Juliet, Tenn., native batted .323 with 14 doubles, seven homers, 23 RBIs and 35 runs scored. She was also hit 13 times and posted a team-best .403 on-base percentage.
Sophomore Sarah Murray started 29 games in the infield last season, batting .288 with nine doubles, 19 RBIs and 20 runs scored. Sophomore Heather James started 50 contests at shortstop for CU, collecting 10 doubles, three homers, 27 RBIs and 23 runs scored.
Senior Caity Gray started 41 games at first base and also pitched in 26 contests, almost all in relief, going 4-3 with three saves in 52.2 innings. She batted .260 last season with five doubles and 20 RBIs.
Cumberland starts the year with just one returning outfielder, junior Victoria Bennett, who posted five doubles, 23 RBIs and 22 runs scored in 55 games. Lavery and Gray as well as senior Tonya Barlow and junior Autumn Collins will all spend time in the outfield.
Redshirt sophomore Emily Nicholson also returns after knee surgery sidelined her in 2011. She batted .316 with seven home runs, eight doubles and 17 RBIs two seasons ago and will be limited to the designated player role this year.
Behind the plate CU will feature Lavery as well as a pair of newcomers - junior Kacy Hobbs (San Jacinto JC) and freshman Sydney Broderick (Knox Karns HS).
BETHEL UNIVERSITY LADY WILDCATS
MCKENZIE, Tenn. -- There are quite a few changes for Bethel University softball and 5th year head coach, Larry Geraldi (95 - 96) this season. Gone are the four year players - Brittany Edmonds, Lindsey Davis, Jennifer Townson, and Kasey Winsett, along with three year pitching ace Leah Hensley. This group helped lead Bethel to the 2009 TranSouth Conference Tournament Championship and an appearance in the NAIA National Tournament.
Also missing from this year's squad is starter Katie Pacifici who transferred to Cumberland. Coach Geraldi has added 14 new players to the program along with an outstanding coaching staff made up of graduate assistant Leah Hensley and student assistant Lindsey Davis. Adam Cooper returns as a student assistant. The team managers are Karalee Bowker and Erica Morgan.
With hard work and confidence this year's team looks to be an exciting group of outstanding student athletes. The Lady Cats will be led by seniors Amanda Renfroe (3B), Brooke Cary (SS), Colby Prosser (C), and Morgan Berry (RF). The juniors are Sydney McMillin (P/DH), Ashton Carnahan (P/Uti), and Emily Roper (Uti). The returning sophomore is Alex Weatherly (C).
New members on this year's squad are: sophomore transfer & soccer player Molly Frey (OF) and Brooklyn Jenkins (1B/3B) a transfer from Bryan College who prepped at Creek Wood High School in Dickson Co., TN. The well decorated freshman class will be called upon often and early to contribute to the team. Three freshman players are from state champion Parsons Riverside High School - Ericca McCormic (P), Hannah Hays (3B), and Taylor Johnson (OF). The other freshman players are: Shelby Evans (OF) Camden - Kathryn Kreuziger (P) Huntingdon - Caitlin Runions (C) Dyersburg - Carrie Dunavant (P/1B) Erin - Lindsey Costello (C/IF) Bolton -
Shawna McAdams (P/C/2B) East Robertson - Julia Cruce (C/1B) Waverly - Ashley Denfip (OF) Benton, KY - Racheal Carroll (IF) East Hickman.
"This year's team is comprised of some of the best student/athletes anywhere to be found. The upperclassmen are showing the leadership that is needed to help the younger players make the transition from high school to college ball. This group is very talented and with six pitchers on the squad we should always have a rested arm on the mound".
This year's schedule is just as strong as in the past with the tough teams in the TranSouth conference along with playing OVC division I member, Murray State University. The Lady Cats will also travel to the Gulf Shores Invitational in March to face a very strong field in this prestigious event.
LYON COLLEGE SCOTS
BATESVILLE, Ark. -- The Lyon College softball program is looking to improve on their 22-27 finish last season, their highest regular season finish since the program started in 2007-08. Lyon head coach Kristen Kolter (1st season) returns seven players. Among the seven is sophomore Sarah Knudsen who was named Second Team All-Conference in the 2011 season. Lyon adds 8 newcomers to the mix.
Of the seven Scots returning five were starters and played key roles in the 2011 season. Senior outfielder Kaitlyn Patterson, and senior pitcher Tara Mitchell will lead the way for the Lyon College Scots.
Sophomores Chelsea Conrade, Erica Whitaker, and Sarah Knudsen will also be placed in key leadership positions.
The Scots season opener will be the Lyon College Softball Invitational on February 17th and 18th. Lyon is scheduled to play William Woods and Williams Baptist on Friday, February 17th at 9:00 & 11:00 am. Lyon will open conference play on February 29th as they host the Bulldogs of Union University.
MID-CONTINENT UNIVERSITY COUGARS
MAYFIELD, Ky. -- The Mid-Continent University softball team enters the 2012 campaign coming off a 15-33 season in 2011, but with the returning talent, and a hard working team, coach Christa Bakemeier hopes this year's club can improve that total and find themselves in the thick of the TranSouth Athletic Conference race in April and May.
The team boasts a solid senior class, led by Lisa Bowman and Lacee Underwood, while also featuring Nicki Dewitt, Kaylee Blankenship, and Tristana Williams. The quintet of talent will see time at at least five different positions, with Underwood and Bowman anchoring the Mid-Continent defense up the middle in center field and at second base respectively. Blankenship will see time in the circle for the Cougars, with Williams factoring into the mix behind the dish and Dewitt battling for time at third base.
Four junior tranfers join the Cougars for 2012, and Alyssa Ybarra returns for her third season. Rachel Brueggeman brings a power bat to the Mid-Continent lineup, and she brings a solid defensive glove to the third base position.Tara Chavez is another power hitter new to the Cougar's lineup, a left fielder who together with Brueggeman and Chavez bringing their power from opposite sides of the plate. Also new to Mid-Continent in left field is Lindsey Neimeyer, who will provide some competition for the position. Jessica Temple looks to be the in the mix for the starting shortstop position, while Ybarra will fight for time at second base.
The sophomore class is headlined by battery mates Molly Hargrove and Bry Navarro, who figure to be solid both offensively and defensively for the Cougars. Navarro brings a smooth defensive style to the field and is a very smart player as well, while Hargrove was named to the 2011 All-TranSouth and All-NCCAA Mid-East Region teams. She led the Cougars in wins as a freshman, posting an 8-7 mark and also ranked second on the team with a .331 batting average. Anna Maziarka also begins her sophomore season, having played in 22 games in her rookie campaign. Lindsey Rucker and Christina Day begin their Mid-Continent careers in 2012, adding to the Cougars' pitching and catching depth respectively.
The Cougars open their 2012 campaign at home against Williams Baptist College on February 22 at 1 p.m.
BLUE MOUNTAIN UNIVERSITY TOPPERS
BLUE MOUNTAIN, Miss. -- If more speed translates into more runs then Blue Mountain College softball coach Kevin Barefield believes his Toppers will be a much better team than their inaugural season of a year ago.
"We lost 10 games by one run last year and another couple by two," said Barefield, whose Toppers open their season at 1 p.m. Feb. 11 against Williams Baptist College in a doubleheader at the New Albany Sportsplex.
"We had pretty good speed last year but we signed some players with speed that should make us much stronger offensively."
A dozen players are back from last year's 5-39 squad that finished 3-27 in the TranSouth Athletic Conference.
Senior Haylei Plummer and sophomore Samantha Sagely, both named to the All-TSAC second team, were the Toppers' offensive leaders last year.
Plummer, a third baseman from Pope, Miss., hit .284 with seven doubles and two home runs and drove in 13 runs. She had a .324 on-base percentage.
Sagely, a right fielder from Alcorn Central, hit. 316 with on-base percentage of .375 and was good on seven of nine stolen base attempts.
Kimmy Nicholson, a center fielder from Nettleton, is a transfer from Itawamba Community College where in two years she hit .415, including .465 last season, and swiped 58 bases while being thrown out only twice.
Barefield noted BMC will return all three pitchers from last season - Halley Beckhan (2-15, 3.60 earned run average), Brooke Denton (1-15, 3.87 ERA, 76 strikeouts) and Meggin Nelson (2-9, 5.44 ERA) - and Whitney Hardwick, a standout pitcher and shortstop from Alcorn Central.
"I really feel good about this year's team," Barefield said. "We were so close so many times last year, and now we've got that first year under our belts. Last year was a big year for us, but we got a lot of good experience and we'll know more about what to expect this year.
"I think we'll compete well with every team in our conference and we've got some awfully good teams in the TranSouth."
TREVECCA NAZARENE UNIVERSITY TROJANS
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Trevecca softball team enters the 2012 season with another deep and talented roster. Coach Ben Tyree's fourth Trojan team is a talented group with a mix of veterans and newcomers which wants to continue to add to the program's success. The 2011 season ended sooner than expected with a loss to eventual national champion Oregon Tech in pool play at the NAIA National Championships, and this season's team wants to win the 2012 NCCAA National Championship as it continues the process of moving to NCAA Division II.
The Trojans lost four important pieces from last year's team-Karli Rush, Melinda Patterson, Monica West, and Kelsey Lantrip-but a talented nucleus returns for Coach Tyree, led by pitchers Lauren Baker and Riley Mashburn, infielder Kari Mason, and outfielders Breanna Zeis, Haylee Rogers, and Heather Shuler.
Baker, a senior from Hendersonville, and Mashburn, a senior from Brentwood, combined for 46 wins and a 1.85 ERA in the circle last season, with Baker (25-1, 1.82 ERA, 147 Ks) winning TranSouth Pitcher of the Year honors. She also batted .353 with eight home runs and 36 RBI.
Members of the outfield trio of Rogers, Shuler, and Zeis were named First-Team All-TranSouth last season, and they're all back, bringing with them plenty of offensive firepower. Rogers captured TranSouth Freshman of the Year honors last season, when she batted .387 with a conference-leading 15 home runs, 50 RBI, and a team-leading 127 total bases. The sophomore from Goodlettsville also stole 19 bases in 22 attempts and scored 42 runs. Zeis, a junior from Murfreesboro, batted .375 with nine home runs and led the Trojans with 21 doubles and 51 RBI. Shuler had the highest batting average last season of all the returning players. The sophomore from Nolensville hit .394 with four home runs and 41 RBI. Mason, a senior from Springfield who played second base last year, posted a .371 batting average with a team-leading 50 runs and was 21-of-24 in stolen base attempts. Other returning players are senior Caitlyn Bailey and sophomores Allison Gaddis and Tori Hulan.
A deep and talented class of newcomers arrives on campus ready to help the Trojans continue to build on the past two seasons' successes. Juniors Lacey Grimes (Ashland City, Tenn.) and Aubrey Jordan (Spring Hill, Tenn.), sophomore Natalie Papini (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), and freshmen Ansley Brantley (Kite, Ga.), Nicole Davis (Greenville, Ohio), Kelsey Kemp (Lawrenceburg, Tenn.), Brittany Pendergrast (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), and Lindsey Stephens (Somerset, Ky.) will add depth and flexibility to the Trevecca lineup in 2012.
The Trojans' schedule is challenging once again, both in and out of conference. The non-conference schedule includes trips to the Shorter University Kickoff Tournament in Decatur, Ala., in late February and to the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Panama City, Fla., in early March. Among Trevecca's non-conference opponents are three teams ranked in the NAIA Preseason Top 25-No. 9 Shorter, No. 13 Auburn-Montgomery, and No. 19 Reinhardt-as well as three teams receiving votes in the preseason poll-Indiana University-Southeast, Davenport University, and Lee University. In TranSouth Conference action, Trevecca will play doubleheaders both home and away against all eight fellow TSAC members, including No. 17 Union-the only team to defeat the Trojans in conference play last season-and #RV Martin Methodist.