Softball Opens 2016 Season at Sand Dollar Classic
HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- The Southern Miss softball team opens up the 2016 season at the San Dollar Classic in Gulf Shores, Ala. The Golden Eagles begin their second season under the direction of head coach Wendy Hogue.
The Golden Eagles play three teams that reached the NCAA Regionals last season. Southern Miss begins the season with 2015 NCAA Regional participant Florida A&M at 12 p.m. before taking on another NCAA Tournament team in Central Arkansas at 6 p.m. The tournament continues on Saturday with a game against NCAA Regional participant Ball State (12 p.m.) and Belmont (3 p.m.). USM concludes the Sand Dollar Classic on Sunday with a single game against Lipscomb at 12 p.m.
The Last Meeting
March 14, 2007
The Last Meeting
February 12, 2012
The Last Meeting
February 28, 2010
The Black and Gold return 16 letterwinners off of the 2015 team, including eight starters in the field and three starting pitchers. Southern Miss has four seniors -- Katie Cleary, Sarah Evans, Morgan McKeever, and Michelle Stringer -- who enter their fourth and final season as established leaders on the team.
The Golden Eagles also welcomed seven newcomers into the fold, including the 2014 and 2015 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Softball Players of the Year.
The Southern Miss softball team is scheduled to play a 55-game schedule that includes 26 games at the Southern Miss Softball Complex. In addition, the Golden Eagles will play 19 games against 11 different teams that played in NCAA Regionals last season. Southern Miss begins the 2016 campaign at the Sand Dollar Classic and the Golden Eagles host Alabama State in a doubleheader at the Softball Complex to open up the 2016 home campaign on Wednesday, Feb. 17.
Head Coach Wendy Hogue discusses the 2016 season:
On expectations for the 2016 season...
I feel good. I don't want to be overconfident, but I don't want to sell our team short. I think we are drastically improved from a year ago, offensively and defensively. Not sure how that will reflect on the scoreboard. Our schedule is a little tougher this year than it was last year. All in all, I feel good going into the season.
What is the biggest difference as a coach moving from last year to this year?
We have our staff where it needs to be. The expectations are set. The team is not trying to figure out what I want and what I expect, and vice versa. I didn't know what to expect from Conference USA last year. After going through it a year, I am definitely more prepared for what to look for. All the scouting reports in the world, they can help you, but it doesn't prepare you for actually seeing everyone that first day. I feel more comfortable going into the season.
On the addition Coy Adkins...
It is tremendous benefit for our team. He has definitely taken our pitchers to a higher level, mentally and physically. Hitting, we all do a little bit with that. Coach Adkins has brought his SEC experience and done some really good things. Even with the slappers, he has been working with them. He is a great confidence booster. He is a good person to have around, and he is really good at what he does.
On position battles...
When it comes to positions, we have a few different lineups. We have our best defensive lineup and we have our best offensive lineup. There is some constants in both, but it depends on where we need to be.
When it comes to positions, we have a few different lineups. We have our best defense lineup and we have our best offensive lineup. There is some constants in both, but it depends on where we need to be. At first base, I don't think you can get any closer than Tori Dew and Katie Cleary right now. They are both swinging the bat extremely well. Both big lefties that can hit for power and average. Both play pretty good defense. We couldn't go wrong either way there. Looking right now, Tori Dew has a small edge with the range. May look at playing Katie Cleary somewhere else. You never know where you are going to see our California girl. They will both be in the lineup though.
Kaelyn Christofferson has pretty much sewn that position up. There is nobody on the team that can move and run like Kaelyn does. She does a really good job. She has a super quick turn at the bag. She gets to a lot of balls that we didn't get to in the past. We will see Kaelyn there. When we move to our best offensive lineup, you may see Kaelyn back on the green and Sarah Evans come in and play a little second base.
Shortstop is Lauren Holifield. She has come in and earned that position very early in the fall and hasn't come close to losing it since.
Morgan McKeever is going to get the nod this year. She has great hands and does a really great job on the short game. Michelle Stringer has played there for three years and done a good job for us. Morgan adds just a little more quickness and her release is quicker on the short game. I think you will see both of those seniors in the lineup.
That is another good position battle. You will see Samantha Papp a lot. You will see Bailey Stokes a lot. They are both working extremely hard. They both swing the bat well. It is depends on who we are playing and may come down to who is pitching, but those two will share time behind the plate.
It depends on if we are going for defense or offense. Rachel Johnson will be in center field. She has proven herself as our best outfielder so she will be out there. She has been doing a really good job out there. The corners? It depends on what we are looking for, where we are at in the game, what the score is, what types of team we are playing. In left field, Sarah Evans would probably be our everyday left fielder. We are also looking to work Katie Cleary and Samantha Papp out there. That is for when we want more offense in the game. We just recently added that in there a couple of weeks ago. There are kids that continue to hit every day and they just have got to be in the lineup. Tori Rouse has never hurt us in left field when she has been out there. She swings a good bat, but Katie and Samantha's bats are on the next level and we have to find a way to get all those bats in the lineup. Seeing Papp or Cleary in left field might be a way to do that. Over in right, Samantha Reynolds has won the job defensively, and Arielle Pollock also does a good job over there. They are both slap hitters who can also swing. I think Sam has the edge defensively. They both carry themselves very well at the plate. If it is the big hitters that we need, look for Evans to maybe move to right and someone else take over in left. You may see one of three faces over in right -- Sarah Evans, Sam Reynolds, or Arielle Pollock.
We have four quality pitchers and we feel good with all four. I think we are going to go with our veterans. The older girls that first day. I think you will see Danielle Block against FAMU with Jillian Johnson coming in if needed behind her. I think Dani is going to do fine though. Game 2 versus Central Arkansas, the plan is to go with Samantha Robles.
On the newcomers...
I think they have helped us in elevating our game. We brought in a lot of girls who all they have done is win in their college experience. That is the Jones girls. They won a lot of ballgames and expect to win a lot of ballgames. They are bringing a wealth of experience and a wealth of experience at winning. Both of them have secured spots in the lineup so we are excited about them. We also brought in Ciarra Cherry, who you won't see on the field this year (because of NCAA transfer rules). She has also elevated our game. She is probably the fastest girl on the team. She is probably the most athletic player that we have. She won't be able to get on the field until next year, but having her available at practice to push the team, she has definitely made us better as well. We had Samantha Papp come in as a freshman and she has not only elevated her game since the fall and since high school, but helped Bailey get to a level that she needs to be as well. The new talent, along with our returners. We couldn't do it without our returners. I think everyone. I think our senior leadership has really made the difference in stepping up the team play this year. They have raised the bar.
What have you seen from the four seniors this year?
I have seen a lot of maturity. Some of it happened during the year last year. Some of it happened this summer. And some of it has unfolded right before our eyes this year. It is something that had to take place. It is something that needed to happen. It is something that we are very excited that has come to pass. The seniors -- Cleary, Stringer, McKeever, and Evans -- they bring it every day. They have all been Player of the Day at least once and have been up for it on multiple occasions. They are all bought into team over self, which is tough because we just talked about some of the battles. Being three-year starters and maybe not starting in that position that you've played all those years. The example that they have shown their teammates has been tremendous. How they are carrying themselves. How they put team first. I can't say enough about the seniors and what they do for our team.
What has been the biggest surprise to you this offseason?
Team chemistry. With nine newcomers in the fall, one would expect some awkwardness to overcome. The chemistry of this group, however, and how quickly they gelled so well together, was a pleasant surprise.
What has the Diamond Club meant to you?
If we had to pick an MVP at this point of the season, it would definitely have to be the Diamond Club. Not only are they helping us with things that we need, they are supporting us in whatever it is that we are doing. It is not, `we think you need this.' It is, `tell us what you need.' We came up with a Needs / Wants List and they have taken it and started at the top. They have pretty much marked everything off the list. They are helping with the appeal of the facilities, which will definitely help with recruiting. I can't say enough about Mike Arrington. He is the president. You have Dawn Gillis who is our volunteer ops person. They have just taken it and run. Randall Odom, Bill Doherty. Rick Mattox has really helped us. He is in charge of the baseball Dugout Club. He has really helped us with the Diamond Club this year. I don't need to start naming names, because there are so many of them that have really done some good things for us.
Why should fans come to Southern Miss softball games?
It is the place to be. You want to be a part of it. This team is going to be something special. I am not sure how that is going to reflect on the scoreboard, but I have seen a major growth process take place and I think the community is going to want to be a part of the 2016 softball team because this team is the beginning of great things to come for Southern Miss softball.