Steve Kittrell and the Lady Badgers are excited about their first season as a NCAA Division II softball team.
“It’s going to be an exciting year, we’ve got our work cut out for us,” said head coach Steve Kittrell. Kittrell started with the team last January and admits that the team’s success in the conference was bittersweet since it was not eligible for playoffs. The players will start the season in a tournament in the first week of February in which they will play seven games in three days against some of the top teams in the Southeast.
Aside from stronger competition, the team also must deal with the setback of injured players. According to Kittrell, the team lost two strong players last year that played a big role in the team’s success. Now it is a matter of who will step up and fulfill their roles. However, most of the players from last year have returned and the previous coach recruited a handful of freshmen.
When asked about potential players to fulfill these roles, Kittrell mentioned senior Carmen Byrd, who just transferred back from the University of South Alabama. He also predicted that sophomore Caroline Hart will start in the lineup because “she’s a good hitter,” and that sophomore Brittany Hartung has been playing well so far in the season. Regarding centerfield, Kittrell says that freshmen Kaycie Saxton and Elsie Caruso have made some progress.
Kittrell hopes that the team’s pitching and defense will be beneficial to them in the upcoming season. According to Kittrell, if the team plays good defense behind their pitchers who “know how to spin it”, they will be okay. However, Kittrell also mentions that the team will really have to use strong instincts in order to make up for their lack of speed. “When you’re in a tight game, an instinctive runner can really win a close game for you.” says Kittrell. This season the team has three assistant coaches who are working the players hard in order to improve their swings, time while hitting and on defense. They are really focusing on fielding ground balls, fielding fly balls and throwing accurately.
“It’s been a long time coming” says junior Hannah Filmore, regarding the team moving up to Division II. Filmore and sophomore Hannah Brenton, both returning players, say that moving up has changed their outlook on the season. Knowing that they can compete in the playoffs causes them to push each other even more every day. The girls cite their close-knit bond as the key to their success last year. However, because so many players were added to the team, the girls are having to start from scratch. This includes both new and returning players learning how each other plays, from how good their arm is and how much ground they can cover. Brenton says, “once we get the team actually playing like a team, we are gonna be unstoppable”.
Another big adjustment for the team is the new coaches. Every coach coaches differently, and with the continuous pattern of new coaches, the girls have had to readjust every time. Filmore predicts that this year they will be a strong hitting team since they have good power hitters along with players that are quick and can steal bases. Overall, it looks like the Lady Badgers and their coaches are feeling inspired and excited about the move up to NCAA Division II.