With six starters returning from last year’s squad, Coach Donley Canary expects big things out of his Skyhawk softball team in 2006.
Canary’s team found success on the field last season, finishing with a 33-22 overall record. Their 15-11 mark in the OVC earned them fourth place in the conference. With eight returning players and a solid group of newcomers, this year’s team has a chance to make some noise in the conference.
“We return six starters from last year’s team and several of them have been starters for the past three years so we are not working with a bunch of inexperienced players,” Canary says.
Leading the charge for the Skyhawks will be senior outfielders Brandy Whalen and Jennifer Young. Whalen had a solid 2005 campaign, hitting .309 with 17 RBI, and led the conference with 26 stolen bases. Her performance led the conference’s coaches to name her to the All-OVC second team. Young also made major contributions to her team last year. The outfielder from Alpine, Calif., hit .302 with 15 doubles and 15 walks and drove in 19 runs. Her 19 stolen bases landed her in second place in the conference behind her teammate. Those two players will help the Skyhawks’ hitting, which is the team’s strong point, according to Canary.
This year’s roster is defined by balance and depth. Those two qualities should help the Skyhawks over the course of the season should they encounter injuries along the way.
“Our balance allows us to develop players over a couple of years and not just throw them out there to play when they are not ready to perform at this level,” Canary says.
Canary will count on several freshmen in particular to step up this year. He names utility player Savannah Roberts, shortstop Greer Long, and pitchers Kara Harper and Ashley Myatt as key parts of the team.
Several junior college transfers are also expected to play a part for the Skyhawks this season. They will take some of the pressure away from the freshmen.
“Players like Justine Pineda, Stacey Weaver, Brittany Nash, and Ashton Strode must fill key roles for us now and perform,” Canary says.
With 14 players expected to see regular action this season, the Skyhawks should have plenty of depth.
Youth will be one defining quality of the Skyhawk pitching staff this season. Junior Holly Templeton is the lone returning starter from last year. In 18 appearances while splitting time between the pitching circle and the outfield, Templeton recorded a 3.05 ERA and collected 37 strikeouts. She also contributed at the plate, where she hit .205 with 4 RBI.
“We are having to rebuild our pitching staff entirely, find our three, four, and five hitters, and develop leadership on the team,” Canary says.
Pitching and defense will be a catalyst for the Skyhawks throughout the season. Their success will depend on their pitchers’ ability to mature. Canary says this is the main reason for scheduling tournaments early in the season.
“In order for us to contend for the OVC championship, our pitchers must develop in a hurry. We got good arms in the circle and they just need the experience pitching.
Coach Canary hopes his team can return to its past on defense this season. After an off year on the defensive side of the ball in 2005, the Skyhawks will try to duplicate their performance from 2004.
“We must come up with the big plays in 2006. We just did not get it done defensively in 2005,” Canary says.
The Skyhawks are picked to finish fifth in the OVC race this season. The favorite to repeat as conference champion is Jacksonville State. Tennessee Tech, Eastern Kentucky, and Samford have been picked to finish ahead of the Skyhawks. The bottom half of the preseason predictions includes Southeast Missouri, Austin Peay, Eastern Illinois, Morehead State, and Tennessee State.