CHARLESTON, S.C. - Charleston Southern looks forward to their fifth season under head coach Shane Winkler with the Lady Bucs improving every season as CSU looks to make their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament after falling in the Big South Softball Championship game last season.
The Lady Bucs finished third in the Big South standings for the third consecutive season in 2012 finishing with a 33-26 record, 12-9 in conference play and look to improve their standings with a tough nonconference slate in the 2013 season with games against teams from 10 different NCAA Division I conferences this season.
"We have a veteran team this year; I am looking forward to seeing them continue to take this program to new heights," said Winkler on the season outlook. "Our ultimate goal is to always reach the NCAA tournament and falling one game short of that goal last season has given this group a great deal of motivation for this upcoming season. We are going to challenge them early with a difficult schedule once again and look forward to them continuing to improve as we reach Big South play."
Charleston Southern's schedule features 24 Big South games, 10 games against the Southern Conference, five against the Southeastern Conference and four against the Colonial. The Lady Bucs will also take on opponents from the Colonial, Mid-Eastern Atlantic, Horizon, Pacific Coast, Pacific 12 and Metro Atlantic conferences during the season.
Winkler enters his fifth season as the head coach of the Lady Buccaneers after guiding the program to arguably their best season in school history. CSU established program bests with 12 Big South wins and 33 overall victories, coming within one win of its first NCAA Tournament bid after making it to the Big South Championship Game for the first time since 1988.
In 2012, Charleston Southern defeated high-profile opponents South Carolina and Notre Dame, while pitcher Morgan Dowdy set a single-season CSU record with 165 strikeouts in earning a spot on the Big South's All-Conference Second Team. Left fielder Jana Matthews also earned All-Conference honors after finishing the year with six home runs and a team-high 33 RBIs.
Six seniors headline this year's group of 15 returners that set a program record with 12 conference wins last season as the Lady Bucs recorded the season sweep over Winthrop, as well as conference series wins over Liberty and Campbell.
The Lady Bucs were picked second in the 2013 Preseason Big South Softball Coaches Poll, receiving two first place votes and 69 points in the annual preseason poll one year after finishing as the 2012 Big South Tournament runner-up behind reigning Big South Champion Coastal Carolina.
"The exciting thing about the preseason poll is that it means the season is right around the corner," commented Winkler on the poll results. "We are right where we expected to be based on the finish to last season, but the Big South is so balanced that anyone can beat anyone from 1 through 9."
With returning senior and workhouse Morgan Dowdy out for the season due to injury, the Lady Bucs will rely on senior Linzy Rother, sophomore Jennifer Giles and junior Hayes Holdsworth inside the circle this season to hold off the opposing offenses.
Giles finished ninth in the Big South in earned run average with a 2.71 ERA in her freshman year at Charleston Southern, compiling a 9-10 record on the mound in 24 appearances. She accumulated 90.1 innings inside the circle for the Lady Bucs, turning in several of her top performances in Big South play, making 10 appearances and four starts with a 5-2 record in recording victories over Coastal Carolina, Presbyterian, Liberty, as well as both wins by CSU over Campbell in the 2012 season.
Rother transferred in from North Carolina State last season, making 12 appearances and five starts on the season, throwing two complete games and one shutout in 43.2 innings pitched on the year. She made three appearances in the conference, accumulating a 2.33 earned run average, pitching nine innings, including five shutout innings against Campbell in combining with Giles for a 1-0 shutout win over the Camels.
Holdsworth did not see action on the mound in the 2012 season, but saw action on the mound in three games in her freshman season, pitching in conference play against Longwood and Radford.
"Losing Morgan is obviously difficult, but we have seen Jen Giles grow up a great deal in a short period of time and look forward to her being one of the best pitchers in the Big South this season after having a solid freshman campaign. Linzy Rother has also continued to improve and her experience gives us a veteran presence in the circle will be big for us. Hayes Holdsworth will also see some time in the circle and the way she has improved leading into the season could put her in a position to see some significant time for us. Our pitching has been a strong point of our program in recent years and I believe that will once again be the case this season."
In the battle to see time behind the plate include senior Melanie Stickney, junior Ari Tedesco and sophomore MK Parnell and newcomer Marci Christian.
Stickney appeared in 47 games with 33 starts at the backstop, throwing out 14 potential base-stealers on the season from behind the plate and recorded three pickoffs. Under her guidance, the Lady Bucs pitching staff recorded a 2.46 ERA, second best in the Big South for the 2012 season.
Tedesco also saw time behind the plate, often splitting doubleheaders with Stickney in receiving 25 starts in the backstop. She appeared in 48 games overall, compiling a five-game hitting streak near the end of the regular season and 10 hits in the last 12 games and was known for her clutch play down the stretch with laying down a drag bunt to drive home the tying run in the Lady Bucs eventual 4-3 victory over Radford on May 6th.
Parnell also received time behind the plate in the 2012 season making her first collegiate appearance against Hampton last February. The Mount Pleasant, S.C., native recorded a hit in her first Big South at-bat, driving in a single against Gardner-Webb.
Christian enters the crowded battle for playing time behind the plate after transferring to the Lady Bucs from Longwood University where she appeared in 34 games, earning 29 starts for the Lancers as a sophomore. An Arvonia, Va., native, the junior catcher finished the season with three doubles, one triple and five home runs in 74 at-bats and will provided a powerful right-handed bat to the lineup for Winkler.
Around the Bases
Seniors Trea Steele and Linzy Rother, junior Stephanie Sbardella and sophomore Hannah Wagner return to man the infield for Winkler this season, while Stickney and freshman Natalie Yonan will also see time on the dirt for the Lady Bucs.
Steele returns for her fourth season at second base for the Lady Bucs, having appeared in 149 games with 139 starts for the Lady Bucs. She's coming off a junior season which saw her hit four doubles during the season and finished the year with only three errors in 94 chances on the field.
Rother spent most of her time at first base for the Lady Bucs when she wasn't on the mound and returns as the team's leading hitter, finishing the year with a .294 batting average with nine doubles and four home runs, finishing second on the team with 24 runs batted in. She tied the CSU single game record with seven RBI in a game and had five RBI with a three-run home run in the doubleheader sweep over crosstown rival College of Charleston. In Big South play, she also delivered a key two-run double in the first inning of CSU's 8-0 Big South tournament semifinal win over Gardner-Webb.
Sbardella returns as the most accomplished hitter in the Lady Bucs' lineup as the junior third baseman hit .290 in her sophomore season, finishing with 49 hits, 15 for extra bases, including seven doubles and tied for the team lead with seven home runs. She also added 24 RBI and 18 runs scored from her position at the hot corner, coming up with key home runs against Furman, Hampton, Wisconsin, Winthrop and Liberty in CSU's Big South tournament run.
Wagner split time at first base and catcher last season, starting 25 games from the right side of the infield as the sophomore earned her first start as a true freshman at the season opener against Furman last year. She shined at the plate in several games, including a 3-for-3 performance with a triple, home run and five RBI against Hampton and led the team on the field with 201 putouts, finishing the season with a .986 fielding percentage.
Yonan enters the infield rotation as a true freshman as the Susanville, Calif., native comes to the program holding most of the career records at Lassen High School. During her career with the Grizzlies, she was named to the All-League team in each of her four seasons on the diamond and holds school records for the most wins, most hits, most plate appearances, most runs scored, most defensive attempts and putouts in her career. She'll likely split time with Stickney at shortstop during the season.
Covering the Outfield
With the loss of Kristin Kelleher and Melissa Adams to graduation, the Lady Bucs will see some new faces among the returners in the outfield this season, led by seniors Jasmine Conley, Jana Matthews and Courtney Konyk.
Matthews returns after earning a spot on the Big South All-Conference Second Team in her junior season, leading the Lady Bucs with 51 hits and 33 RBI, finishing second on the team with six home runs, while racking up a .422 slugging percentage. She also finished second on the team with 26 runs scored and sits two home runs away from Megan Lombard's Lady Bucs career home run mark entering her senior season.
Konyk appeared in 53 games for the Lady Bucs, starting 13 times in right field and three more in center, tying for the Big South lead with four triples on the season in only 52 at-bats. She reached base 16 times, recording 13 hits and three walks, while scoring 12 runs. She also came up with timely hits in CSU wins in the Big South tournament with key triples against Liberty and Gardner-Webb.
Conley spent most of her time on the bases for the Lady Bucs last season, appearing in 35 games mainly as a pinch runner where the speedster from Morganton, N.C., stole two bases, scoring eight times on the season. Her thefts came against Ohio and Liberty in the Big South tournament opener, and she also added an RBI single in the series win against Campbell.
The senior trio will be joined in the outfield by Tedesco, juniors Lizzy Olmstead and Holdsworth.
Olmstead started three games as a sophomore among her 34 appearances on the field, recording a single in CSU's win over Ohio and scored 10 runs on the season. She also showed adept feeling on the basepaths, stealing four bags on the year to rank second on the team in the category.
Holdsworth appeared in 45 games on the season, mainly as the first pinch hitter off the bench for the Lady Bucs, coming through with the game-winning three-run double against Notre Dame this past March, and she went 2-for-3 with a double and two RBI in the sweep over College of Charleston. She looks to reprise her role for the Lady Bucs in the 2013 season.
"Jana Matthews has been a mainstay in our outfield since the day she arrived on campus and we look for her to put up her best season yet. Centerfield and right field are still up for grabs and we have a lot of great competition going on for those spots. Lizzy Olmstead, Hayes Holdsworth, Courtney Konyk, Jasmine Conley and Ari Tedesco are all poised to have breakout seasons for us this year."
Charleston Southern opens the 2013 regular season at home on February 8th as the Lady Bucs host George Mason in the season opener.