CHARLESTON, S.C. - On Tuesday, the Charleston Southern Sports Information Department was able to get a chance to sit down and speak briefly with the six 2013 CSU Softball Seniors about their season, as well as the upcoming Big South Conference Championships scheduled for this weekend.
The six seniors, Courtney Konyk, Trea Steele, Jasmine Conley, Linzy Rother, Jana Matthews and Melanie Stickney, were able to provide insight into the team dynamic this season and recap some of the highlights from the year, as well as talk about previous conference tournaments and their goals for this year's postseason.
The No. 9 seed Buccaneers open Big South Conference Championships play on Thursday morning, taking on No. 8 seed Presbyterian at Terry Field in Rock Hill, S.C. on the campus of Winthrop University. First pitch between the Bucs and the Blue Hose is set for 9 a.m.
SID: First off, let's talk a little bit about the season. What were some of the highlights from this year in your minds?
Courtney: "Getting Marci into the lineup and being able to have another big hitter in the lineup after losing two big hitters last season was a highlight for this season, as well as her being able to break the home run record this season."
Linzy: "I think one of our biggest highlights was the game against Florida. Even though we didn't end up coming out with the win in that game, it was definitely an important game in our minds because it showed that even though we started the season with some key players from last year out battling injuries, we are still capable of some big wins in the season."
Jasmine: "I would say one of the highlights has been all the home runs that we've hit this year, with so many people approaching double-digits. Also the way that we played against some of the top teams in the nation was pretty special."
Jana: "The Florida game, obviously, was a major highlight. We came out as a team throughout the entire game and stayed focused and gave it our all. That's what we're going to need, coming into Thursday morning against PC. The Campbell series was also a highlight, just with the way we played and the way we fought in that series. This past weekend also helped and gives us a little bit of momentum as we were able to score a lot of runs and built our confidence."
SID: Talking with Coach Winkler about last season, he mentioned there was still some unfinished business from last season. Knowing that, what all are you hoping to accomplish in the conference tournament this season?
Courtney: "I hope that, obviously, that we can win. Definitely our first goal is beating Presbyterian, and then I want to beat Coastal, especially after us losing to them last year in the championship game."
Linzy: "I think in the conference tournament, we have a lot to prove to ourselves and to our opponents. This season hasn't gone how we wanted it to, and we need to start taking it not just one game at a time, but just one pitch at a time, trying to win every pitch. We want to show people that even though it was a difficult season that we're still going to be fighting to the very end."
Jana: "Obviously, win it all. I feel like our last game this season against Coastal made it worse because we lost 6-5 and they were the ones who knocked us out last season. I feel like we have something more to play for than just ourselves. We're playing for our school and we need to represent since our season hasn't gone the way we wanted to it. We need to go out, be relaxed and play our best."
Melanie: "We just need to take one game at a time. With everything that we've been preparing for and the momentum we've built past few weeks, we should have all of the confidence in the world and we should be able go in there and compete with any team."
SID: Looking at the injuries the team has had to overcome this season, how has the team been able to battle back from those losses to get refocused and get ready for the tournament?
Jasmine: "We said we had to do it, not only for them, but also for our team. We were struggling this year and had to find a way to pull together. Different people stepped up to lead us this season."
Trea: "I think this team really cares about each other and does anything to pick each other up. This is one of the best teams I've been around as far as chemistry. We've had a lot of people really step up; our freshman Natalie (Yonan), Melanie (Stickney) and a lot of players have done a lot of great things, playing out of position and really picking everyone else up this season."
Jana: "I feel like we did lose some key players, but we're still a team and those injuries brought us closer this season. Some people have had to adjust and play other roles than they're used to and we've had to focus in practice on getting better. Overall, it's brought us closer together, both on and off the field."
Melanie: "It definitely has helped that all three of them are still around every day and have provided great support for our team. With the number of girls who have moved around and played different positions, it's given us more focus as we've learned to play positions we're not used to playing."
SID: Things have been looking up these past couple of weeks with series wins over Liberty and Presbyterian; it does seem like the team has been playing more focused and loose these past few weeks. To what would you owe that success?
Courtney: "I think that the break with finals really allowed us to take a step back and refocus. Not having that stress on us from exams any more really helped. Having Gardner-Webb here, with everyone excited for senior week, and beating them helped. Knowing that this week could be the end for some people's careers and getting some of those wins we have in the past few weeks, gives us confidence heading into the tournament."
Jasmine: "I think we've put in a lot of extra hard work into our defense and offense over the break. Our team has had a better mentality and has the focus now that we can do what we set out to do."
Jana: "It's just been everyone going out there and having fun. Early in the season everyone is all hyped up and tensed with pressure on, but you get to a certain point in the season when everyone is looser and having fun, more relaxed and is more comfortable. It's been good to have a couple weeks off to relax, refocus and get more time to work on things."
Melanie: "Definitely the past few weeks with the hard work and focus we've had in practice. Coach has been giving us more talks and helping build our confidence back up and I feel as if there's been a different change in the attitude as we have nothing to lose now. We pretty much hit rock bottom earlier this season and there's no way to go but up from here. I feel like everyone has the same common goal and we have nothing to lose when we go out there to play."
SID: As a senior class, looking back at your career as a whole, what do you want to leave as your mark on the program, or how do you want your class to be remembered?
Courtney: "If we could win this year that would be a great mark to leave as we've continued to improve every year. This year was kind of a struggle as far as our record goes, but last year, we let everyone know who we were and really put Charleston Southern on the map."
Linzy: "I think I would like us to be remembered as the group that never stopped fighting. I think it's easy for someone to look at our season and look at our record, but I think with the conference tournament, our senior class is going to show a lot of fight and go out on top."
Jasmine: "Mainly, I want us to be remembered as hard working. I think this class has shown you have to give your all and fight to win games."
Jana: "Just the way we play; our class has that drive and passion for softball. I think that's what we all want to be remembered for. This season hasn't been optimal, but we can finish it out on a high note and keep it going for the team for next year."
SID: Looking back at previous conference tournaments, what are some of your favorite memories from the tournaments that you've gained throughout the years?
Linzy: "I would say one of my favorite memories was playing on ESPN in the championship game last season, even though we lost. It was a great experience; one that I really enjoyed because my friends and family back home were able to watch. It also gave us a feeling that we were in a bigger conference with all the coverage we got and it was a good feeling."
Jasmine: "Last year's tournament comes to mind when we hit home run after home run, like it was a home run derby. Past tournaments before that were fun, when everyone pulled together in trying to make it to the postseason."
Trea: "Of course, the championship game last year. It doesn't get any better than that unless of course, we had won, but that was a great experience. When it comes to the tournament, getting to it and having fun with your team, when the pressure of school is off and it's a bonding experience where you really get to know people."
Melanie: "Definitely the conference championship game last year. Even though it wasn't the result that we wanted, it was a great experience playing on national television and was just a great experience in general."
SID: With the number of incoming freshman and returners coming back next year, what all do you want to say as words of advice to them, to continue to build on the foundation you're leaving?
Linzy: "I would say the biggest thing is to not settle. The girls that are going to be seniors next year are leaders already this season and they know how to play and communicate well with others. The incoming freshman should remember when you're out there on the field, it doesn't matter what year you are, you're a player so don't stress and enjoy the moments."
Trea: "I would say, play for each other, play because you love it and play for the little girl who learned to love the game when she was five years old. Don't take it for granted because you never know when it could be taken from you."
Jana: "For the returners, I would say be good leaders. With the number of incoming freshman we have coming in, they're going to need guidance and the family bond of the team. That family bond and playing together bond will help them as the fall goes on. For the freshman, come in and enjoy your time. Learn each other's strengths and weaknesses and start forming those bonds early, because when they become seniors, it's going to be on them in the leadership roles.
Melanie: "They definitely have to become one big family. The number of underclassmen coming in matches or exceeds the number of our upperclassman, so the upperclassmen will need to step up and show them the ropes. The team will have all of the talent in the world, but they need to work early at building team bonding experience and not make it an upperclassman vs. underclassman thing."