CHARLESTON, S.C. - Charleston Southern softball looks forward to their sixth rendition under head coach Shane Winkler this year as the Buccaneers begin their 2014 regular season this weekend at the first of three CSU Softball Tournaments this spring.
The Buccaneers finished ninth in the Big South standings last season, finishing with a 15-40 record overall with wins over top seed Coastal Carolina and Presbyterian in the 2013 Big South Conference Championships. CSU went 6-17 in conference action on the season and faces another tough slate this season with five tournaments and games against teams from 17 different NCAA Division I conferences on tap for this season.
"We are all excited that the start of the new season is finally here," Winkler had to say about the upcoming games this weekend. "Every February is a new beginning for our program and this year's team is unlike any other we have ever had. This is team number 29 in the program's history and just by looking at our roster you can see that it is a completely different team from last year. I believe we have all the pieces we need in order to have a very successful season."
Charleston Southern's schedule features 24 Big South Conference games, as well as games from opponents from coast to coast including the ACC, SEC, MEAC, CAA, SoCon, Atlantic 10, Ohio Valley, America East, Missouri Valley, Atlantic Sun, Patriot League, PAC 12, Mountain West, WAC, Big West and MAAC.
"Our goal each season is to compete for a Big South Championship and earn our way into the NCAA Tournament," Winkler said about the diversity and challenge of the schedule. "We schedule with that in mind. It is exciting to play so many quality programs from conferences throughout the country in order to prepare us for Big South play and hopefully a run to the NCAA's. "
Winkler enters his sixth season as the head coach of the Buccaneers and has a veteran-laden squad headlined by eight seniors on the roster, as well as a talented in-flux of freshman and additions to the squad that will look to take the team over the top.
In 2013, Charleston Southern's schedule featured Big South series wins over Liberty and Presbyterian and were led by the powerful bat of rising senior Marci Christian who slugged her way into the Buccaneers' record books in her first season in the CSU Blue and Gold. Christian led the Bucs with a .341 batting average and set the CSU single season records in slugging percentage (.665), home runs (15) and total bases (109).
Seven returning seniors headline the group of 10 returners for Winkler's team as the Buccaneers will look to blend nine freshmen and a transfer into the mix as CSU again looks to make a run in the Big South Conference Championships.
The Buccaneers were picked fifth overall in the 2014 Big South Preseason Softball Coaches Poll, receiving a first place vote and 43 votes in the poll voted on by the head softball coaches around the Big South Conference.
"Teams change so much from year to year and I believe we are an example of just that," Winkler commented on the makeup of the team and the upcoming season. "I see us surprising a lot of teams this year with our talent and depth up and down the roster. The poll is a reflection of what you did the previous season and to us it signifies the start of a new season. Our focus isn't on last year or the future, but instead on playing the season one pitch at a time and competing in the present. "
Pitching and Catching
Rising junior Jennifer Giles returns to the mound for the Buccaneers in the spring of 2014 and the Buccaneers boast impressive depth in welcoming the return of graduate student Morgan Dowdy, as well as freshman Cheyenne Gandara and transfer Lauren Darden to the rubber.
Giles led the Buccaneers on the year last season with a 10-29 overall record, throwing 27 complete games and 251.0 innings as the primary hurler for the CSU squad in the season. She saved her best performances for the postseason, throwing three complete games, including a shutout against top-seed Coastal Carolina with an impressive 25:10 strikeout to walk ratio in the postseason.
Dowdy also returns to the mound after a season out due to injury. The senior hurler earned Big South Second Team honors in 2012 after setting a Charleston Southern record with 165 strikeouts on the season and boasts career numbers including a 2.56 earned run average, 297 strikeouts and 472 innings pitched to sit among the CSU career leaders.
Gandara and Darden will see their first action at Charleston Southern this season with Gandara coming in after a storied high school career at Hemet High School in Hemet, Calif. where she earned top honors on both the mound and at the plate with the Bulldogs. Darden comes to CSU by way of Virginia Tech University and Mount Olive College. Known for her overpowering velocity, Darden will bring a tough presence to the mound for the Bucs this season.
Completing the battery for the Buccaneers this season includes returning senior Christian and freshman Georgi DeLio.
In addition to Christian's accolades last season, she also added 38 runs and 30 RBI to her totals in her first season at Charleston Southern while lining up at catcher, first base and both corner outfield positions for the Bucs. Defensively, Christian had 191 putouts and seven assists on the year.
DeLio comes to Charleston, S.C. by way of Las Vegas, Nev. where she played at Spring Valley High School under Coach Marcus Teal and also lined up at catcher for the Las Vegas Rage Gold travel team under Coaches Shan and Chris McDonald. DeLio was a four-time First Team All-Conference selection and earned Southwest League and Sunset Region MVP honors during her career.
First base will be an area of competition for the Buccaneers this season as Christian, junior Hannah Wagner, and freshmen Brittany McPherson and Brooke Holcomb are all expected to see time at the corner for the Bucs this year.
Wagner saw action in 44 games last year, earning 32 starts at both first base and the designated player position and had four doubles and four RBI on the year for the Bucs. Holcomb enters the season coming to the Bucs from South Brunswick High School and the Carolina Gators travel team where she was named MVP in multiple tournaments, as well as being an All-State and All-American selection. McPherson is also expected to battle for playing time, joining the Bucs from Norco, Calif. and Eleanor Roosevelt High School.
Moving across the diamond to the hot corner at third base, sophomore Natalie Yonan and freshman Brandy Galaviz will be manning the position for Winkler this year. Yonan was one of four players to start every game for Charleston Southern last season and finished the year with four doubles and a home run for the Bucs while leading the team with 225 fielding chances on the season. Galaviz will be looking to make an impact in her freshman year after a standout career at Bishop Amat Memorial High School in El Monte, Calif., where she started at third base all four years and led the team to back-to-back league titles and back-to-back state semifinal appearances.
Manning the middle of the infield sees the competition between senior Jessica Brock, Yonan and freshman Stevi Johnson at second base, while Stephanie Bergmann will captain the shortstop position for the Bucs in 2014.
Brock returns after coming back from an injury looking to recapture the form she had after finishing second on the team in batting average at .298 in 2012 to go along with a pair of home runs, six doubles, 22 RBI and 22 runs scored. She added big games in the Big South Tournament with a .571 batting average with hits in all five tournament games.
Johnson joins the Buccaneers by way of Visalia, Calif. where she lined up at El Diamante High School and the Fresno Force travel team. She was a three-time First Team All-County selection and a three-time Varsity Impact selection.
Bergmann hails from Visalia, Calif. and Oak Hills High School and the T2 Courage travel team where she was a two-time recipient of the Player of the Year honors in the Mojave River League. She also possessed the highest batting average in the league, earning First Team honors, while also serving as a captain on the team since her sophomore season.
The Charleston Southern outfield features four seniors in Ari Tedesco, Lizzy Olmstead, Stephanie Sbardella and Hayes Holdsworth, as well freshman Amanda Matsumodo as the Buccaneers will mix power and speed at all three positions.
Tedesco, Holdsworth and Sbardella will man the corners for the Buccaneers this season with Tedesco and Holdsworth taking the spots in left field, while Sbardella takes her powerful bat and arm into right field.
Tedesco saw time in 50 games, earning 39 starts for CSU at catcher and all three outfield positions. She led the team with eight stolen bases on the year and finished with 26 hits and 15 runs scored on the season. Holdsworth was in 53 games with 41 starts on the year, including pitching duties among her starts in all three outfield spots. She finished with home runs against Valparaiso and Coastal Carolina and added three doubles and a triple.
Sbardella returns to right field after earning Big South All-Conference honors at third base last season. She finished second on the team with a .313 batting average and eight home runs, adding a team-best .446 on-base percentage and held a season-high 18 game on-base streak during the season.
Up the middle, Olmstead and Matsumodo will hawk the centerfield position for Winkler. Olmstead earned 40 appearances and 16 starts as a junior season, finishing with a perfect fielding percentage and five stolen bases. Matsumodo comes to the Buccaneers by way of Palatine, Ill. where she played at William Fremd High School and the Beverly Bandits travel team. She was an All-Conference, All-Area and All-State selection at William Fremd where she broke the single season stolen base and runs scored mark.
Christian and freshman Lexie Vanada will both line up in the designated player slot in the lineup card for the Buccaneers this season.
Vanada played at Northern Guilford High School and the Carolina Gators travel team, where she was a multiple Academic All-Conference and All-Area selection.