CHARLESTON, S.C. - Charleston Southern heads to the Big South Tournament time looking to defend their title, and the Bucs' softball team will be looking to their seniors Marci Christian and Jennifer Giles to lead the way as CSU open up tournament play on Thursday afternoon against Liberty at Amanda Littlejohn Stadium in Buies Creek, N.C.
Christian was named to the Big South First Team All-Conference team this morning as announced by the Big South Conference office after a record-setting 2015 campaign that saw the redshirt senior set CSU single season records for home runs and total bases, while also setting the CSU career home run record.
Her counterpart in the circle, Giles was named to the Big South All-Academic team for the third consecutive season and set CSU career records in strikeouts and appearances inside the circle, but the focus on the regular season accomplishments has shifted as the Bucs' seniors know there is still work to be done before they hang up the cleats.
Last season, the Bucs swept their way through the Big South Conference Championships, topping Longwood (twice), Presbyterian and Coastal Carolina on their way to the program's first berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The goal this season again is to go all the way.
"I think it's really big for us," said Christian when sitting down with the CSU Sports Information staff Wednesday morning. "We're so good and we can turn it on at any time. Last season we came together as a family and it's really big for us this year, especially for me and Jen being seniors. It's our last one and we're ready to go out with a bang."
Giles concurred. "It's definitely exciting going into the tournament. Still get the butterflies, but it's the good kind of nerves. I think we're ready for this season."
This season's championship has special meaning for Christian, in particular, as the Arvonia, Va., native was sidelined during last year's postseason run.
"Definitely, I feel like last year was the most agonizing thing to watch and not be able to contribute," Christian admitted. "It was hard, but this year I definitely want to be a spark and be whatever I can be to help our team win and get another championship. We've all worked really hard and have the ability to win. It really is an awesome feeling to be back in the conference tournament."
For Giles, the return to the conference tournament brings back memories of her sophomore season when due to injuries, the hurler pitched nearly every inning of the postseason, leading to upsets over Presbyterian and Coastal Carolina during the stretch.
"This definitely feels like my sophomore year," Giles said. "Coach has said I'll be pitching and I'm excited and ready for it. I've been there before and this season I'm ready to close the door this time."
Coming into the season, Christian was unsure where she was going to lineup after coming off of ACL surgery. However, a midseason injury refocused her attempts, leading to an incredible stretch which saw the senior connect on 11 home runs and drive in 28 RBI over the last half of the season to pace the Buccaneers.
"I really feel like the day I sprained my ankle in California was a turning point for me," Christian said. "I just wanted to make sure I could still be a big part of this team and I got it taped up to play. It made me dig deeper to play through the injury and I realized I needed to dig deep and step up."
This goes along with the motto that head coach Shane Winkler has preached to the Bucs throughout the season.
"Coach has a new motto for us this season," said Giles. "'We can, we will, we must.' We're going to get the job done no matter what. The games played and circumstances, we're going to get into attack mode instead of being scared of the opportunity. It's also helped us focus on getting back to enjoying the game too, which is really important."
The Bucs seniors have made a number of great memories throughout their time with the program over the last few years, but a few have stood out in the mind of each of them.
"The last game at home where we beat Coastal, just having that moment with Jen with us pitching and catching had me so pumped," Christian said. "Sharing that with the team has been one of my favorite memories by far. Also when Jordan (Evans) hit her home run at Radford; these have been two of my favorite memories from this season."
The Coastal Carolina series also stood out to Giles as well, as the senior pitcher earned two wins and connected on the game-winning home run against the Chanticleers in the Bucs' 3-1 win.
"That was one of my favorite moments of the season," Giles admitted. "We beat Coastal and it was pretty sweet. Another of my favorite memories from being here at CSU came in my sophomore season when we played Florida. We went extra innings and ended up losing, but it was our game the whole way. The tournament my sophomore year also stood out."
The Buccaneers' seniors are hoping to make a few more memories along the way.
"I'm looking forward to the tournament," Christian said. "Offensively, defensively and pitching, we'll bring our best and look to get some revenge this season against some of the teams we've played. I really think going into this weekend we're going to be mentally focused and be ready to give them our best, just like we did last year."
Giles added, "I feel like for this weekend, we're going to have a lot of energy and excitement. It's going to be all about us staying level and getting past the nerves early. We need to find the happy medium and have the confidence that we're ready for this. Mainly, we need to enjoy it and have fun."
When softball is done, Christian and Giles both know what they want to do when they leave CSU. Christian plans to pursue a career in coaching, while Giles is looking to take the GRE and prepare for postgraduate work at MUSC as she looks to continue at P.A. school.
However, both agree that they are not ready for that future just quite yet.
"The four years you have to play go by really fast and you really have to give it everything you've got," said Christian. "For me and Jen, we're not ready to be done yet. For us as a team and program, we have to be fearless at all times and be ready to attack."
"We're kind of where we were last year," Giles said. "I have a good feeling this year. Last season was kind of surreal and it was exciting to see it all happen. Our team has a lot of talent this season and we're a better seed. We're definitely confident this year.
The Big South Conference Championships take place at Amanda Littlejohn Stadium on the campus of Campbell University from May 7-10. The first two days of the tournament will be streamed live on the Big South Network, while the action on Saturday and Sunday will be streamed live on ESPN3.