CHARLESTON, S.C. - Charleston Southern Softball senior Natalie Yonan has seen her fair share of success with the CSU softball program over her past three years as a Buccaneer. Heading into her senior year, Yonan has high hopes for the season to come.
"We are ready; we have put in a lot of hours practicing live pitching and defense. The team has been well prepared by our coaches and we are ready to play," said Yonan.
Fortunately for Yonan and the Buccaneers, they will get to play where they practice to begin the season. The 2016 season takes off with a significant amount of home games early in the year.
"It's really nice to get to play at home, we practice there every day. We know how the ground plays; we know how the balls come off the fence. After the games, you have that advantage of just going home and getting in your own bed."
Yonan, the only senior for the 2016 season has become extremely familiar with the way the home field plays over the past three years. She hopes to use her experience to not only find success this year, but to help other younger teammates find it as well.
"Getting to play in all those games from freshmen year till now has really taught me how to handle failures, pick people up, and be a good teammate. My biggest goal is to try and pass those traits on to my younger teammates. One of the most important aspects of the game is being able to take failure and grow from it. It's a game of failures," said Yonan.
Yonan's experience over the past three years has allowed her to conquer her failures and find success. Her experience and versatility on the field have allowed her to line up in four different positons throughout her career with the Bucs. She has also started 169 of the 174 games she has played at CSU.
"Most of the time I have a good idea of where I will play, however I know if changes need to be made in order to help the team win, then I am okay with that too."
The senior is up for the challenge of playing in multiple positions; she also feels her younger teammates are up to the challenge of finding success this year.
"My sophomore year, the juniors were freshmen when we won the conference tournament, meaning they know what it takes to get back to that place. That class is a large majority of the team. Between those girls and me, I feel like we can help guide the whole team in the right direction," Yonan added.
With the Conference Tournament in mind, Yonan and the Buccaneers look forward to reaching their goals for the 2016 season.
"We want to be the best team this program has seen. We want to win the games that we are supposed to win, and win the games that we aren't supposed to win. Having upsets and making sure we take care of the little details, so that the big ones will take care of themselves," said Yonan.
When thinking about the 2016 season, Yonan can't help but reminisce on her decision to become a Buccaneer.
"I can remember coming here during the spring semester and seeing the team play. I got to see Coach Winkler coach the girls and I felt like I would be good fit here and that the program really had a lot to offer me."
This season, Yonan and the Buccaneers were picked third in the preseason poll by the Big South. It's a spot where many teams would be honored, however Yonan and Buccaneers are eager to make a statement.
"I would like to see the team come prepared for every game and play to the best of our abilities. We need to play to the standards that we truly believe we are which is number one in the conference. I think if we show up and believe in each other, it's going to happen," Yonan replied.
Yonan also looks forward to making more memories and laughing with her teammates this season. Standing at five-foot tall and often being one of the shortest players on the field, Yonan has walked out to "Little Bitty," by Alan Jackson for the past three years. She feels one of the most important parts of being an athlete and being successful is being able to laugh at yourself.
"It's like being part of a family away from your family. I know that these girls will always be here for me. I love the little jokes we have that other people don't understand, and just making fun of each other, and hey it's alright to be "little bitty," said Yonan.
Yonan's passion for softball began at a very young age.
"Growing up, my dad was a baseball coach for a junior college in my town. From year one I was around the game. I began playing baseball, traveling with my dad's team, hanging out in the dugout, and learning about the game. When I was a freshman in high school, my dad and I both switched to softball. I began playing, and he began coaching it. From there, my love of the game grew, and I knew I wanted to be a NCAA Division I softball player."
Yonan was able to fulfill that dream at Charleston Southern and more. Some of her highlights as CSU include connecting on two home runs in her career, including the game winner last season in a win at Campbell.
"To be honest, neither time I hit a homerun did I think it was going over the fence. I knew I made good contact, and it was going far, but I was not aware it was going over until I heard cheers from the dugout that were louder than normal. I looked over and the ball was gone, it was a really good feeling," said Yonan.
Former teammate and alum Marci Christian returns as a volunteer coach with the CSU softball team for the upcoming season. When asked about advice from Marci and other alumni players in regards to her senior season, Yonan stated that many encouraged her to just enjoy the ride.
"They told me to live in the moment, take every play, pitch, and game one at a time. Marci Christian being around has helped because she is a mentor to a lot of the girls. She will say this is what I did do and this is what I wish I did. I think that helps us put things in perspective for the season coming up."
Coach Winkler is also another mentor that has helped Yonan and the Buccaneers find success and get prepared for the upcoming season.
"Our relationship with Coach Winkler is really good. He can get fired up when the time calls for it, but at the same time, he has all of our best interests at heart. He genuinely cares about everyone and takes our concerns to heart. He's very easy to talk to and is a good coach," said Yonan.
Yonan's love for the game has her wanting to stay as close to the field as possible following the season.
"My future plans after softball are to be a collegiate softball coach. I'm stuck between applying for a graduate assistant position and being a volunteer coach. I would like to see what the softball world has to offer me from a different perspective, not being in a uniform," said Yonan.
For today, she is focused on getting ready for Friday and the upcoming season.
Charleston Southern Softball faces Townson at 1 p.m. on Friday afternoon to open the 2016 season.