Feb. 8, 2007
Expectations are high for the 2007 UAB softball team, as it reloaded in the offseason and is set to come out firing. With nine returning starters, including five players named to All-Conference USA teams, UAB looks to return to the postseason for a second consecutive year. Head coach Marla Townsend, the 2006 C-USA Coach of the Year, enters her ninth year after starting the Blazer program in 1999. Since the inception of softball at UAB, Townsend has guided her clubs to at least 20 wins in seven consecutive seasons.
UAB opens the season at the Georgia State First Pitch Classic this weekend. The Blazers will take on Virginia Tech and Georgia State on Saturday afternoon. On Sunday the Blazers will play Tennessee Tech with hopes of qualifying for the championship game later in the afternoon.
The Blazers took home six spots on the all-conference teams last season. Both Lindsay Stanley and Holly Krzan earned first-team all-conference honors, while Jennifer Nelson and Kayla Harris claimed second-team all-conference honors. Harris, along with Andrea Rogers, also made the all-freshman team. The return of these veteran players, coupled with six promising newcomers, should provide a solid balance for the Blazer squad.
UAB will not only be solid at the plate, but sound defensively. Several of the returning players set single-game records last season and rank among the school's career offensive leaders.
The Blazers return their entire pitching staff from the previous season. Not only will UAB have plenty of experience at the pitching position, but with two right-handed pitchers and two left-handed pitchers, it will also have a balanced attack.
"They're really going to complement each other because each of them has a very different style," Townsend said. "They'll keep the other teams on their toes."
The four starters include Amanda Antonovich, Kayla Harris, Brittany Hodge and Jennifer Nelson. While Antonovich will mainly see time at first base, she will provide a solid relief option.
After making an immediate impact her freshman season, Harris looks to take her performance to the next level. Hodge, the lone senior of the pitching staff, brings more leadership to the mound and will look to make more of a contribution this season.
Nelson is the Blazers' top returning pitcher. She is coming off her best season yet, as she struck out 214 batters to set a new school single-season record.
"We have very high expectations for the pitching staff," Townsend said. "They're all probably in the best shape ever."
Rogers returns behind the plate for her second season. She started every game last season and will dominate the catching position again this season.
"She did an outstanding job," Townsend said. "She communicates well with all four pitchers and I trust her to call the pitches."
She not only brings a year of experience to the backstop, but she also provides an offensive threat. Rogers' nine home runs set the school's single-season record last year.
Krystal Johnson will back up Rogers at catcher. Although Johnson is a freshman, she is expected to see playing time.
The infield will be one of the key strengths for the 2007 squad. It will consist of three juniors and one senior. With that kind of experience, the Blazers should enjoy a stellar defensive season.
Amanda Antonovich will get the start at first. She is very strong defensively both with the glove and fields her position exceptionally well.
Leigh Walker comes back for another year at second base, while Holly Krzan rounds out the junior infielders at shortstop. Krzan has become one of the biggest offensive threats for the Blazers and adds power to the lineup.
"Holly (Krzan) is probably in the best shape of her career," Townsend said.
Senior Nicole Tumlin will cover the hot corner again this season. She led the team with 108 assists last year.
With the incoming freshman ready for the season, the Blazers have several different options for infield backup. Cameron Skates will back Walker at second and could see some playing time at third as well. Stevie Bennett will play behind Krzan.
"We really have a strong hitting infield and a lot of leadership," Townsend said.
The outfield will feature a blend of two veterans and one newcomer. Seniors Allison Davis and Lindsay Stanley will be staples in the outfield. With the exit of Chelsea McCall, the left field position is still up for grabs.
"Both Lindsay and Ally are very sound defensively," Townsend said.
Stanley's speed and quickness have allowed her to develop into one of the top outfielders. Because of her speed, she is also a threat on the offensive side of the ball. Last season Stanley finished fourth in the NCAA with 32 stolen bases.
"Stanley brings speed and quickness to the outfield and there shouldn't be a lot of balls that she can't track down," said Townsend. "When she gets on-base she totally changes the ball game. At the plate, she does a great job of making contact and placing the ball. If she puts the ball on the ground it's going to be tough to throw her out."
Having taken on various roles in previous seasons, Davis will settle into right field this season. Her senior leadership and experience will impact the team's defensive ability.
"She is the type of athlete that is going to do what it takes to be on the field," Townsend said.
Several players are vying for left field and various backup roles in the outfield. Juniors Betonya Hunt and Mary Kendall Butler will likely take over left field responsibilities. Kelly Brady could also see some playing time in left, while freshmen Amanda Crumpton and Ashley Thomas will get a look in right field. Thomas brings speed to the Blazers that rivals Stanley for the fastest on the team.
The UAB softball team will face eight NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago and will play 27 home games, all part of the 2007 softball schedule.
Following the First Pitch Classic, UAB will play in three other non-conference tournaments. The Auburn Tiger Invitational will put the Blazers to the test, as the five other participants made the NCAA Tournament last year. The hosting Tigers are also ranked no. 24 in the USA Today/NFCA pre-season poll.
The Blazers will also play in the USF "The Game" Tournament in Tampa, Fla. The USA Today/NFCA pre-season poll has the Bulls at no. 22.
Ohio State will join the three Birmingham-area schools for the Magic City Classic. The Buckeyes made the NCAA tournament last season and will provide a challenge for UAB before heading into conference play.
UAB faces two of the toughest conference opponents right off the bat. The Blazers open at Tulsa before hosting Marshall in their second conference series of the season. Also within the conference, the Blazers will travel to Houston, UCF and Memphis while hosting UTEP, East Carolina and Southern Miss.
The UAB softball team will play non-conference games at Troy, Kennesaw State and Mississippi State and host South Alabama, Southern Illinois, Mississippi State, North Florida and Chattanooga to finish out the season.
While the Blazers schedule may be tough, the veteran squad is poised for another strong finish.