02/13/04 — MOC softball preview 2004

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MOC softball preview 2004

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on February 13, 2004 2:00 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Cautiously optimistic.

It's become Jamie Kylis' catch phrase when describing her second season as softball coach at Mount Olive College.

A mere four players, one of those a part-timer, return off last year's team that suffered through a tumultuous season. The remaining 16-player roster is comprised of freshmen or junior-college transfers who not only must adjust to Kylis' way of coaching, but learn the importance of communication amongst teammates.

"I'm trying to get them to learn more about each other because that's how communication improves," Kylis said.

Kylis needed a year to complete a recruiting puzzle that she constructed once the 2003 season ended. She wanted to fill the holes she had, mainly the infield and her pitching staff. But the biggest characteristics she seeked when recruiting were the intensity and heart that the players possessed.

She spent countless hours on the road, traveling to high school games and summer AAU tournaments. Certainly aware that the talent was different on each level, Kylis took copious notes on each player regarding how they responded to a certain coaching style or adversity. Once she narrowed down her selections, she began the tenuous job of contacting each player by U.S. mail, email or phone.

The players responded and shocked Kylis with their eagerness.

Kylis received email from players who asked "what can I do to get better?" "Are there any drills you can tell me about?" "Coach, who are some of the other players you've recruited?"

"That makes my job so much easier," Kylis said.

When the fall rolled around, Kylis wasn't sure if that eagerness and intensity would surface in practice or games. But they showed no hesitation, diving after ground balls and aggressively attacking pitches at the plate. Kylis knew at that point she'd recruited the right players for her program.

The players are constantly striving to make themselves better and are "workhorses," according to Kylis. Kylis expects mistakes. If a player does something uncharacteristically, then they run a mile or endure some other type of discipline.

"To coach players who have a lot of intensity, heart and desire to become better challenges me as a coach, personally," Kylis said. "They keep me on my toes. They ask questions when we're doing situation stuff. It's a joy to coach them because I don't have to push as hard because they're so easy to be pushed.

"They just go after it."


Kylis has a three-player rotation -- Becky Garrod, Shauna Cowdrey and Erin Case. Garrod is the only returner with any experience. Case is a junior-college transfer and Cowdrey is a freshman who hails from Alta Lomo, Calif.

"We worked out some kinks on her (Garrod) motion in the fall, so I'm expecting her to have a good year this year," Kylis said. "She's coming off an injury, but slowly working back into her routine.

"When she's on, she's going to hurt somebody."

Cowdrey and Case could become good complements and cause headaches for opposing batters.

Cowdrey, a 5-foot-10 right-hander, doesn't miss too many pitches and will always keep the ball in the zone. She showed solid control on the mound during the fall season and has proven to be one of the team's many "workhorses" before and after practice.

"She's also a great defensive player at first base with a good stick," Kylis said. "I don't know how much she is going to hit because I've got a lot of speed on the team and she's not one of my faster runners."

Case is an off-speed hurler who could make a serious run for freshman of the year in the NCAA Division II Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference. She challenges the team's best hitters daily and if they hit one of her pitches, she never shows it again.

"Erin is extremely smart on the mound (and) remembers every pitch she throws to the hitters," Kylis said. "She comes along with a little feistiness and has a great sense of humor.

"She'll get in the hitter's ear a little bit."


Kylis hasn't decided on a starting infield and isn't expected to make a decision until at least one hour before Saturday's season-opening doubleheader against Lenoir-Rhyne.

Five players are vying for time at third base -- Erin Wilson, Tracy Evans, Kristie Smith, Nikki Price and Melissa Bright. All five understand the "short" game and know how to read that defensively. Plus, there could be a rotation at that position, depending on who Kylis elects to put in the pitching circle.

"Erin is a short-game hitter and knows how to read that, so it's great to have her on the corner," Kylis said. "She's also great in the outfield; has a cannon for an arm and great foot speed.

"She could play left or center field depending on the pitcher."

Evans is recovering from an ankle injury and has shown tremendous improvement since the fall. Kylis admitted Evans isn't 100 percent and is patiently working back to full strength.

Smith, who sustained a knee injury in the fall and had surgery, could see significant time as the designated hitter.

"She has a phenomenal swing," Kylis said. "She is probably one of the most patient hitters we have on the team and she will wait for the pitcher to throw that one mistake. And that pitcher will regret it every time she sees her come up (to bat).

"She's a big, strong girl who can be an intimidating hitter because of her size. She will be in our lineup to make it complete."

Kylis mentioned Price, the normal starting catcher, at the hot corner because of her ability to read "short-game" hitters.

Bright, a transfer from East Carolina, is recovering from shoulder surgery. The 5-4 freshman is patient in the box and smart on defense, which should prove critical at third and in the outfield.

Kylis plays a little game, "can I get it by you?," against freshman Colleen Thomas each day in practice. And Thomas, who hails from Pennsylvania, comes out on top each time.

"This kid, literally, is just phenomenal at second base," Kylis said. "You have to see her play because you can't put her talent into words. Offensively, she's good on either side of the plate and is extremely smart."

Ashley Stallings, a walk-on from Selma, is Thomas' understudy. The two work well together and Thomas has proven to be a good leader.

Freshman Jamie Pruitt, whom Kylis recruited as a catcher, has lobbied her case for first base. Kylis said that Pruitt, like Price, is a good candidate for the corner bag because she has good hands and rarely lets a ground ball throw her off guard.

The most-noticable change in the infield is shortstop. Four-time All-CVAC performer Bethany Piazza has graduated.

Kylis found a Piazza clone when she signed Kimberly Goens, a freshman who starred at Independence High School in Charlotte. Goens has the same mobility as Piazza, reacts to the ball and reads defenses extremey well. She's expected to clog up the middle along with Thomas.

"She's got some moves on her that could set her apart from all the shortstops in the conference," a grinning Kylis said. "She's a good thinker and needs to know everything in its entirety in practice. She has to completely understand what is going on and that's important because she's got some big shoes to fill.

"My expectations at that position are probably greater than any other position on the field because of what I was used to last year."

Price owns the catcher's slot and handles calling the pitches, which takes pressure off Kylis. Very few runners are successful at stealing bases against Price, who has a "silent killer" mentality behind the plate.

"I had a compliment on Nikki in the fall," Kylis said. "An umpire who calls Division I softball said that she was one of the best catchers that he has ever seen. I'm trying to work on getting her to acknowledge that she's good.

"If she had a little bit of attitude with her, she'd be devastating."


Anchoring the outfield is lone senior Liz Recny, who has recovered from shoulder surgery. Recny, like most of Kylis' infielders, possesses the ability to read pitchers and shift the outfield accordingly.

"She's taken her game up to another level," Kylis said. "On a personal note, it warms my heart to see her happy. Last year, she had to sit back and watch people play and had a lot of frustrations.

"This year, in my opinion, is dedicated to her because has really stuck it out. To watch her now be a leader that way I knew she could lead and to see her integrate with the freshmen, is a joy to see."

Freshman Jackie Wyman, who has a kamikaze mentality, joins Recny in the outfield. Kylis says that Wyman is sneaky and can cover a lot of ground.

"She goes after it," Kylis said. "If a ball is near her, she's going to go for it whether she's laying on her back, tummy or side. She's going to make her best attempt."

Samantha Beavers, Wilson, Price and Shenetta Moye could conceivably split time at left field.

CVAC poll

League coaches picked the Trojans to finish 10th overall in the 11-team conference. Kylis agrees with the selection since Recny and Garrod are returners, but didn't see considerable playing time. Price is probably the lone player the coaches remember from last year's squad.

"Pick me 10th ... that's fine," Kylis said. "I think with this bunch of girls that's the best thing that could have happened to us. You should have seen their face when I showed them that article.

"They wanted to leave class and go practice right then. That article, I'm going to laminate it and stick it in our new dugout. That fires them up when they see that."


Mount Olive is playing a 56-game schedule that includes weekends tournaments at Francis Marion (S.C.) University and West Virginia Wesleyan College.

The Trojans have just 22 home dates -- 11 doubleheaders -- and four of those games are this weekend. They entertain former CVAC opponent Longwood (Va.) University on Sunday.

"Our defense is a strong point and I think our offense is just as strong,"Kylis said. "They're an aggressive bunch and they go after it.If anything, communication will factor in because we're young.

"The freshmen have that barky attitude, but sometimes they forget to communicate with their neighbor (in the infield/outfield) and that can hurt us."