02/16/07 — Trojan softball team opens season today at Lander (S.C.) University

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Trojan softball team opens season today at Lander (S.C.) University

By Rob Craig
Published in Sports on February 16, 2007 2:21 PM

There is plenty of excitement surrounding Mount Olive College softball this season, and a lot of it has to do with a familiar face returning to the area.

Jenny Jackson, a 2005 graduate of Charles B. Aycock and that year's News-Argus player of the year, will play for the Trojans this season after transferring from Western Carolina following her freshman year. While with the Catmounts, Jackson put together a very successful first season, including being named the Southern Conference Freshmen of the Year.

"Adding Jenny Jackson was Merry Christmas to me," said Mount Olive coach Jaine Kylis-Higginbotham. "We got her release (from Western Carolina) a few days before Christmas and had her on campus a few days after Christmas. She's just a phenomenal athlete."

With Western Carolina, Jackson ranked fourth on the team in batting average (.300) and home runs (11) while posting the second most RBI with 44.

Here offensive proficiency aside, Jackson has made a name for herself with her skills on the mound. She finished her career at C.B. Aycock with mind boggling numbers -- a school record 721 strikeouts to go along with 41 shutouts, 12 no-hitters and four perfect games.

In her lone season with the Catamounts, Jackson led Western Carolina in ERA with a 2.27 mark and ranked second in wins with a 15-6 record.

"She's a well rounded individual who fits perfectly with our program," said Kylis-Higginbotham. "She brings a lot of speed and control -- a very dominating presence on the mound. She's a powerhouse, all-around athlete and we're just very happy to add her."

Kylis-Higginbotham is hopeful Jackson, along with a group of talented returnees and freshmen, can help Mount Olive turn close losses into victories. Last season, Mount Olive College suffered through six one-run defeats and those losses meant the difference between a winning season and a losing one as the Trojans finished with a 26-30 record.

"This could be our breakout year," said Kylis-Higginbotham, whose team recorded its most victories since the 2000 season. "These seniors are ready to win. It's mind numbing to see how close we were last year."

In addition to Jackson are a host of new faces led by a pair of freshmen -- third baseman Allison Czerski and outfielder LaDawn Montgomery.

"Allison is very smooth, a technical type of kid who will definitely see some time," Kylis-Higginbotham said. "LaDawn is a very well rounded athlete who brings a lot of power to the plate."

The talented Trojan returnees include senior outfielder Tiffanie Pittman -- who hit .386 last season, junior catcher Bailey Harrell -- who led the Trojans with 11 home runs and senior pitcher Shauna Cowdrey who paced the staff with an overall record of 11-13 to go with a 4.84 ERA and 124 strikeouts.

"I think our seniors are going to be leading our younger girls to, hopefully, a very victorious season and capitalize on what we were doing last year," said Kylis-Higginbotham. "Every year we have gotten better."

This season Mount Olive was chosen sixth in the Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference preseason coaches' poll, a ranking Kylis-Higginbotham was pleased to see.

"We've competed with every team every year, but we could never get over the hump," she said. "This conference this year is wide open because of coaching changes, key people leaving and key people coming. Putting us sixth is ok with me because we will not finish there."

Senior first baseman/catcher Jamie Pruitt agrees with her coach's assessment.

"I think we're going to go further than we ever have before," said Pruitt. "We're not setting our goals too high, but we at least want to be above .500. With the transfers and new players we have coming in and our experience, I think we're definitely going to reach that goal or surpass it."

To accomplish that, the Trojans will face a stiff non-conference schedule highlighted by a long March trip to the Smash Hit Tournament in Savannah, Georgia and the Patriot Invite hosted by Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina.

"It's a wonderful tournament with good competition," said Kylis-Higginbotham of the Smash Hit Tournament. "The Francis Marion Tournament is one of the best tournaments in division II softball. If we want to compete at the regional level, then we need to compete at this tournament -- our toughest challenge this year."

Mount Olive will later be able to enjoy the friendly confines of Nancy Chapman Cassell Field towards the end of the season when the Trojans play 10 of their final 13 regular season games at home. Overall the Trojans have 14 home dates this season.

Mount Olive begins its 2007 campaign today when they travel to Greenwood, South Carolina to face Lander University -- a game the Trojan seniors have been anxiously waiting for.

"For us seniors, this is our last year so it's go hard or go home," said infielder Colleen Thomas. "We don't have another opportunity to play after this year, so we're ready to play."