02/04/10 — MOC 2010 softball preview

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MOC 2010 softball preview

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on February 4, 2010 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- So much for playing the role of underdog.

With three successful seasons in the rear view mirror and a roster stocked with young and talented players, the Mount Olive College softball team will not be sneaking up on anyone.

The Trojans were picked to finish No. 1 in the preseason Conference Carolinas poll. And while head coach Jaime Kylis-Higginbotham was honored by the recognition, she's not surprised to see MOC on opposing teams' respective radars.

"I think it shows how far this program has come over the last four years," said Higginbotham. "We are honored to be the preseason number one, but we know that it is only preseason."

Mount Olive enters 2010 on the strength of three consecutive, top-three finishes in regular-season and conference tournament play. The Trojans ended last spring 25-18-1 overall and ranked No. 9 in the final Division II Southeast Region poll.

Higginbotham's team also earned a national ranking after upsetting No. 5-ranked USC Aiken early in the season.

"I can see why the other teams in the league think that we are going to have a good year," said Higginbotham. "We have a very talented group coming back and we have added a strong freshman class."

Looking forward to the 2010 edition of the Trojan softball squad, Higginbotham gushed over returning shortstop Kelly Minshew. As a sophomore Minshew, earned All-Conference Carolinas honors for her stellar infield play and .336 batting average.

"Kelly is the best shortstop that I have ever had the pleasure to coach," said Higginbotham. "She is a slick fielder and she can do it all at the plate -- hit for average, hit with power and run the bases."

Returners Allison Czerski and Katie Nalley are also expected to man positions in the Trojans' infield. Mount Olive's leader in RBI, Robbin Kennedy, returns behind the plate.

One question going into the regular season is in the outfield where the Trojans are looking for three new starters due to graduation. Anna Munizza has starting experience before a season-ending injury in 2009. Kelly Bowen, Katie Devenuto and Mandy Hensley are each looking for an opportunity to earn a starting spot.

Mount Olive boasts both experience and youthful exuberance in the pitcher's circle. Sasha Snyder returns for her senior year and Kristin Ware will get a chance to earn innings as well. Former Southern Wayne High School standout Lauren Darden has impressed the coaching staff in her first spring camp.

"Lauren throws in the mid-60's and she has been very strong so far in practice," said Higginbotham. "I think that playing with so many good players on this team has really raised her confidence."

Weather permitting, the Trojans open their season Saturday at the USC Aiken Early Bird Tournament. MOC plays its first home doubleheader Feb. 9 against in-state foe Shaw University.