February 1, 2012

Softball Begins New Era In the Big South

Campbell begins a new era with the softball team and the school rejoining the Big South Conference this season after 17 years of playing participating in the Atlantic Sun Conference. This season Camels are more of youthful team with only five upperclassmen on the roster. Despite the changes in league and the youth that is certainly present, the Camels anticipate competing well and showing the Big South what Campbell softball is all about.

Coach Drew Peterson breaks down his roster and gives you an in-depth analysis of the 2012 Camels prior to the start of the season.

Q: Thoughts on the 2012 season?

A:  I think as a staff we are very excited. The team's chemistry, work ethic, and commitment to bringing their best daily are all areas that we have seen throughout the fall. We excited to get started. Building off the last few years, I feel like we can continue to take steps forward as we build our program to reach our goals.

Q: Feeling about the youth of this year's team?

A:  The last few years we have had the luxury of experienced players so there hasn't needed to be as much fundamental instruction. We haven't had to spend as much time talking about our philosophies for defense and offense. It was exciting this fall with the younger kids and working through some of the important fundamentals about how Campbell softball plays the game, what we try to accomplish and what areas we feel are top priorities. I think it was good for us as a coaching staff to have to rethink some of those things and how we could communicate them in the most effective way possible. It was also good, as it always is, to see the returning players who have bought into our program continue to progress from a position of being a follower to being a leader. I feel that the returners that we have this season learned well from the example that was set before them and are applying it. I really see our veteran players taking ownership of this team and trying to carry on the tradition of success and expectations.

Q: Expectations?

A: Our expectation is and always remains to win our conference, make the NCAA Tournament and win a regional in the NCAA tournament. It has been and will continue to be our goal until we reach that point and need to adjust it. Our goal is to win 35 games or more. I really believe this team is capable of doing those things. Our goals are not easy. They take a commitment and a focused vision from the whole team. I really believe that so far in the fall that the concentration been there. Off the field I want to see the team be great citizens, make wise decisions, work hard in the classroom and be good examples of Campbell's ideals. Ultimately we want the people of North Carolina and in this part of the country to have a good feeling and expectations of success from Campbell softball. The greatest challenge you can have after having success is continued forward movement and not being complacent with the level of success that you have already achieved. So that forces us as a coaching staff to keep our skills sharp, work harder at finding elite athletes and show a willingness to keep the team's eyes focused ahead to allow the team and players to be the very best that they can be with this opportunity.

Q:  Catchers

A: We have two catchers. Taylor McGee is our number one catcher. She will be a four-year starter for us. She provides very consistent leadership and has improved her calling of the game. Every year she improves defensively with her receiving and blocking skills. She is also on pace to set some significant offensive records this season. The thing I am most proud of with Taylor is who she is as a person though. She is consistent, mature and is very well respected in our locker room. Our other catcher is sophomore Jordan Clarke. She saw some time in that role last season. I think she will see significantly more time this year. I want to try to help share the load physically between the two catchers this season. Jordan has matured as a catcher to the point where she can do more of that this season. Her offensive and defensive skills have continued to improve. She really wants to be a contributor on the field and has a great understanding of what it will take this year.

Q: First Base

A: First base has been a position full of competition this fall. We have a number of players that we are considering for playing time at first. We have our two returning starters in senior Christina Melton and junior Sarah Ling. We also return sophomore first baseman Katie Andrews. We have also brought in freshman Casey Taylor and utility freshman infielder Erica Johnson. Each of them has certain strengths that can help the team. Ultimately the player that has the best offensive production will earn the most playing time. The front runners have to be the two returners in Christina and Sarah. Both Christina and Sarah have a lot of game experience, a potent bat and a competitive nature. Sarah is also very good at picking balls out of the dirt, while Christina understands the game and has a very good sense of strategy and what needs to be done on the field. Katie has really improved her strength and hitting from last season and has become a player that can drive the ball in the gaps. Casey is very sound defensively. She has a steady glove and receives the ball well. Erica is the best overall athlete at the position. She has the ability to play eight positions on the field and can do a very solid job at all. She has a strong arm, good hands and gives us a lot of flexibility. I could see her really playing at any position on the infield for us. 

Q: Second Base

A. We return sophomore Shaela Churchill. Shaela is moving into more of a leadership position for us and sets a good example for us in many areas. I think that her game has also reached another level. Defensively her double play transition has really smoothed itself out. Her range has improved greatly from last season. Her hitting has become much more consistent. She is an intelligent and very competitive player. I expect people to be surprised in what they see in her this year. Freshman Maggie Christopher will be the backup. She is another high character kid with a strong level of work ethic. She had an outstanding fall offensively and has really earned some additional looks based on the way she performed. Shaela and Maggie give us good depth at the position.

Q: Shortstop

A: Freshman Ericka Nesbitt comes in as a highly touted individual. She has the tools with a strong throwing arm, plus good size and strength. She is left handed hitter than can hit for power, but is also effective with the short game. She is capable of making truly spectacular plays because of her athleticism. She is really working hard to improve on her fundamentals and routine skills. If she improves more on her day-to-day skills she is capable of being an elite level player. Maggie Christopher will back her up. Maggie has a lot of experience of playing the position in high school and will be solid there when she is called upon.

Q: Third Base

A: Sophomore Raven Lee, who saw limited time at third base at times last year, will be in the mix for playing time over there. Raven started a lot of us as hitter last year and we will continue to look at her along those lines this year. She was a productive hitter for us with great power. Raven has really worked on and improved her hitting to all fields this year. She is very steady with her glove and has a strong throwing arm. Freshman Brittany Bruce is the other player we think will play quite a bit at third base for us. She is very exciting young player. Brittany is an extremely quick athlete with her feet and her hands. She is a good contact hitter with power to the gaps. She can also play the short game and is capable of stealing bases. She really gives us a new dimension in terms of covering the short game and the holes that we haven't had in a while. I anticipate quite a bit of shared playing time and see how things develop over the course of the season.

Q: Outfield

A:  Much like the infield, we are replacing our entire starting outfield from last year. In left field the competition will be between sophomore Jessi Lane and freshman Kerstine Womack. Jessi has really sharpened her defensive skills, strengthened her arm and worked hard on improving her outfield fundamentals. She made very good strides during the fall and coming into the season I see her as the starter. Kerstine is a very intelligent and competitive young lady. She is quick and will help us running the bases. Kerstine has the ability to play multiple positions all over the field. She is also a slapper and gives us that element as well. In center field we have freshmen Stephanie Jones and Camise Patterson. Stephanie had a terrific fall. She is legitimate five-tool player. She was very highly recruited and we are proud that she decided to join our program. Camise is a local area product. She is a very intelligent young lady. She is a strong athlete that runs very well. She has been very coachable and is making great strides every day. Right now I see Stephanie as the starter, but I think in the future Camise will become an individual that contributes greatly. Immediately she can help us on the base paths if she is not in the lineup. In right field we moved junior Sarah Forgacs back to the outfield this year. We started her in the outfield last year, but moved her to second base based on some of the team's needs. We feel like right field is the outfield position that she feels most comfortable in, although she can play any of the three outfield positions. She is a terrific athlete that has been a big part of our success the last two years.  She is one of those players that is very talkative on the field and thinks the game. She is almost always in the right place and knows where everyone else needs to be a play. Sarah will be backed up by freshman Kailey Farmer. Kailey has a lot of potential. She is strong and has one of the best arms on the team. Kailey has tremendous power potential from the right side and is learning to play the outfield right now since she was a high school shortstop. She is picking things up quickly and is continuing to get better daily.

10. Designated Player

A: We return Raven Lee as our starter. She is a strong option there. We like some of the things that we have seen out of Olivia Scarborough and her power ability. Christina Melton and Sarah Ling are options for us. Taylor McGee may fill the role when she is not catching. I think potentially Kailey Farmer could fill the role. There could be a variety of people we use to fill the position especially early in the season until we see an individual player or two who really takes ownership of the position.

Q: Pitchers

A: Pitching wise our senior is Christina Melton. Christina is as healthy this year as she has been since her freshman year. She has really battled through some shoulder issues the last few years. I really admire her attitude and the way she has hung in there. I think she is primed to really be successful this year. Our junior is Brittany Arnn. She gives us a left handed look. She finished the 2011 season with probably the two best outings of her career. She followed that up with a terrific outing in the fall. I feel very confident in her. Olivia Scarborough is continuing to develop her pitches as a sophomore. She has two strong pitches to compete with that she has confidence in. She also has a couple of other pitches that she continues to develop that she has improved on from the end of last year. Her command in the strike zone is also getting better. Our freshman Julia Callicutt has really made the biggest strides from the beginning of the year to this point. We have changed some of her grips and approaches that she had prior to getting here. She almost has become a different pitcher in some respects and we are very excited about seeing how she continues to improve. All four pitchers are hard workers that want to do well. The group continues to improve their ability to read hitters and how to set up their pitches to work the strike zone better. I think each one of them has a chance to win a lot of games. We are not riding on one horse to carry the staff. It will be an effort that takes all of them contributing and sharing the load.

Q: Feeling about this year's non-conference schedule?

A: Our philosophy has been for the past four years to try to get into tournaments and big environments in hopes of seeing as many potential regional teams as possible and try to sharpen our skills. This year we are very much throwing our young kids into the fire that opening weekend when we travel down to Georgia. Our feeling is that we have done what we can to put ourselves in locations where we can play great people. At the Division I level everyone wants to win. You don't get to this place unless you know what you are doing. All the teams are competitive and successful. We understand that and know that we had better show up ready to play every game. The thing about this group of players is that they are not awestruck and don't seem to be intimidated. They are welcoming the opportunity and challenges. That is their expectations. That is part of what they committed to when they came to Campbell.

Q: Feeling about your First Year of Being in the Big South?

A: We are glad and proud to be representing the Big South Conference now. We are looking forward to developing healthy rivalries. Certainly we hope that the change in conference will allow more of our fans to see us play on the road. I know as a conference as whole we as coaches should feel confident in the teams that we are putting on the field and hope that as we play stronger non-conference schedules that the conference will show well, build respect for our league and get a second team into the post-season through an at-large bid. There are a variety of historically strong softball programs in the Big South. The conference has a nice mix of teams on the rise with new coaches, new faces and high aspirations. There is not a game in the Big South where you are going to have the luxury of not showing up and putting forth less than your best effort. We know that we have our hands full with every team in the conference. We have respect for all the coaches and teams in this league. We look forward to being part of the conference again and representing our league well

Q: Amanda Littlejohn

A: Amanda has been a part of us for four and half years. We have officially dedicated the season to her and in her memory. We have signage and various reminders all around us of Amanda and the life that she lived. We have her jersey number on our fence and a sign in our dugout with a quote from her. We also have a poster in her honor and a locker that was dedicated to her in the locker room. She is there all the time and is fresh on our minds. We are all better people for having known her, realizing what she would expect from us if she was there watching and seizing the opportunity that we have that she and others don't. Certainly our hope is that we will serve her memory well in what transpires this season and in all the future seasons to come.