Vikings Ready To Open 2012 Softball Season
By Matthew D. Stokes
BerryVikings.com Staff Writer
Berry College's softball team will open its season with a lengthy 14-game road trip, beginning with a Sunday afternoon doubleheader against host Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Ala.
For the Vikings, 2012 will be only their third season of play. Last year the Vikings posted a 20-16 record after zooming ahead to a 19-7 start. This was an improvement from their 18-20 finish in their inaugural season of 2010.
In terms of this season's schedule, third-year coach Cori Thiermann said the team can expect stiff competition.
"Our schedule is very similar to the last two seasons," Thiermann said. "We continued to schedule extremely competitive teams so that we can prepare ourselves for next year when we come to the Southern Athletic Association.
"I don't want to have an easy schedule and then jump into the SAA and play really good teams and not be ready. I'm just trying to match us up with the best of the best."
A fifth of the schedule will match up Berry against future conference member opponents, including the likes of Birmingham-Southern and Centre.
Even before this semester, the team was plugging away during the fall 2011 season, which gave the coaching staff the chance to see where the team stood in all areas.
"We have a lot of returners, which has been extremely helpful for our small freshmen class that has come in," Thiermann said. "It's allowed them to see where they have to reach to in terms of performance off the field and on the field. They have great leaders here to mentor them and make their transition a little bit easier.
"That's probably been the most pleasant part of this year. Everything's been moving a lot faster. We've been a little more efficient on skills that we've been able to cover. We have large junior and sophomore classes who have been there and done that. They understand the expectations as
well as the type of energy and commitment that is required."
A primary focus of practices this spring has undoubtedly been communication.
"We've gotten to the point now that we're trying to stress how we put together the 'perfect game' so to speak," Thiermann said. "How do we, every game and every pitch, come out with great communication? We have the necessary skills, but are we thinking each play through?
"Are we talking with our teammates? Are we helping each other out? I think that will actually be our strength. We just have awesome team chemistry."
Shamoun went 13-9 in 26 appearances (20 starts) with an earned run average of 2.42 in 2011. She tossed 138 and two-thirds innings and struck out 104 hitters.
"Caillee pitched close to two-thirds of our innings last year," Thiermann said. "She improved from her freshman year to her sophomore year. We're expecting her to do the same this year.
"She's a mainstay on the mound. She provides leadership just in her consistency out on the hill."
In her freshman season, Cole posted an even 7-7 record in 18 outings (16 starts) with an ERA of 3.80. She pitched 92 innings and fanned 40 batters while walking 38.
"She has been working extremely hard," Thiermann said. "When she came into fall practice, we could tell that she had put in work over the summer. She had gained a couple miles-per-hour and is working on her accuracy and her spin."
One thing that Thiermann hopes will work to the Vikings' pitching staff's advantage is the later start to the season.
"This a weird season for us," said Thiermann of the Feb. 18 season opener. "Typically we start in the first week of February. We had over four, almost five, weeks of practice time.
"Usually we only had two or three weeks of practice so I'm hoping that our preparation over the last five weeks will have brought our pitching staff into 80 percent ready for the first game. Usually we were looking at looking more at 60 or 75 percent for our pitching staff coming into that first week of February."
Behind the plate, junior Krista Woody will hold down the catching duties. Woody, a starter in all 33 games that she played, struggled offensively, hitting at a .215 clip, but still finished third in runs batted in with 25. Thiermann said Woody's ability to make good decisions in tight situations helps the team as a whole.
"We look to Krista for communication," Thiermann said. "She's very loud. She makes good decisions, and she makes them early, which is important when we get into times of stress. That's something that calms the coaching staff. We have someone who can really command the field accurately and do it quickly in stressful situations."
Holding down the fort at first will be junior Kristen Stoll, who led the team in batting average (.447) and base hits (51) in 2011. For her efforts, Stoll was named to the second team of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association's NCAA Division III All-Atlantic Region.
"We look to her for a lot of leadership in the infield and offensively," Thiermann said. "She is just a threat at the plate. She'll probably hold down the third spot in the batting order. We look for the same exact approach as she took last year.
"She comes up in some big situations. She gets on base a lot, and that's what we need of our third hitter."
Junior Lacey Herring returns after mashing a team-best five home runs last year, including a record-setting three round trippers against LaGrange College in one game alone.
"She has leaned up quite a bit and has become much faster and explosive, which will help her in the cleanup spot," Thiermann said. "Defensively we're hoping that she becomes consistent and holds down the fort at second base."
Jessica Washington will man the shortstop position for the Vikings. A junior academically, Washington is in her sophomore year of her athletic eligibility. Hitting primarily from the top of the batting order, Washington paced the team in runs scored (37) and triples (7).
"Her first year she really did lead more by example, making big plays when we needed it," Thiermann said. "This year she has not only continued to lead by example, but she has taken on a bigger role vocally to command and direct the infield. She's a triple threat from the left side of the plate. She's got speed, power and she's very smart."
At the hot corner, junior Lindsey Campbell has been making her presence felt. This comes after a sophomore year in which she saw limited playing time and hit .185 in 27 at-bats.
"She has been dominating in practice," Thiermann said. "She has the most experience at third base. She feeds off of her defensive play.
"She likes to make big plays. She can get off the ball pretty quick. She gets to the bunts and the short game very fast. Her infield has confidence in her. It's very important to have someone at third base who your infield has confidence in to make that play because that player probably has the most stress on her out of any infield position."
In the three outfield spots, the Vikings will rely on all freshmen and sophomores.
"We're a little bit younger," said Thiermann of the team's outfield corps. "We're hoping that our outfield can expand the territory that it covered last year. We had some balls dropped that probably should've been caught, and I think that comes with experience."
One player who is almost a lock to start in the outfield is sophomore Sara Vigue. As a freshman in 2011, Vigue worked opposing pitchers to the tune of 20 walks and a .514 on-base percentage, tops in both categories for the Vikings.
"That kid is extremely athletic and makes some really big-time catches for us," Thiermann said of Vigue.
The two remaining slots, center field and right field, will be determined by the first game.
"Our center field and right field are up for grabs right now," Thiermann said. "We're looking for someone who can control center field and the whole outfield in general. We want them to somehow start directing the outfield and become a lot more vocal."
The Vikings have been known for scoring runs in the team's first two seasons.
"We have a very talented offensive game," Thiermann said. "We got a lot of runners on last year. Sometimes we got the right people up; they just didn't execute. I'm hoping that this year, with a little bit more experience in stressful situations, we come through and score those runners."
When it comes to the fielding side of the game, the Vikings will look to consistently effectively communicate good information to each other in the field.
"I think the key to our defense is really going to be what we call 'championship communication,' Thiermann said.
Thiermann will be joined by two new coaches this season, Tonya Medders and Keith Quinn. Medders, who played at Polk Community College then later at Georgia College and State University, will serve as a Graduate Assistant Coach as she pursues a Master's Degree in Education at Berry. Quinn will act as a volunteer assistant coach.
Can We Just Play Already?
For her student-athletes, Thiermann said the season cannot come soon enough.
"We're just very excited," Thiermann said. "I don't think we've ever felt this ready for a season. I think the girls are chomping at the bit to get started."