Consistency the Key for Coker Softball
HARTSVILLE, S.C. – One thing that has always been consistent about Coker softball under the tenure of coach David Hanna is winning. With 744 wins in his 21 years as coach, Hanna knows what it takes for a team to be great, and coming into this season he expects nothing different.
"Our goal is always to win the conference and move on to the regional tournament," he said. "But more importantly, you want to have a productive year, have the girls work hard and keep everyone healthy."
Heading into their first season in the South Atlantic Conference, the Cobras look to keep up the success they saw last season. They finished 26-18 with a 12-8 in-conference record. Last season was highlighted by an eight-game winning streak in March which ignited the Cobras to 16 wins in a 25-day span.
However, they will be facing some tougher competition this season. Atop the preseason conference standings are projected champion Lenoir-Rhyne University and Anderson University, which is ranked No. 20 in the latest NCAA softball poll.
"I would say that you could label either Lenoir-Rhyne or Anderson as the favorite," said Hanna. "Lenoir-Rhyne won the conference tournament last season and advanced to the regional tournament along with Wingate and Anderson. It will be a tough title to win this year, that's for sure."
With six seniors on this year's team, the Cobras will rely heavily on veteran leadership. Most notable of the seniors are catcher Stacy Burr, pitcher Lauren Phillips and center fielder Sydney Weatherford. Burr was a catalyst for a solid Cobra defense last season, as she tallied a .984 fielding percentage and allowed no passed balls. Phillips, who is set to be the ace of this year's pitching staff, finished last season with a 13-10 record and a 2.53 ERA. Weatherford was a second team all-conference selection last season as she batted .305 and drove in a team-high 37 RBIs.
"Lauren Phillips will need to have a good season, as she is the leader of our pretty young pitching staff," said Hanna. "It's also important that Sydney and Stacy have big seasons in the field as well as at the plate."
It is always essential to prepare underclassmen to fill in eventual vacant roles left by graduating seniors. That is never more evident than this season for the Cobras' pitching staff. After Phillips and Logan Cox, a junior who also plays second base, the rest of the pitchers are freshmen, including Tabitha Allen and Carley Bailey. They will be part of the underclassmen expected to make an immediate impact this season.
"Tabitha and Carley are a couple of freshmen who will see playing time," said Hanna. "Tabitha will see a good bit of time on the mound, and when Carley is not on the mound she will be a shortstop."
Last season, the Cobras batted .258 as a team with a team ERA of 2.66. That continued balance at the plate as well as in the circle will be needed if the Cobras want to see repeated success.
"We have to be consistent for us to be successful," said Hanna. "One week our hitting will be good and our pitching will be struggling, and the next week it will be completely flip-flopped. We can't have that inconsistency and expect to be successful. The one thing that has been stable throughout, though, is a solid defense."
The Cobras will see tough competition right out of the gates. They head to the Hampton Jordan Classic in Orangeburg, S.C., where their tournament schedule is headlined by games against USC Aiken and Division I South Carolina State. They conclude a seven-game opening weekend with a doubleheader against Lander University.
"I think a front-loaded schedule like this will really open the eyes of the players, especially the younger ones, to how tough some of the competition is and what we have to do to get to that level," said Hanna. "I feel like the more you play, the better you will be. Hopefully it will get us to where we want to be."
The softball team gets its season underway Feb. 7 against USC Aiken at the Hampton Jordan Classic. Its first home game is Feb. 16 against Columbia College.
Story written by media relations intern Aaron Beebe '15.