Equipped with a new name and a new attitude, the North Greenville University softball team looks to improve on what could be described as a disappointing 2004-05 season. Third year coach Buster Sturkie said, "the attitudes of our kids have been super. It is the best they have been since I have been here." Players' attitudes and work ethic were tested this offseason, as the team held vouluntary conditioning workouts at 6:00 a.m. three days a week. "Our players have worked hard and we expect an improvement over last year."
The Crusaders will employ a good mix of power and finesse this season. "It is the first time since I have been here that we will have choices on how to play. We have a good combination of power and speed," says Sturkie. Adding power to the lineup will be lefthanded sophomore Jordan Brock, who missed the first half of last season, but came back to hit 6 home runs in the second half. Sturkie notes, "we look to get 8-12 home runs out of her this year." Newcomer Holly Lester, a transfer from Spartanburg Methodist College, will also add some power to the lineup. Senior Angela Foster is a lefthanded slapper who will add to the lineup with her speed.
Leading the Crusaders pitching staff will be sophomore Amy Krainas. Krainas pitched 70% of the games last season and held onto an ERA below three. "Amy is a fierce competitor who absolutely hates to lose," says Sturkie. "We ought to be able to give her some run support this year to get her stats where they need to be." Freshman Ashley Warlick will also see a good bit of action pitching and try to take some pressure off of Krainas.
Although the Crusaders are a team laden with freshmen and sophomores, Coach Sturkie looks to get good senior leadership from Casey Smith and Angela Foster. Smith, the returning starter at catcher, is expected to have a big year. "Casey is a great defensive catcher, but can also turn around and give you good offensive production. She can bunt and hit for power. We expect her to lead us offensively," says Sturkie. Noted for her competitive fire and understanding of the game, Smith should emerge as a leader for the Crusaders. The other returning senior is outfielder Angela Foster. Sturkie is looking for a breakout year from Foster. "Angela works hard and is a great leader. She has worked hard in the offseason to get better and be a team leader."
Sturkie is pleased with this year's recruiting class. "We are looking for big things from our whole freshmen class," says Sturkie. Erika Sineath, a freshman out of Clinton High School, will play second base and will be the only freshman to start. Two other newcomers, Lester and Lua Greene, will start. Lester will play leftfield and Greene will start at shortstop. Both are transfers from Spartanburg Methodist College.
The rest of the lineup shapes as follows: Jordan Brock at first base; Krista Yeoman at third base (with freshman Emily Queen pushing her hard); Amy Krainas at pitcher (backed up by freshman Ashley Warlick); Casey Smith at catcher; Angela Foster in rightfield; and Laura McMahan in centerfield.
Coach Sturkie also notes that his coaching staff will play a mojor role in the improvement of his team. Returning are three volunteer coaches in Ty Porter, Jeff McLaughlin, and Ben Adams. Porter, entering his second year at NGU, will help coach pitchers. McLaughlin, entering his third year at NGU, will coach the outfield. Ben Adams is a student-assistant entering his third year with the program. Sturkie is also very excited about one more addition to the coaching staff. First-year head volleyball coach Kasey Whitehead will join the Crusader softball team this season. After a stellar career at Mississippi State, Whitehead went on to play professionally several years in the National Pro Fast Pitch League. "Kasey and I have really meshed. Our styles and ideas are the same," says Sturkie. "The girls have really responded well to her. She is a great person who has a hard work ethic, possesses great leadership qualities and can motivate players. The girls see that and it has rubbed off on them. Getting her at North Greenville was a steal."
The Crusaders begin their fall season Saturday October 1, 2005 in a tournament at Byrnes High School. Other colleges playing in the tournament include Anderson, Newberry, Mars Hill, and Limestone. Then, on October 15, 2005, the Crusaders will host an 18 and under travelling team and play a doubleheader. Also that day, as part of the North Greenville Homecoming festivities, an alumni game will be held at 9:30 a.m. with the NGU softball doubleheader to follow at 11:00 a.m.