Thursday, February 2, 2012

North Greenville University softball Coach Sarah Hall and her team will turn several pages of history in the spring of 2012, both personally and professionally, as Hall is expecting her first child in March, and the Crusaders begin their first season as an official member of Conference Carolinas.

“Obviously, going into Conference Carolinas begins a new chapter for us,” Hall said.  “But, now that we’re in Conference Carolinas, we have to prove ourselves.  The league teams are better than what we’ve faced in the past, but we’re a better team as well.  We usually play up to our competition, so it’s a great thing for us this year."

North Greenville has been picked 7th in the pre-season poll of Conference Carolinas coaches (out of 12 teams).  NGU is in a tie with Pfeiffer University of North Carolina.  Erskine College was ranked first in the CC poll, followed by Limestone and Lees-McRae. Rounding out the poll are Queens (NC) (4th), Coker (5th), Mount Olive (6th), NGU and Pfeiffer (NC) (7th), Belmont Abbey (9th), King (10th), and Barton (11th).  Last season while NGU was still a NCAA II independent, the Crusaders went 7-8 against teams from their future conference.  They were 3-3 against the top three teams in the pre-season poll.

“Our goal this year is to finish in the top six and be in the conference tournament,” Hall said.  “We’ve played everybody pretty close, so it’s a very realistic goal.  I think this is huge for our school; huge for our team.  It gives us a new goal this year and that’s exciting.”

The Crusaders, which were 23-25 last season, rebounded late in the year to win seven of their last nine games to win the National Christian College Athletic Association’s (NCCAA) national championship in Botetourt, VA in May.  

“We peaked at the right time, last spring but we had a lot of close games,” Hall noted.  “I think that helped us at the end of the season to get through those tough games.  We didn’t blow anybody out in the tournament, but we won. We pulled it out and we all came together.  It was a great experience for us.” 

Personally, Hall’s first baby is due in early March, which coincides with the beginning of the season, but she and her team have taken it in stride. 

“The players are excited for me,” Hall added with a touch of joy.  “They don’t let me pick up heavy things, and they pick up the balls.  They know I want to be out there, and that I don’t want to miss any more than I have to.  We’re trying to make it as seamless as possible. Coach (Ty) Porter is going to step in, and the players will definitely help him.  My job is really for practice anyway; they have to play the game.   I am excited to meet her and they are as well.”

“The strength of our team this year will be our ability to work together as a team,” Hall explained.  “You cannot have a bunch of individuals out there, so as long as we continue to communicate and do mesh together, we will be very competitive.  We should have a lot of confidence as a team this year; because we’ve seen our older players grow.  It’s cool to see someone’s batting come a long way; from hitting singles to now hitting home runs.”

“We are about half veterans and half newcomers this year (10 letter winners and eight starters back for the 2012 season - four veteran pitchers, two seniors, eight juniors, two sophomores and six freshmen).  We have really good team chemistry and that, I’m excited about.  This is a lot different group from any other I’ve ever coached.  We have fun together.  I enjoy practice, and I think, for the most part, they do too.  I think that brings a whole new dynamic to our season.  Our players know what college softball is about and are buying into the system.  The older players have transitioned, and know that if they do their job, we will get good results.”

Hall went on to talk about the quality aspects of her team.  “We have gotten to the point where we have the players on the team that God wants to be there,” she added.  “That’s the girl’s maturity. They just have this desire to seek God.  A lot of them are looking for Him, and they are sharing that with their teammates.  I think that we are experiencing a lot of transparency this year.  You have to be friends first to do that with a team.  We’re there for one another and that, win or lose, I am very thankful for that.  As a coach, I have to make time for letting them share.  If that means ending practice a little early, that’s fine.  Sometimes we need to focus on what’s going on outside of the field.”

Pitching has always been the dominant force in softball, and NGU has an impressive array of depth in the circle.  Despite the loss of Taylor Roof (13-13 2.10 ERA, 28 RBI, 8 HR, 6 2B), Coach Hall states that Rachel Glazebrook and two other veterans will provide the backbone of the mound staff.  

“Rachel only pitched one game for us last year, so we’re looking for her to do a good job,” Hall said.  “Rachel had a lot of experience in high school, and then started out at Georgia Tech for a year.  I think she learned a lot there and definitely has an ease about her.  She doesn’t get uptight and has fun on the mound and brings that to our team as well.”

 “Kimberly Robertson is looking strong on the mound, and is really smooth at short right now.  Courtney Campbell and Laura Hopper also have extensive time on the mound.  We’ve got Sarah Armstrong coming in, a freshman from Atlanta, GA.  She can throw, play the field and is also a good hitter. Cassi Carpenter (Peachland, NC) is another freshman who will help us out on the mound. "

Emily Campbell returns behind the plate for the Crusaders, and she will be backed up by Amy Nagel, a transfer from Georgia Southern.   “We have several different people that can play first.  Sarah Griffith played a lot at first last year, and Tori Freedman, a freshman from Suwanee, GA, and Cassi Carpenter can play just about anywhere in the infield.”  Kansas Wofford returns at second, and Kimberly Robertson, Shelby Leasure, Cassi Carpenter, Courtney Campbell will all challenge for time at shortstop.

Karli Taylor is the incumbent at third base, and she’ll be challenged by Rachel Holeman, Kendra Epting, Tylar Stanfield.  The outfield will be up for grabs for NGU.  In left field, Campbell, Carpenter, Hillary Key and Kendra Epting will vie for playing time.  Incumbent Marielena Santos will be in center, and Sarah Armstrong, Cassi Carpenter, Hillary Key, Shelby Leasure will share time in right field.

“I don’t want anyone to feel that they have their position locked up,” Hall concluded.  “I want them to come out working every day because you never know who will play, especially if we have an injury or other circumstances.  We have to keep pushing because our competition will be much tougher this season, and if we don’t, we will struggle.”

The Crusaders open the 2012 season at a tournament in Dahlonega, GA Saturday, Feb. 11 against Bellarmine and North Georgia College and State University. The team’s first home game will be in Tigerville Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 1:00 p.m. vs. St. Andrew’s College.  NGU’s schedule is divided into two parts, with the middle part of the schedule including eight consecutive Conference Carolinas’ home series.  But, in the final portion of the year, they will go on the road to conclude the schedule.  The CC post-season tournament will be held April 19.

Coach Hall and the Crusaders hope to write several new chapters in the history book of North Greenville softball, and she is sincere in wanting to see ‘NCAA tournament participants’ inscribed after the year.