Written by Sean Dahlin and Matthew McKinney
BUENA VISTA, Va.—In preparation for entrance into the Capital Athletic Conference next year, the Southern Virginia University softball team is optimistic with eight returning scholar-athletes from last year's squad.
"This year we expect all of our upper classmen to provide solid leadership," said third-year Head Coach Duste Grawrock. "They've been working hard all off-season for the spring."
After acquiring 11 wins in the 2012 campaign, Grawrock looks for this year's squad to improve upon that number.
"We look to be a solid defensive team and want to be a threat offensively by making quality contact to advance and drive-in runners," said Grawrock.
According to Grawrock, the remaining five returners—senior Dinah Rogers (Huntington Beach, Calif.), junior Marva Warndahl (Woodland, Wash.) and sophomores Ayla Anderson (Phoenix, Ariz.), Annie Biggs (Gilbert, Ariz.) and Sarah Edwards (Phoenix, Ariz.)—will all serve as significant contributors as well.
"Pitching will be an important factor in determining our success," said Grawrock. "We look for McKenzy [Mackay] and Annie [Biggs] to carry the inning-load."
Senior right-hander Mackay, who struck out a team-high 101 batters in 105.2 innings pitched last year, will serve as Southern Virginia's number-one starter. She has recorded two career no-hitters as a Knight, including earning one in a 6-0 victory over Clark State Community College on March 23, 2012.
Additionally, Biggs will be inserted into the starting rotation full-time after making three starts last season with a 2-1 record while Harmon will log innings in relief.
"We expect our infield to be a strength of our team," said Grawrock. "We should have good range up the middle and hope to be stronger at the plate."
Captaining the middle infield is 2012 USCAA Honorable Mention All-American shortstop Rogers. Last year, Rogers led all starters in batting average (.393), on-base percentage (.449) and slugging percentage (.525).
Playing alongside Rogers at second base will be incoming freshman Cheyenne Hegsted (Rupert, Idaho).
"I'm excited for our middle infield," said Grawrock. "Dinah [Rogers] has a fluid fielding motion and Cheyenne has shown good athleticism and knowledge of the game."
At the corners are third-year starter Harmon and senior transfer Malia Falevai (Mesa, Ariz.) at third and first base respectively. In 2012, Harmon finished at the plate with a .241 average, two doubles and the team's second-most RBIs (10).
"Sara [Harmon] is one of the hardest workers on our team and provides consistency at third base," said Grawrock. "Malia showed a power bat during the fall that we hope can translate into the spring."
Also returning at catcher will be Edwards, who led the Knights last season in RBIs (20), walks (10) and doubles (5). According to Grawrock, Edwards has been stepping up as a vocal leader behind the dish.
Providing added depth will be utility fielder Anderson, freshman Katie Evans (Grays Lake, Idaho) and Mackay.
"Our outfield is athletic and quick," said Grawrock. "If we eliminate extra bases and hit our cut-offs, we'll have chances to win games in the later innings."
After two years behind the plate, co-captain Tome is making a transition back to the outfield where she played her first year at Southern Virginia. Warndahl—who stole four bases last season—and Biggs will join Tome on the green turf along with freshman newcomer Chance Hegsted (Rupert, Idaho).
"I feel Laura [Tome] gives us added experience moving her to the outfield," said Grawrock. "Chance [Hegsted] should be able to get to the balls in the gaps, and Marva [Warndahl] has an opportunity to step into a bigger role."
When not pitching, Biggs will spend her time in the outfield. In addition, junior Maura Cadiente (Clermont, Fla.) and freshmen Evans, Alina Grawrock (Aloha, Ore.) and Maggie Tafua (Tualatin, Oregon) will fight for time chasing down fly balls.
"We have a good mixture of home and away dates this year," said Grawrock. "We're also excited to face Wesley College, our first CAC-opponent."
The 2013 schedule has 30 games in which 16 of the contests will be played at the new softball field at The Fields in its inaugural season.
Southern Virginia will face NCAA Division III, NAIA and USCAA opponents, including a March 23 date at Capital Athletic Conference-affiliate Wesley College—the Knights' first CAC-opponent in program history.
Softball opens its season on the road on Friday, Feb. 15, at Virginia Intermont in a doubleheader with game one starting at 3 p.m. EST.