Softball Preview

Jessica Imbimbo, Assistant Editor

The Francis Marion University (FMU) women’s softball team will begin their 2014 season at home on Feb. 4 with high expectations for this coming year.

      Last year, the lady Patriots finished their season 25-26 overall and 9-13 in Peach Belt Conference (PBC) play.  The team also graduated two key players: catcher Olivia Ferguson and third baseman Tristan Faile. 

      Head coach Stacey Vallee said she believes that even though it has lost two solid players, the team will remain strong.

      “The team is a hardworking team that wants to win and better themselves every day,” Vallee said.  “Opposing teams could view us as weak going off our performance from last year, but the coaches know we are always one to reckon with.”

      In her tenth year at FMU, Vallee has added eight players to the roster whom will start or push for starting positions.  Of the returners, both senior infielder Kristie Hanewinckel and senior pitcher Taylor Luff will play key roles in the team’s overall success this year.

      Hanewinkel led NCAA Division II last season in sacrifice bunts per game.  Luff earned both All-Region and All-Conference honors last year, while also posting a school-record 251 strikeouts.

      Vallee referred to Luff as “one of the best pitchers in the conference” and said she knows that opposing teams recognize her as such. 

      “We excel in the pitching arena,” Vallee said.  “We have two very good starting pitchers.  They work well together and push themselves very hard.”

      Those filling the positions of last year’s graduated seniors include junior third baseman Shelby Mathews, a junior college transfer from the College of Central Florida, and two catchers: freshman Danielle Myers and sophomore Taylor Barrineau.

      This year’s roster consists of four seniors, three juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen.  Vallee said she hopes that the team will be successful enough to make the regional tournament.

      “Making it to regionals is a big goal of ours and to be placed well in the conference,” Vallee said. “I think we must see all teams – conference or not – as a rival and as they are important in determining whether or not we will go to regionals.”

      In the PBC preseason coaches’ poll, FMU has been picked to finish sixth in the fight for the PBC title. 

      FMU opens their 52-game season with a doubleheader against Belmont Abbey at home on Feb. 4.  The first pitch is set for 3 p.m.  FMU will also serve as the host for the PBC tournament in April.