LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- Coming off a rough 2013 season, the Covenant softball team and sixth year head coach Sara Russell are looking for an improved 2014 campaign. The Lady Scots open the regular season on Saturday with a doubleheader at Berry in Rome, Ga., beginning at 2 p.m.
This season will mark the first for the program in the USA South and as full members of NCAA Division III.
Covenant returns nine players from last season's squad. The team features three seniors, two juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen for Russell.
Covenant looks to have a solid batting order in 2014. The Lady Scots return leading hitter Morgan Lane. In her freshman season, Lane was a force at the dish as she compiled a .421 batting average with 18 runs batted in, 13 multi-hit games and one strikeout in 95 at-bats. Lane, a local product from Chattanooga and Girls Preparatory School, was named to the GSAC All-Conference and All-Freshman teams for her performance.
"Lane has a very strong bat," said Russell. "I'm looking to see more doubles and home runs out of her this year."
Another .300 hitter from 2013 also returns in senior Chandler Shepherd. A senior from Conyers, Ga., Shepherd missed just one game last season and batted .300 at the leadoff spot. Additionally, Shepherd showed her prowess on the base paths as she stole 24 bases in 25 attempts. The 24 steals was second most for a season in program history.
"She is a versatile player who has been improving from day one," remarked Russell. "She provides strong defense and speed on the bases."
Fellow senior Lauren Johns struggled a bit during her junior year last season, but has shown the ability to hit for a high average and power as she batted .314 with nine extra-base hits and 25 RBIs as a sophomore in 2012. Sophomore Madison Quirk put together a solid rookie season with a .302 average and showed off her defensive ability with six outfield assists.
Four newcomers hope to have an immediate impact for the Lady Scots this season. Headlining the recruiting class is Swainsboro, Ga., native Jordan Brett. Brett played a variety of positions in high school, including shortstop, third base and catcher, and has what Russell describes as a "cannon of an arm and a loaded bat." Her batting averages in both high school and travel ball hovered around the .600 mark.
Kaitlyn Sirmons, a product out of Havana, Fla., and Robert F. Munroe High School, adds another good all-around player for Russell with speed on the bases and the ability to play multiple positions. Other newcomers this season are Anna Verwey (Middleburg, Fla.) and Nicole White (Fayetteville, Ga.).
Returning to spearhead the pitching is junior Cori Hilt. The Ooltewah, Tenn., native had a difficult 2013 campaign, but still led the team in most pitching categories and was named GSAC Pitcher of the Week during the year. The highlight of the year was Hilt's five-inning no-hitter against Wesleyan on April 9. The no-no was the fifth in school history but the first time it was accomplished by one pitcher.
Two-sport standout Hannah Rogers looks to also see plenty of time in the pitching circle. Rogers, a sophomore from Sutton, Neb., and an outside hitter on the volleyball team, pitched five complete-games last year and went 8.1 innings at Agnes Scott in a 3-2 defeat.
The USA South will provide some stiffer competition, but the Lady Scots already have experience playing against the preseason favorite and 13th-ranked Piedmont along with solid programs in Huntingdon and LaGrange. Covenant was picked to finish 11th in the league's preseason poll.
"Entering into a strong conference and we will have to fight tooth and nail to be in the middle of the pack," said Russell.
A program milestone could also be reached this season. Covenant is just eight wins shy of 100 in program history, which dates back to 2008. The Lady Scots will also have a special day on March 29 at home against Wesleyan as the team raises awareness for Cystic Fibrosis. More details will follow.
Live Stats will be made available for most home games this season and can be accessed here. Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@CovenantScots) and Facebook (facebook.com/CovenantScots) for up-to-date scores and other information.