LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- The 2014 season was the first for the Covenant softball team competing in the USA South Athletic Conference and, as can be expected, there were some growing pains. The Lady Scots struggled to a 12th-place finish, however, the year did see Covenant improve its overall season win total of the previous year by five games and now they look to take the next step as they begin the 2015 season.
For the first time this season, live video will be available for select baseball and softball home games, weather permitting. The link can be found on the schedule page of each sport.
This year, head coach Sara Russell is excited to see what her team can do with the infusion of young talent from a strong recruiting class blending with an experienced group of returning players.
"I am thrilled about our team," said Russell, who will enter her seventh year as head coach. "We have a lot of great returning players, as well as a group of newcomers that I am excited about."
Among those returning is sophomore Jordan Brett, who led the Lady Scots in nearly every hitting category last year and was named to the USA South All-Conference second team as a freshman. "I expect great production again from Jordan this year," Russell said of Brett, who hit .416 (fifth-best in the USA South) with four home runs and 33 RBIs.
Joining Brett in the middle of the order is junior Morgan Lane, who also hit above .400 for the Lady Scots with three home runs and 30 RBIs in 2014. Lane was an All-USA South second team selection in 2014. Russell expects similar production from Lane this year after she had more than twice as many extra base hits last year (17) than she did in her freshman campaign (8).
Junior Madison Quirk is another returner who can handle the bat and roam center field. Quirk hit .328 with 11 doubles and 23 RBIs last season.
Overall, Covenant returns four of its top hitting leaders from last year in Brett, Lane, Quirk and junior Kendall Whann, who raised her batting average almost 90 points between her freshman and sophomore years.
Senior pitcher Cori Hilt is expected to have an impact for the Lady Scots, both in the circle and as a leader to the group of freshman in the recruiting class. Hilt started 20 games in the circle as a junior and threw 128.1 innings with 18 complete games.
The freshman class looks to give Russell depth in the pitching rotation and take some of the burden off Hilt and junior Hannah Rogers. Hilt and Rogers combined to throw all but two innings last year. Russell is looking forward to the extra options and utilizing each pitcher's strengths to exploit matchups that favor her team.
Gant, Epes, and Johnson are part of one of the biggest recruiting classes in Russell's tenure, with 11 freshmen on the roster, many of whom are expected to make an impact.
"We have a big recruiting class this year and every freshman on our roster brings something really cool to the table for us," Russell said.
Highlighting the class are two sets of twins: Joni Johnson and Jami Johnson (Forest Hill, Louisiana) and Shade Epes and Tyler Epes (Water Valley, Mississippi). All four players looked good in fall practices and Russell has high hopes for them this year.
Other freshmen looking to have an impact this year are first baseman/outfielder Jacey Massetto (Saugus, California), infielder Kasey Hart (Savannah, Georgia), catcher Shannon Schmitt (Clermont, Florida), first baseman/outfielder Tatum Watford (Orangeburg, South Carolina), infielder Amanda English (Orange Park, Florida) and infielder Kat Andrews (Ocala, Florida).
"These players will make my job filling out the lineup card every day very hard," said Russell. "We have so many good players who are pressing for playing time."
Looking at the big picture, the Lady Scots are picked to finish 11th in the USA South preseason poll, which is where they were picked to finish last season. But Russell thinks with her team's improved depth, a solid defense, and a strong batting order, that Covenant has a good chance of finishing closer to the middle of the pack in the USA South conference.
"We are looking to take a step up in our competitiveness this year," Russell added.
Covenant will open its season on Saturday, Feb. 14, when they host Berry for a doubleheader starting at 1 p.m.