LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- After one of the best seasons in program history, an experienced squad returns for the Covenant softball team in 2018. The Lady Scots open the season this weekend with four games in Memphis, Tenn. Covenant plays Greenville and host Rhodes once each on both Friday and Saturday.
For head coach Christine Engbers, entering her second year at the helm of her alma mater, the team looks to build off last year's success. Covenant not only qualified for the USA South Tournament for the first time in program history, but also tied a program mark for wins in a year. Back from that team are seven position starters and the entire pitching staff.
Covenant was picked fourth in the USA South West Division in the league's annual preseason coaches' poll.
Depth and experience are apparent when analyzing the Covenant roster this year. In all, 17 players return from last year's team including seven position starters and the entire pitching staff. An outfield spot and third base are the only two positions on the field that were vacated with last year's senior class.
In the batting order, senior Shannon Schmitt and sophomore Casey Grover are the top two returning hitters. Schmitt, who became the program's first CoSIDA Academic All-District honoree last season, hit .367 a year ago and was second on the team with 44 hits. Grover had a phenomenal rookie campaign as she batted .375 with three homers and 26 RBIs.
Sophomore Madyson Gibbins, an All-USA South West Division selection last season, returns after batting .341 and leading the team in steals with 12. Fellow sophomore Erika Mast had 26 RBIs and hit .336 last year and junior Madalyn Ames was a tick under .300 (.299) and added four stolen bases. Senior Shade Epes completed her first year at shortstop last season and also hit .292 with a homer and 12 RBIs.
In the circle, Engbers utilized five pitchers throughout the year and all return in 2018. Junior Carsyn Stone was the ace of the staff as she compiled a 2.13 ERA in 105 innings and went 8-8 on the year. Senior Tyler Epes had a breakout junior year in which she tossed 52.2 innings and went 6-2 with a 3.99 ERA. Seniors Joni Johnson and Cris Gant both have loads of experience and threw frequently last year. Sophomore Sarah Huskey showed promise in her first year as she went 3-1 in 24 innings.
Seniors Jami Johnson and Kathryn Andrews also return as both played extensively last season. Other returners include sophomores Hannah Talley and Kirsten Aanensen along with juniors Carlin Labuzan and Megan Wardlaw.
The recruiting class netted 10 players for Engbers, including three transfers. Juniors Lizzie Benson and Aye Rios Lecaros along with sophomore Shelby Ralston bring in extended collegiate experience. The freshman class of Jada Allmon, Heather Long, Grace Turner, Faith Manning, Kelsey Westmoreland, Emma Giller, and Diana Muniz also looks to make an impact in their rookie seasons.
The schedule is a tough one for Covenant. The Lady Scots begin the year with a 14-game road trip, including doubleheaders at regional powers Berry and Birmingham Southern. The home opening twin-bill is set for Feb. 17 against Emory & Henry, a team that qualified for the NCAA Tournament a season ago.
Covenant will play 20 games from Feb. 2 through Feb. 24, culminating in a doubleheader at national power Emory.
USA South play heats up in March and the Lady Scots will host conference doubleheaders against Wesleyan (March 3), Maryville (March 16) and Agnes Scott (March 24). Covenant will also host Brevard (March 17), but the series will not count towards league standings as Brevard is a reclassifying member of NCAA Division III and the USA South.
The USA South Tournament will again be played over two weekends in April. The top six teams in each division qualify, while the top three divisional teams host a first round best-of-3 series on April 6-7. The winners advance to the double elimination portion of the tournament beginning on April 13 in LaGrange, Ga.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTS
Be sure to follow the Scots all season long on athletics.covenant.edu and on social media at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for up-to-date scores, news and other information. To receive text alerts with score updates or e-newsletters, click here