BRIDGEWATER, Va. – Head Coach Donnie Fulk and the Bridgewater Eagles softball team are poised to make a run for the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) title after being tabbed third in the preseason poll.
Fulk returns quality depth at nearly every position, including a pair of pitchers who were exceptional during a 2012 season when the Eagles climbed to as high as 15th in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Poll and reached the championship round of the conference tournament.
The Eagles will be without the services of three-time All-Region selection Hillary Rees who graduated in May and was considered by many to be one of the top infielders in program history. Bridgewater also graduated pitcher Summer Ramsey, outfielder Ann Komara and first team all-conference catcher Sarah Heretick.
During the offseason, Fulk brought in a talented recruiting class of 11 players to fill in an already solid lineup.
Bridgewater returns both of its ace pitchers from a year ago, including first team All-Region selection Heather Jenkins.
Jenkins was stellar for the Eagles last season in the circle and in the field. The Locust Grove, Va. native rolled up a conference-leading seven shutouts during the regular season and earned key victories over Cortland State and Coast Guard during Bridgewater's Spring Break trip to Florida. Jenkins earned both wins in the ODAC tournament against Virginia Wesleyan and owned 17 wins during the season, which ranks second on the single season program register. Entering the season, Jenkins ranks in the career top 10 in a dozen pitching categories.
Aside from Jenkins, the Eagles also return senior Aven Thomas to the rotation. Last season, Thomas rolled up 11 wins in the circle including victories over York (Pa.), Lynchburg and the eventual conference champion Maroons of Roanoke College. Thomas hurled the Eagles to a victory over Lynchburg in the opening round of the ODAC tournament and owned a 2.41 ERA.
Fulk also brought in a pair of pitchers to help fill in the Eagles rotation as freshmen Brittany Flora and Brianna Cox join the fray. Sophomore Amanda Lutz will also return to the circle for the Eagles.
"Our pitching staff should be a true strong point for us again this season," said Fulk. "If our pitching staff remains as strong as it was last year, it will allow us to make a strong run."
The Eagles return veterans on the corners of the infield and also welcome back a pair of upperclassmen to the mix behind the dish and at second base but will be looking for a new option to play at shortstop this season.
Senior Melanie Lamb and junior Brea Hinegardner will patrol the corners of the infield for the Eagles this season for the second straight season. Lamb returns to the fray after earning second team All-ODAC honors a season ago. The junior scored a team-high 21 runs in league play and hit at a .375 average with 19 RBI against conference foes. During the course of the year, Lamb reached base safely in 23 consecutive games and turned in a 13-game hitting streak along the way. The all-conference honor for Lamb was the first of her career.
Hinegardner was stellar for the Eagles at first base taking the day-to-day defensive duties a season ago. The Woodstock, Va. native posted three multi-hit games and led the ODAC in putouts with 350 a season ago. Sophomore Ashley Runion will battle Hinegardner for time at first base after seeing limited action during her rookie season with the program.
Junior Kasey Anderson will be Bridgewater's primary option at second base after earning All-Region accolades a year ago. Anderson posted a stellar sophomore season from the number two hole in the lineup and led all of Division III in stolen bases with 41 during the regular season, setting a new single season Bridgewater record in the process.
Behind the plate, the Eagles will be keyed by veteran returner Leigh Lam and a number of freshmen. Last season, Lam platooned behind the plate with Heretick and saw action in 41 games. Freshman Berkeley Driskill will also figure into the mix behind the dish after a strong career at Matoaca High School in Chesterfield, Va. Driskill was a four-time All-District selection and also earned All-Region honors twice.
Sophomore Amanda Lutz will back up Anderson at second base and may also see playing time in Bridgewater's pitching staff and in the outfield.
As the Eagles look to replace an integral part of their middle infield, freshman Brittney Childress and fellow classmate Karie Burgess will be looked up to step into the role. Childress comes to Bridgewater from nearby Wilson Memorial High School after being named a two-time All-District selection and earning second team All-Region honors as a senior. Burgess joins the Bridgewater program after a solid career at Cosby High School in suburban Richmond.
"As our freshmen infielders gain experience and develop into college softball players, the infield should be one of our stronger units. "
Freshmen Kelsey Limbert could see action for the Eagles at third base as the season progresses. Limbert was an All-Ohio Honorable Mention choice in 2011 and was her district's player of the year at Brookville High School in Ohio.
Finally, Monck comes to the program after playing field hockey in the fall and could see time in a reserve role behind the plate.
The Eagles return a pair of seniors in the outfield but a number of freshmen come into the mix and could easily step into starting roles as the season progresses.
Senior Morgan Williams returns to the mix in centerfield after assuming the starting role a season ago. Last season, Williams was a third team All-ODAC selection after leading the Eagles in conference play with a .383 batting average. Freshman Brooke Throckmorton could challenge Williams for playing time in centerfield. Throckmorton was a three-time All-District choice and earned All-Region honors during her senior season at Hanover High School in Mechanicsville, Va.
Fellow senior Sarah Goodman also returns to the outfield after seeing an increased role for the Eagles last season. Goodman saw time in 30 games and scored 14 runs for the Eagles on the year.
Freshman Haley Lloyd could be looked upon to play in one of the corner outfield positions during the course of the 2013 season. Lloyd graduated Summa Cum Laude from Weddington High School in Mathews, N.C.
Fellow freshmen Brea Kehr and Elizabeth Keech could also see time in the outfield. Kehr transferred to Bridgewater this season from Dundalk Community College in Baltimore where she was the player of the year. Keech joins the mix after being an all-conference selection and team MVP as a junior and senior at Sun Valley High School in Indian Trail, N.C.
"We have a lot of depth in our outfield, but it's quality depth, so that should give us a lot of versatility with the lineups that we can use and the defensive alignments in the outfield," commented Fulk.
Fulk expect the typical players to be atop the ODAC during the 2013 season, including the defending champion Maroons. Last season, Bridgewater upended Virginia Wesleyan twice in the conference tournament, including a thrilling victory over the Marlins off of a Jenkins walk-off blast.
A season ago, Roanoke made it to the Round of 8 in the NCAA Tournament before being eliminated from contention for the title.
"The ODAC will be a strong league this season yet again, especially among the top 10 teams. A lot of teams will challenge for the title. I agree with the preseason poll and feel that Virginia Wesleyan and Roanoke will be two of the favorites in the league this year and they both will present a challenge," said Fulk.
The Eagles have another loaded schedule on the horizon for the upcoming year, including its annual Spring Break Trip to Florida to take part in the Rebel Spring Games. This season's spring break schedule will see the Eagles in a rematch with Coast Guard following a thrilling victory over the Bears last season. Mount Union and Illinois Wesleyan also highlight a busy eight-game schedule in the Sunshine State.
Bridgewater opens the 2013 season on February 23 when it travels to Atlanta for the 3N2 Invitational at Emory University. The Eagles will tangle with Mississippi College in the opener before battling perennial regional power Emory in the second game of the day. The three teams will play again on February 24.
The home opener for the Eagles will take place on March 3 as the College unveils new facility improvements for the program for a contest against McDaniel. Bridgewater's ODAC slate opens on March 21 at home against Roanoke.
"We have high expectations for our teams every year and this year is no different. We will be aiming to make the NCAA tournament as a team and hope to win the league title," said Fulk.