Jan. 29, 2014
This is part three of a five-part series previewing the 2014 Ole Miss softball season. Part three focuses on the Rebels’ infield. Part two looked at the Ole Miss pitching staff, while part one was on the Ole Miss coaches and schedule.
OXFORD, Miss. – Ole Miss brings back a lot of talent this season, but perhaps nowhere else on the field is that more apparent than in the infield.
After accumulating the fifth-best fielding percentage in the country last season, and the best in program history (.973), Ole Miss enters 2014 with high expectations placed on its defense, which it welcomes.
“We want our defense to be super strong,” Ole Miss head coach Windy Thees said. “We were ranked nationally last year in defense. This year we will be even better after we had freshmen in the middle of our infield last year. They’re now sophomores. They’ve seen it all and they’ve gotten better, improved their range, have better hands and they better understand positioning after one year of Division I. It was so nice this fall to practice without all new people. I love it all the way around the horn. I feel we have kids with some really superb hands and defensive skills. That is going to be needed and I’m excited to have that back.”
Ole Miss returns all five of its starting infielders from a year ago, including third baseman Allison Brown, a second team All-Region selection in 2013 – the fourth in program history. Brown, though not the most vocal player on the team, was voted by her teammates as one of three captains due to her leadership by example.
“I think she should have been first team all-region last year, and I know she was second team, but I expect her to be first team this year,” Thees said. “I think she’s going to have a breakout year. She’s such a committed kid to academics and athletics. She’s a joy to coach and someone every coach wants on her team.”
In addition to Brown at third base, Ole Miss also returns 2013 starters Marina Parra at catcher, first baseman Londen Ladner, second baseman Melina Preciado and shortstop Haley Culley, who was named the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week on March 4.
Sophomore Natalie Martinez and freshman Courtney Syrett will battle for time at catcher, while redshirt-freshman Alyssa Invergo will compete for the job at second base this season. Junior college transfer Jamie Morgan will provide depth at third base and will also compete for time in the outfield.
As the entire coaching staff enters year three at Ole Miss, the level of comfort is at an all-time high. After coaching a new team in year one, Ole Miss had many new faces in year two, especially in the infield where the Rebels started a freshman shortstop and a freshman second baseman for the majority of the season. Now, with a consistency level present in the program, Thees said the coaches and players know what to expect.
“We’ve played everybody in the conference now,” Thees said. “We know what every team has. Year three is a lot more comfortable and we can just focus on the game instead of necessarily learning a system and how we want things done. That part is kind of over and now we have to perfect it, work on it and improve on it, but we don’t have to learn everything from scratch.”
The Ole Miss infield also knows what to expect from each other, as everyone in the infield has played together for at least one season, and thus has a better understanding of each other’s tendencies.
“Every practice our kids get better and better and they see their teammates make better plays or range out,” Thees said. “The more you work together as an infield unit or as a center fielder with the middle infielders going out, it’s so huge for them to trust each other defensively – and even offensively knowing, ‘Hey, all the pressure is not on me. I have eight other people in this lineup who can get it done.’ It makes everybody a better hitter when you don’t feel like there’s only one or two hitters on your team. I feel that is where we are right now. We have a team full of exceptional players. They need to work hard and continue to improve, but there’s also that trust amongst each other that will help us this year.”
For all Ole Miss softball news and information, go to OleMissSports.com and follow the Rebels on Twitter at @OleMissSoftball and on Facebook at Ole Miss Softball.
Ole Miss Softball Promo 2014 from Ole Miss Rebels on Vimeo.