Oct. 22, 2013
OXFORD, Miss. - After playing eight fall scrimmages, including three against division I opponents, the Ole Miss softball team now turns its attention to individual workouts and the winter break.
It was a successful fall season for the Rebels, as every player on the team got experience and a lot of at-bats, continued to grow and improve while posting a winning record against division I foes UAB, Memphis and Middle Tennessee State.
"We had some good competition and we had some struggles in there, but we had some senior leadership, some freshmen coming through and some of our sophomores, who maybe didn't have a lot of opportunities early on, stepping up late at the end," Ole Miss softball head coach Windy Thees said. "I like what we did. Obviously, for me, I still see perfection as where we're supposed to get, so there's a lot of work to be done, but I like how we progressed from week to week."
Unlike previous years, the Rebels faced division I teams this fall in UAB, Memphis and MTSU, and also hosted a doubleheader against last season's junior college national champion, Wallace State. The result of playing against competitive teams like that was very beneficial from an experience standpoint, Thees said.
"It was great for us this fall because it gave us a more realistic view of where we are, what we can do, what we can't do - we can't take teams lightly," said Thees, who is entering her third season in Oxford.
Ole Miss welcomes in three freshmen for the 2014 season, including Emily Boyd, Miranda Strother and Courtney Syrett, and a junior college transfer in Jamie Morgan. Also playing for the first time this season will be a pair of redshirt freshmen in Emily Gaitan and Alyssa Invergo. Gaitan redshirted after enrolling a semester early, and Invergo missed the 2013 campaign while recovering from an injury.
"They need more at bats at this level, but we've got some hitters in there," said Thees of the newcomers. "With (Miranda) Strother and (Courtney) Syrett, (Alyssa) Invergo getting to play some finally, I like what I see offensively from them.
"Defensively, everything in college is faster so they need to play faster. One thing I was really proud of was how good Courtney Syrett was as a catcher, and how well she handled our staff. That's a staff she doesn't even know and has only caught for three weeks and she was back there blocking balls and catching pitchers who have a ton more movement than anything she's used to seeing. That's probably the toughest position in the fall to get used to, and over the fall I've seen her continue to get better and better, which is really exciting.
"Emily Gaitan has really dirty stuff. Emily Boyd has powerful stuff. For them it's a matter of settling in, building confidence and getting more and more innings."
In addition to Gaitan and Boyd in the circle, Thees also saw strong play from seniors Shelby Jo Fenter and Carly Hummel and sophomore Madi Osias. Combined, the three pitchers threw 78 percent of the Rebels' innings last season and figure to play another large role in 2014.
"Shelby Jo made some huge strides in realizing her movement is really good until she tries to overpower it," Thees said. "She's found her zone and her point of maximum return and realized when she hits it she's getting swings and misses and strikeouts and not having to throw 30 pitches per batter.
"For Carly, it was her first fall in a couple years. She sat out all last fall and it was her first time pitching, really, since her hand surgery. She's got dirty stuff and she's a competitor. For her, it's just a matter of keeping it going and staying healthy.
"Madi had a tremendous fall. It was the best pitching I've seen her have since putting a uniform on. She had just spot-on control, all of her pitches working and she was really fun to watch out there on the mound."
One season after posting the third best fielding percentage in the country (.979), the Rebels return their entire starting infield. Thees said her pitchers will throw more drop balls this season and that will give the infield even more opportunities to make a stamp on the game.
With fall games now over, Thees, associate head coach Mike Perniciaro and assistant coach Julie Meyer will work with the team doing individual workouts until the Thanksgiving holiday. The coaches then cannot do anything with the team until Jan. 11 when spring practice begins.
"Our team is stronger, more fit and has an awesome focus," Thees said. "I like where we're going. The biggest thing for them to remember is that as we strive for these things, that it's a fun game and that it is a game. We can't ever forget that it's a game. If they remember that, they'll play even better. It's when they make it even more than it is that it can stress you out and your performance can drop. They have to keep that perspective and bring that joy to the field every day. The goofiness of it all, the fun of it all, win or lose they can have focus and go after it, but you have to remember the big picture. This is a good group."
Ole Miss opens the 2014 season Feb. 7-9 in Fort Myers, Fla. There, the Rebels will face tournament-host Florida Gulf Coast, Georgetown, Liberty and Western Kentucky.
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.