You have quite a few seniors coming back this season. What does that mean for your program?
"I've very excited about this new year because we have a strong upper class coming back. In my experience, when you have a strong upper class of juniors and seniors, your team seems to play a little bit better and matures a little bit quicker. They know how to be an extension of the coaching staff. I'm looking forward to that.
"We are going to have seven seniors with five of them having a lot of playing time. They will once again be key players this year."
What do you expect from the seniors this season?
"It will be year three for me. And the seniors were already onboard. They are really committed to our coaching philosophy and our style."
How about giving a little information about each senior.
"We have Sam Lenahan who catches and plays third base. Last year, she led off for us. And she was either third or fifth in the nation in walks. We are looking for that same, steady Sam. She is willing to take the walk or try to get the RBI. We need her same discipline approach at the plate. Hopefully she can even reduce her strikeouts and maybe increase her walks. We are looking for strong stability from her.
"We'll also have Heidi Shape at second base. This will be her third year to play second base. She is someone that you can count on because she is reliable. She hit over .300 for the first time this past year. She plays solid defense. She is kind of like the captain of the infield, the person who makes sure everybody is where they need to be. We are looking for her to teach some of the incoming infielders some of those things.
"We also have senior Logan Foulks at third and catcher. She and Sam will trade time at those positions. Last year, she stepped into the 3 or 4 hole position offensively. She is a hardnose kid who brings it everyday. She loves softball and brings that passion everyday. We'll need to have that spark from her because if she's flat the team is flat. She has to bring her spark everyday. It's kind of who she is.
"Jessica Offutt will be back in the outfield, although I'm not sure if she will be back in center field or left field. We moved her to left because we were getting a lot of fly balls last year. We thought she would be able to help us more in left than in center. One thing she has improved on are her mental skills. She's always had the physical skills. Her mental game was paralyzing her because she was always trying to be perfect. She has really worked on her mental game. She's now trying to be excellent instead of trying to be perfect. Being excellent will allow perfect to come from time to time. You want her in your lineup in your outfield and stealing bases. She's also a 4.0 student. Right now, she is working for Boeing doing an internship in Huntsville, Alabama.
"Allison Owen, a pitcher, is going to be great for us. I don't think people realize how good she is. Outside of the conference, her ERA was 0.74. Inside of the conference it was a little over 2. And our conference is awesome. She really had a great year. She beat some top-10 teams at their place. I look for her to be even better in the conference because she is working on some things this summer, and we have a great gameplan for her this fall. I look for her to have a really strong senior campaign."
Those are some of your seniors. What about a few of your underclassmen who were freshmen last season? Which ones do you feel will show a lot of improvement?
"Loryn NIchols was a surprise last year. She will be a sophomore this season. She is super, super fast. She worked her way into a starting position last year. It was really fun watching her come into her own. Some kids, who play against competition that is better than them, they keep rising to the competition. That is what Loryn did. She got better with each opponent. She is an awesome outfielder. Every year you get one or two chances to make a play at the plate. This year, we were playing away with 4,000 fans screaming against us and she had a play at the plate and rifled it to the dish for the third out. It was the game-saving play. We got the opportunity to bat again.
"Another sophomore is Kayla Winkfield who is a shortstop. Her playing time will increase dramatically this year. I just sent out a mass email to the players asking them what they were doing for Mississippi State softball. We'll always told her that we want to eat breakfast off her back when she is fielding a ground ball. She replied that we could have three square meals on her back while she is fielding a ball. She is a talented athlete with a great arm and speed. She has incredible range."
You also have an incoming class. Talk about the players in that class.
"I have coming in a hitter who also pitches, Mackenzie Toler. She is a lefty from Georgia. We are very excited about her. Her power is as good as I have seen from anybody in college softball. She can hit it. She will probably play a little first base, pitch a little and hit in every game as a DH when she's not playing first base or pitching. I'm really looking forward to seeing her in the bullpen but more importantly I'm looking forward to seeing her in the lineup.
"We also have Caroline Seitz, who is from Oak Mountain High School in Birmingham, Alabama. Caroline is a middle infielder who played shortstop for her summer team and her high school team. Every single game that I have seen her play in she has hit either one or two home runs in the game. She has a couple of holes that we need to work on but she is talented and loves to win. You have to have people on your team like her, people who want to get it done. And she is one of those type kids.
"We have Jackson's own Katie Anne Bailey. She played at Madison Central High School. She is a five-tool player who can hit for power, hit for average, can run, has an arm, can play outfield or catcher, really anywhere besides pitcher. She is a multi-talented athlete. She played on a quality team this summer, the Thunderbolts out of Birmingham, Alabama. Playing for that team she is facing pitching that she will be facing next year in college. That is preparing her for the SEC. She is also a great kid. Everybody you run into that knows her says they love her.
"We also have another Mississippi kid who is from South Panola, Amanda Ivy. We are really to have her with us. She is a Bulldog through and through. She played the corner infield positions, plays a little outfield and can also catch. She was playing in an all-star game in Colorado in July, in a big tournament that everybody goes to to recruit. It was a televised game. One of the television commentators was Michelle Smith. Amanda went flying through the outfield wall and caught a fly ball. Michelle Smith said a lot of great things about her and Mississippi State,
"We also have a kid coming from Waxhaw, North Carolina whose name is Madison Arroyo. We call her Yo Yo. She is a middle infielder. She plays for the North Carolina Lady Lightning Gold team. They play a great schedule against the best teams out there. When she plays those kind of teams she is playing against pitchers that she will face in college. That will provide so much experience for her.
"I also have Alexis Silkwood coming in. She is a lefty pitcher who is 5-foot-1. She is a Bulldog, a fighter who wants the ball. And she will work. There is no kid out there who will work harder than her. I am super fired up to have her on our team because I think she will help spread that will where you can't get me down."
What are your plans for this fall?
"We will actually be playing three home dates this fall, something that we haven't done in the past. It will be fun to see if we can get a bunch of fans out and excited about softball early. We are also going to play at Ridgeland High School. We are playing several Mississippi junior college teams. We will be playing Itawamba Community College here and East Mississippi Community College at Ridgeland High School. At Ridgeland we are going to do a free clinic for kids after the game. We will also be playing Shorter College, who won the NAIA national championship last year. They are moving up to D-II. We are also going to play Wallace-Hanceville.
"We are also going to have a game on Halloween. I'm really excited about it. One of the things that we always talk about is getting comfortable being uncomfortable and act differently than you feel. We are going to have an intersquad scrimmage and dress in costumes. The players are going to play a game in costumes. We are going to have a best fan's costumes contest. We are also going to have some kind of trick or treat for the kids."
I talked to MSU AD Scott Stricklin and MSU President Mark Keenum about facilities during my Bully BarkLine radio show late last spring. One of the facilities that was high on the list was the softball stadium. Talk a little about what the new stadium will be like.
"The stadium renovation plans are gorgeous. We have hired an architect firm out of Jackson who are Mississippi State graduates, Wier and Boerner. They have done an incredible job with the design. What I like the most about the design is that it connects the softball facility with the tennis facility. It's really fan-friendly where the fans can walk back and forth between the two facilities and walk both sports. It also has a grand entrance that has a ticket booth. That's something new, we will be charging a small admission once we get the facility built. That will prepare us to host SEC and NCAA events. Those events require you to charge. We definitely want to get to where we are hosting post-season events. It will also have chairback seating. The grandstand will be extended down to the end of the dugouts. There will be a VIP suite in the indoor hitting facility with walkways outside where they can cook out. There will be a nice new pressbox. The good thing about the pressbox is ESPN will be able to put their camera on top of the pressbox and get a great view on national television. It will have a brick facade similar to the brick facade at the football stadium. I can't wait to get the shovel in the ground and get it underway."
I'm sure Mississippi State is still accepting donations to help build the new facility. Who do they need to contact if they want to help build the facility?
"They can contact the Bulldog Club, or contact me or contact Scott Stricklin. We need to raise the funds before we are able to get the shovel in the ground. As soon as we can do that, then we are off to a great start. Mississippi State fans have been great to us during my two years here at Mississippi State."
Below is a rendering of the planned softball/tennis facility at Mississippi State.
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.