BARBOURVILLE, Ky. - The Union College softball team is set to open its 2013 season Tuesday at home against Cumberlands (Ky.), and in the process will be kicking off a new chapter in the history of the program.
Interim head coach Becky Bishop will coach the first games of her head coaching career Tuesday afternoon at Union Field. The former Western Kentucky and Kentucky stand-out will look to lead a mix of experienced and youth to success throughout the 2013 campaign, as the Bulldogs hope to improve upon a 27-17 overall mark from a season ago.
"I'm extremely optimistic about our team, the girls couldn't be more excited," said Bishop. "The experience has been fantastic. We've been through alot this year as a team. We couldn't be in a better position right now mentally. We want to get on the field, and win some ball games."
The Lady Bulldogs infield will be anchored by two of the more established players on the entire team, who will both control the left side of the infield.
At shortstop is UC's lone returning All-AAC player in Ashley Wojnowski, who moves from second base, and will once again be UC's leadoff batter in the lineup.
Wojnowski had a great freshman campaign for the Lady Bulldogs in 2012, batting .374, while smacking an AAC-best seven triples. Wojnowski also went an impressive 20-of-24 in the stolen base department on the season, as well.
At third, Autumn Greenwell returns to the UC lineup after sitting out the entire 2012 season. In 2011, Greenwell started and played in every game on the year for Union, recording a team-leading .982 fielding percentage at third base and catcher.
At second, junior Alissa Hampton and freshman Hope Frisch will split playing time. Hampton has been used all over the field in her first two seasons at Union, but last season was primarily a pitcher out of the bullpen, only registering 13 at-bats as a pinch-hitter. Frisch enters the program all the way from San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
Two players will also share playing time at first base - at least early in the season. Sophomore Jamie Cyrus, who started 31 games at the position last season, and freshman Erin Cooper, an Alcoa, Tenn. product., will share duties at first through the non-conference portion of the Lady Bulldogs' schedule.
While some of UC's more experienced players will be anchoring the infield, there will be just as much inexperience in the Lady Bulldog outfield.
In left, sophomore Brianna Degennaro will start after only seeing time on the UC's junior varsity team a season ago. In center will be a freshman, Danielle Bourm, who joins the program from Kingston, Tenn. And in right will be a familiar face in junior Rachel Cogdill, a player with experience pitching and playing first base, but with none in the outfield.
Despite their inexperience, the group is very talented. Bishop expects the trio to contribute right away, both in the field and at the plate.
At catcher, sophomore Cameron Campbell looks to fill the shoes of departing senior Gina Loflin, who was last season's AAC Player of the Year. Campbell saw action in 20 games last season at either designated player or at catcher in relief of Loflin.
In the circle, junior Katie Perkins will be the ace of the staff, and the team's number one starter.
Like Campbell, Perkins will try to replace an important piece of last years team in Abby Sears, who was an All-AAC First Team selection at the position last season after posting a 14-6 record. Perkins was the UC's serviceable number two starter a season ago, and went 7-4 with a 3.81 ERA, striking out 53 batters on the season.
In the number two role will be Cogdill, who was primarily a relief pitcher last season out of the bullpen, and recorded two saves.
Freshman Gianna Schauer will be the third starter to start the season, but Bishop expects her to develop into the teams closer out of the bullpen by seasons end. Bishop also expects another freshman, Madison Wyngaert, to toss some innings out of the bullpen, as well.
The Lady Bulldogs will open the season with six games at home, starting with a doubleheader against Cumberlands Tuesday. After playing games against Grace (Ind.) and Berea (Ky.) this weekend, UC will face a stern challenge at No. 15 Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) on Feb. 26.
UC will open AAC play on Mar. 2 at home against Montreat. The Lady Bulldogs, who are picked to finish fifth in the preseason AAC poll, will host conference foes Virginia Intermont (Mar. 23), St. Andrews (N.C.) (Mar. 24), and Milligan (Tenn.) (Mar. 29) at Union Field in conference doubleheaders.
The season culminates with the 2013 AAC Tournament, to be held once again at Domtar Park in Kingsport, Tenn. from Apr. 22 through the 26.
To view Union's full 2013 schedule, click here (http://www.ucbulldogs.com/schedule/0/7.php).
Overall, Bishop is looking forward to finally getting on the field with her young team, as they try to fulfill their ultimate goal by seasons end.
"I'm nervous, but I'm excited at the same time," said Bishop "It is my first year, and I've worked with a lot of great coaches throughout the years, and I've extracted a ton of knowledge from them, and put it into our system here.
"The long term, and only goal right now for our team, is to get to the [AAC] Tournament Championship Game. Period, nothing more than that. It's going to be hard to accomplish, and it's going to be a long road. But, that's our number one goal."