HANCEVILLE, ALA. – Wallace State softball coach A.J. Daugherty believes this season's lineup has quality depth, power and speed.
It's a recipe that should make Wallace State strong contenders to defend its Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) championship.
Wallace State softball opened the 2018 season at Columbia State on Monday with a doubleheader sweep. The Lions blasted four homers, including two from freshman Hannah Ingram, an outfielder from Cordova.
"We've got some significant pop in our order, and I'm also excited that we've added a lot speed. I think we can put a lot of pressure on opposing defenses. We didn't have a lot of speed last year and had to play station-to-station and work on manufacturing runs," Daugherty said. "I think we are going to be significantly better off depth-wise all the way around the field this season. That's good because it pushes everyone to try to improve every day, knowing someone is right there behind you trying to earn a spot."
Wallace State softball finished with a 39-18 record during Daugherty's inaugural season in 2017, winning the program's third consecutive conference championship and 11th in 15 seasons.
Daugherty was amazed by the perseverance and tenacity of last season's group.
"Last year was one of the most gratifying seasons I've ever been a part of because we walked into a situation where this program has been successful for a long time, but little things had fallen off. We were successful because the team made the decision to buy into a new coaching staff, be good teammates and work hard on building team chemistry. I know it was a whirlwind for the players. I was glad they trusted us," Daugherty said. "I'm not sure we were the most talented team in the conference, but I do believe we just outworked others despite our lack of depth."
Wallace State has six sophomores returning this season, including most of its infield. Charlee West, a Prattville native, is back at first base/designated hitter after hitting .377 with 10 homers and 40 RBIs as a freshman and being named an All-ACCC 2nd-team selection.
Jodie Farnetti and Tanner Robertson each return to the fold. Farnetti, a West Blocton High grad, hit .286 last season and was an ACCC All-Tournament selection. Robertson, from Huntsville, had 21 RBIs and hit the walk-off homer to send Wallace State to its 11th NJCAA Division national tournament appearance.
Taylor Stalnaker is back after hitting .288 and collecting 29 RBIs, and Madison Grant returns to the mound after going 8-4 with a 3.63 ERA in 79 innings as a freshman.
UAH transfer Caroline Burns, a former Class 6A AWSA All-State player at Gardendale, rounds out the sophomore class.
"Five of the six sophomores are the only ones in the league who have won a conference championship. We are going to rely on them throughout the season to help us prepare to do it again," Daugherty said.
The roster is mainly littered with new faces, including former AWSA All-State high school players Megan Hill (Lawrence County), Sidney Edwards (Buckhorn), Keeli Bobbitt (Lamar County), Megan Schwieterman (Guntersville), Morgan Weatherwax (Danville), Alysia Anderson (Clements) and Ingram.
"The majority of our team is brand new and has never been through this grind before. We're going to rely on our sophomores to show them the way and have us peaking at the right time in late April," Daugherty said. "I do think our sophomore class will tell you we've really added a lot of quality depth and that this freshman class is an exciting one."
Joining Grant in the rotation are Schwieterman, Lauren Keplinger (Pinson Valley) and Mabry Norris (Walker).
Rounding out the freshman class are Kaley Anthony (Hoover HS), Katie Burden (Lawrence County), Becca Feazell (Southside), Taylor Goodpastor (West Morgan), Kaylnn Holcomb (Fairview) and Sydney McKissick (Wetumpka).
Sallie Beth Burch, a member of Wallace State's first national championship team in 2008, returns for her second year as the assistant coach.
Wallace State travels to Dothan this weekend to participate in the Chipola Tournament and will also compete in non-conference tournaments this season at Gulf Shores and Meridian, Miss.
Wallace State's first home game is Feb. 22 vs. Chattanooga State. The Lions' conference opener is March 15 vs. Calhoun.
"We know when we walk out on the field, teams are gunning for us because of the name on the front of our jerseys. That's the way we like it. We like that edge and the responsibility we have to prepare to get up for each teams' best shot," Daugherty said. "I believe the sky is the limit for this bunch. We have an incredibly difficult schedule, and I think that will help us get ready for March and April and defending our conference title."