SEASON PREVIEW: Softball Team Aiming To Make Noise In 2019

The team's lone returning All-ODAC honoree from 2018, Kelsi Martin led EMU in wins, ERA, appearances and innings. (photo by Scott Eyre)
The team's lone returning All-ODAC honoree from 2018, Kelsi Martin led EMU in wins, ERA, appearances and innings. (photo by Scott Eyre)

EMU's softball women are ready for the new season to start this weekend in South Carolina. Entering his 16th season, Coach J.D. McCurdy has very effectively changed the culture of the program at EMU, advancing to the ODAC Tournament in all but one of his seasons.

But after a solid 2018 campaign with a team entirely lacking in seniors, the Royals will be relying on more youth than expected because of injuries and attrition. How well the returners have progressed and step into leadership roles will be a huge factor in the trajectory of this season, as will how quickly the talented newcomers can settle into college ball.

Record in 2018: 21-19 (7-11 ODAC)
Coach: J.D. McCurdy (329-243-1 overall, 137-136-1 ODAC in 15 seasons) – McCurdy enters his 16th season as the longest tenured coach in program history, racking up 85 more wins than the other seven coaches combined (244 wins in 24 seasons). He led the Royals to their only NCAA Tournament appearance in 2010, and won ODAC Coach of the Year honors in 2007, 2010 and 2016.

Season opener in 2018:
- travel to North Myrtle Beach, S.C., Saturday, March 2, through Wednesday, March 6, for the Fastpitch Dreams Spring Classic. The Royals play 10 games over 5 days.

Other season highlights:
- home opener against Messiah on Saturday, March 9
- starting with the Messiah doubleheader, play 8 home games in 9 days
- host 20 of 26 games from March 9 to April 13
- host conference opponent No. 1 Virginia Wesleyan (2-time National Champions) in Rowdy Royals games on Tuesday, April 9
- celebrate Softball Alumni Day as well as Senior & Parent Recognition against Randolph on Saturday, April 13
- host local rival Bridgewater in Strike Out Cancer Games on Wednesday, April 3
- top 8 of the 12 ODAC teams make the conference tournament, which in April 26-28 in Salem, Va.

Interview

SID: How would you recap 2018 in a couple of sentences, and how does that play into your team for this fall?

JM: Last year's young squad matured as the season progressed and made a strong run into the ODAC Tournament semifinals, losing 4-2 to 2-time national champion Virginia Wesleyan.

SID: Despite not having any seniors last spring, this year's two senior All-ODAC players (Sydney Reath and Tiffani Shaheen) are injured and will likely miss the year.  How will you replace them?

JM: It will be difficult to replace them, but our younger players will step up to assume their roles.

SID: Overall, you lost about half of your regular players from last year.  With so many inexperienced players likely to play key roles this year, how do you get them settled into college ball quickly?

JM: (Starting with the Spring Break trip to Myrtle Beach), they will get plenty of opportunities to develop and mature.

SID: Kelsi Martin had a solid first year pitching, and is now the anchor of your pitching corps.  What do you expect from her this year, and who will step up around her in the circle?

JM: Kelsi Martin and Alia Miller are "gamers." They are confident and poised for the 2019 season.  Freshmen Emily Campbell, Katelin Martin and Skylar Hedgepeth will help the pitching staff as well this season.

SID: Who are your key returners and what roles do you expect them to play this year?

JM: Danielle Brenneman started as a freshman at SS, Beck Hoskins will hold down CF, and Casey Coleman and Cassidey Chrisman are fully recovered from season-ending injuries last year.  Alia Miller and Kelsi Martin will be big aspects on the offensive side of things, and Taylor Hensley, Dallas Crawford Brittany Viands are back and ready to lead this young team.

SID: Tell me a bit about your incoming recruiting class.  First an over-arching comment on the group as a whole, and then mention a few individuals and what roles they might play in their first year?

JM: This is a very talented freshman class that will help us compete for positions.  Emily Campbell will see time in the circle and outfield, Nicole Mongold will handle middle infield duties and provide a big stick in the lineup.  Sierra Lantz, McKenzie Reams and Emily Davis will also be big sticks for this lineup.

Skylar Hedgepeth, Alyssa Gonzales, Brandy Troutman, Rebecca Crothers, Katelin Martin and Korenn Paige are the freshmen that are going to help support this team.

SID: With Ferrum joining the ODAC and adding depth to the talent pool, what will it take for the Royals to get to the ODAC Tournament for the 14th straight time?

JM: Ferrum is a quality softball program from the USA South.  It will always be a challenge in our conference because anyone can beat anyone on a given day.  We will have to win some big games against teams in the top of our conference to secure a spot.

SID: What will the strengths of your team be this season?

JM: Stronger pitching, better offensively!! This team is much better athletically, and the players bond well together.

SID: Overall general feeling of what 2019 will be for your team?

JM: I feel we are a focused and talented group of young players that will shock some of our top competition.