WESSON –The 2009 Copiah-Lincoln Community College Lady Wolves have some big shoes to fill as they follow the footsteps of last year’s 35-12 squad, which finished as NJCAA National Runners-Up in arguably the best season in school history.
Key players lost to graduation were NJCAA First Team All-American pitcher Becca Bailey, NJCAA All-Region selections shortstop Ashley Sykes, outfielder Emily Langley, second baseman/pitcher Kayla Crochet and MACJC All-State third baseman Meleah Brown.
“This is the largest roster (16) we have had since I’ve been here,” said Competition for playing time should be fierce, “ said Lady Wolves head coach Allen Kent. “With nine returning sophomores, we hope some of them step up and really show some positive leadership.”
The Lady Wolves will count on returning a solid group of sophomores that include pitcher Rebecca Rousseau of Greenwood, LA (.341/4-2 record), Devon Welch (.297), Chelsey Miller (.286) and Candace Avants (.237) return as contenders for outfield positions. Also providing experience in the infield and outfield are Brittany Watts of Magee and Alex Foster of Natchez.
The catching position will continue to be strong as sophomores Becca Boone of Hazlehurst and Missy Paulina from La Place, LA, both return. They were very effective last season in keeping stolen bases to a minimum. Boone hit .258, while Paulina batted .250. Incoming freshmen Holli Smith and Katie Stewart, both of Brookhaven, look to provide backup.
“With Rousseau projected to be one of our key pitchers, last year’s whole starting infield will need to be replaced,” said Kent. “Rebecca did a great job at first last year. She is also a very good pitcher, we just had two sophomores really step up and do a fantastic job for us. We feel confident with her in the circle and look for continued good things from her this season.” Rousseau had 49 strikeouts in 45 innings pitched last year, with a 3.53 ERA.
Complimenting Rousseau in the circle will be freshmen Terri Hodges of Brookhaven and freshman Melissa McFarland of Eddiceton. Sophomore Ashley Jones of Monticello returns with experience and should see plenty of innings as well.
Kent is counting on an outstanding freshmen class to make an immediate impact. Freshmen include infielders Daniele Wilson of Archbishop Chapelle, LA. and Holli Smith of Brookhaven, outfielder Monea Cameron of Meadville and utility player Dee Dee Walker of Jayess. Boone and Paulina will also be thrown into the mix, when they are not catching.
“Hopefully we can continue to be aggressive on the basepaths, as we will not be a power hitting team,” said Kent. “Our returning sophomores have no homeruns and only 17 doubles between them. We do return with 40 stolen bases, from last year’s school record 75 steals. Candace Avants had a team- high 17 steals in 18 attempts. Small ball with continue to be our theme as we will have to manufacture runs.”
According to Kent, the South Division will be even tougher this year, as the Central Division split into the North and South. Annual contenders Hinds and East Central move down to the already brutal South Division. Mississippi Gulf Coast, Pearl River and Jones are always in the thick of the South Division race, while Southwest is much- improved.
“The South Division is an absolute murderer’s row,” said Kent. “There are no pushovers anymore. You’d better bring your A-game each time. We’ve been blessed in the past with some success, but it keeps getting tougher each year. I tell our girls every year that previous accomplishments do not win ball games.”
Kent is in his seventh year at the helm of the Lady Wolves. He has compiled a record of 177-56. Under his leadership, the Lady Wolves have won two MACJC State Championships, two NJCAA Region 23 Championships and finished third (2006) and runners-up (2008) in the NJCAA National Tournament. He is assisted by 15-year veteran Johnny Williams and second-year coach Duane Burt.
The Lady Wolves open their season on Thursday, Feb. 5 at home against the Holmes Community College Lady Bulldogs. The doubleheader will begin at 1 p.m.