OXFORD, Ohio - It's a new era for Miami softball as Clarisa Crowell begins her first season in charge of the RedHawks. Crowell comes to the RedHawks after spending the past six seasons as an assistant and pitching coach at Oklahoma State. Anticipation is building as Miami opens the 2013 season this weekend at the Georgia Tech Classic in Atlanta. The 'Hawks will start the event against Indiana on Friday at 10:30 a.m., followed by a game against the host and 24th-ranked Yellow Jackets at 5:30 p.m. On Saturday, the Red and White will have a rematch against Georgia Tech at 3:30 p.m. and then face Marshall at 5:30 p.m. Miami will conclude the tournament on Sunday with another game against the Thundering Herd at 11 a.m.
Transitioning to a new coach is never easy, but the defending MAC East Division and Tournament Champion Miami RedHawks have been up to the challenge. There have been some bumps in the road as the hard winter has made it difficult to practice outside much, but overall Crowell has been happy with the progress made.
"It has been challenging, but fun as well. The biggest challenge that we have faced this preseason has been dealing with the cold winter. We have had very few practices outside which makes it difficult to prepare for competition. Practicing indoors is not ideal, but I believe my team has had a great attitude about it, and they have dealt with the circumstances well. They have worked hard and their attitude and energy have been great!"
Miami returns 12 letterwinners from last year's squad, including seven position starters. The RedHawks will have a lot of experience in their infield, with a mixture of experience and new faces in the outfield and in the pitching staff.
"The spring continues to be a learning experience for the team, my staff and myself," said Crowell. "This is the first year that we have all been together, and naturally there is still a learning curve. My players are continuing to adjust to the way I run practices, my philosophies and systems, but overall I believe it is going well."
The RedHawks have to replace two-time MAC Pitcher of the Year Jessica Simpson this season, but Crowell has a strong belief in the new ace, junior Paige Myers (Grove City, Ohio). Last season, she was 8-2 overall with a 2.36 ERA in 24 appearances (19 starts).
"Paige has some big shoes to fill this year, but I am confident in her abilities to lead this team. She has done a great job of mentally and physically preparing herself for the season. She has pitched well in our team scrimmages, and she is throwing with a lot of confidence right now."
Joining Myers in the circle will be sophomore Megan Mattera (Lake Zurich, Ill.) and freshman Jenna Modic (Poland, Ohio). Mattera spent most of last season as a designated player and did not pitch, but Crowell has been happy with the progress both her and Modic have made this spring and believes both will be able to compliment Myers.
"My pitchers come out every day and work hard," said Crowell. "They are eager to learn and are always finding ways to get better.
"Overall we are an inexperienced staff, but the upside to that no one knows what to expect from us. We work well together and we are excited to go out and make our mark."
Coach Crowell sees the catcher as the anchor of the Miami defense. Not only does she have to make sure everyone on the field is on the same page, but she also has to handle the pitching staff.
Returning as starting catcher is junior Kayla Ledbetter (Gahanna, Ohio). A Second-Team All-MAC selection last season, Ledbetter is a strong defensive player. Opponents only attempted 24 steals in 48 games against her all of last season. She threw out seven runners and picked off another three. Ledbetter also is an offensive threat, hitting .276 with four home runs and 25 RBIs in 2012.
"Kayla does a great job behind the plate and is a strong vocal leader," said Crowell. She works well with our pitching staff, and she is the quarterback of our defense."
While they will primarily see most of their playing time in the infield, sophomores Shanyn McIntyre (Romeo, Mich.) and Remy Edwards (St. Louis, Mo.) could see time behind the plate backing up Ledbetter.
"I believe that there is great cohesiveness and chemistry between our pitchers and catchers," said Crowell. "I am excited to see what they can do."
The Miami infield consists of returning players in junior Kristy Arbour (Ann Arbor, Mich.), junior Allie Larrabee (Chicago, Ill.), sophomore Kylie McChesney (Puyallup, Wash.), McIntyre and Edwards. Freshman Hailey Reed (New Palestine, Ind.) will also be joining the infield mix and will be in competition for some playing time.
"I am very excited to have an experienced infield coming back," said Crowell." Despite the fact that there will be a few new faces, that experience will be a tremendous asset for our defense. Our infielders work well together and they continue to get better every day."
Arbour returns to the second base position, while Larrabee is the starting first baseman. McChesney will continue to see time at shortstop, while McIntyre moves to third base this season after earning Second-Team All-MAC honors as a left fielder in 2012. Edwards and Reed will provide a lot of competition for the returners as each can play multiple positions throughout the infield.
"Remy can play second, third and catcher, while Hailey has shared time between second base, third base and shortstop," said Crowell. "So in addition to the experience, we have a lot of versatility in the infield."
The outfield is not quite as experienced as the infield, but there is still a lot of potential. Juniors Kirstie Fehrenbach (Powell, Ohio) and Brandi Hernandez (Bartlett, Ill.) and sophomores Tiyona Marshall (Columbus, Ohio) and Bree Lipscomb (Middletown, Ohio) return. They are joined by freshman Taylor Shuey (Fishers, Ind.).
Fehrenbach is the only player who was a regular starter in 2012, and she will continue to compete for playing time. The other four have also engaged in a healthy battle for a role in the outfield, with Coach Crowell seeing some breakout potential in each of them.
"I am confident in the abilities of all of our outfielders, and I believe that each one of them will see playing time at one point or another," said Crowell.
Crowell sees a lot of different options in her lineup. While the team's only senior, Shannon Tillett (San Diego, Calif.), will miss her final season with an injury and Myers does not bat, the team's other 14 players will combine to create a very balanced batting order. That includes both of her other pitchers as Mattera and Modic are each capable of hitting for themselves and each has home run potential. Both of them could see time as the designated player when they are not in the circle.
"I feel good about the lineup we will be putting together," said Crowell. "We will have speed at the top of the order, and the middle of the lineup will consist of players that I believe will drive in runs for us. Players such as Kristy Arbour, Shanyn McIntyre, Kayla Ledbetter and Allie Larrabee are starters from last year's team that I expect to play key roles in this year's lineup. I also believe that our freshman will contribute in a big way for us."
The RedHawks will play in four early-season tournaments this year. In addition to the Georgia Tech Classic, Miami heads to Chattanooga for the Frost Classic (Feb. 22-24), Louisville for the Red and Black Tournament (March 8-10) and Santee, Calif. for the San Diego Classic (March 13-16). Miami's home opener comes March 26 when it hosts Morehead State for a doubleheader starting at 2 p.m. Those are two of 12 home games the 'Hawks will have this season, including MAC games against Western Michigan (doubleheader, Apr. 5), Northern Illinois (Apr. 6-7), Kent State (doubleheader, May 3) and Buffalo (May 4-5). The MAC Tournament will take place May 8-11 at Firestone Stadium in Akron, Ohio.
Home games will once again be live streamed this season via Miami All-Access for those who have a subscription. For more information click here.