OXFORD, Ohio – While it has been one of the coldest and snowiest winters in recent memory in Oxford, it is still time for softball. Second-year head coach Clarisa Crowell has had the Miami University softball team hard at work practicing for the last month as it prepares to open the season this weekend at the Music City Classic in Nashville, Tenn. The tournament is being co-hosted by Belmont and Lipscomb. Due to the potential for bad weather, the previously released schedule has been changed. Miami will now play all its games at Lipscomb’s Draper Diamond. On Friday, the RedHawks will take on Detroit at noon (EST). On Saturday, Miami faces Coach Crowell’s alma mater Virginia Tech at 10 a.m. (EST) and host Lipscomb at 3 p.m. (EST). The RedHawks conclude the tournament on Sunday against Tennessee State at noon (EST).

Season Preview

A young and inexperienced team last season that was transitioning to a new coaching staff, Miami was 20-34 overall and finished second in the Mid-American Conference East Division at 12-10. Coach Crowell believes the lessons learned last season will pay dividends this year, as all 14 letterwinners return.

“I think the biggest difference going into this year is that they understand the standards and expectations of the program, said Crowell. We are much more experienced now, and I think the leadership on the team is a lot stronger. I am also very happy with the mentality of our team. They have worked extremely hard, and have been relentless in their pursuit of excellence on the field and in the weight room. They are hungry and are ready to compete!”

Joining the 14 returning players this season will be five newcomers. Last season’s team suffered from having a lack of depth, an issue Coach Crowell has fixed going into this year.

“Depth is important because if someone gets injured we have someone there to replace them. We have 19 players on our team, and I am confident that all 19 will get the job done when called on. I believe that depth is more so important because it creates competition amongst our players. Our kids know that they have to bring their very best every day in practice because they are competing for a spot. Competition makes them work harder and it pushes them to get better on a daily basis."

Pitching Staff

“The key this year is pitching, and anybody who knows anything about softball knows that it starts with what’s done in the circle,” said Crowell. “We have five pitchers on staff and they all bring something different to the table which is exciting. Our pitchers understand the importance of their role, and they 100% committed to turning things around this year.”

Returning for the ‘Hawks are senior Paige Myers (Grove City, Ohio), junior Megan Mattera (Lake Zurich, Ill.) and sophomore Jenna Modic (Poland, Ohio). They are joined by two newcomers in sophomore Amber Logemann (Earlham, Iowa), a transfer from Kirkwood Community College, and freshman Kelsey Fredericks (North Tustin, Calif.).

With such a large staff, Crowell will have several options in the circle depending on the matchup. Myers is the most experienced pitcher, coming in with 55 career appearances. Logemann comes in with impressive credentials, having been named a National Junior College Athletic Association First-Team All-American last season. Fredericks has had a lot of success in both club softball as well as at her high school in California. Modic returns after being named First-Team All-MAC as well as the MAC All-Freshman Team. She is a power threat who will bat in the middle of the lineup and see some time at first base when she is not pitching. Mattera, who has the most relief pitching experience on the team, will serve as the RedHawks’ closer in 2014.

Infield

“Coach Wagner has done an outstanding job with our infielders. With her leadership, and the experience we have on the infield, I expect the dirt to be an even stronger unit this year than last. We are fortunate to have great leadership from senior second baseman Kristy Arbour (Ann Arbor, Mich.) and junior shortstop Kylie McChesney (Puyallup, Wash.).”

Sophomore utility player Hailey Reed (New Palestine, Ind.) was a First-Team All-MAC and MAC All-Freshman Team selection after seeing time at third base, first base, shortstop and designated player last season.  She shares a common thread with the other RedHawks looking to earn playing time in the infield, as they all can play multiple positions. They include Modic, senior first baseman/catcher Allie Larrabee (Chicago, Ill.), junior third baseman Remy Edwards (St. Louis, Mo.) and two newcomers in redshirt freshman utility player Eryn McCarver (Tulsa, Okla.) and freshman utility player Jenna Jones (Greencastle, Ind.).

Catching

Returning for her fourth season as the RedHawks’ starting catcher is senior Kayla Ledbetter (Gahanna, Ohio). A First-Team All-MAC selection in 2013, she hit .336 with a team-leading seven home runs and 33 RBI. Most importantly for Crowell, however, is the leadership she brings from behind the plate.

“Kayla does a great job for us as our catcher,” said Crowell. “She knows the game, and understands it at a level that most players do not. She does a good job of handling each of our pitchers, and she is the quarterback of our defense.

“It is imperative to have depth at the catching position, and for that reason (junior outfielder) Shanyn McIntyre (Romeo, Mich.) and Allie Larrabee will also see time behind the plate. Shanyn and Allie have had a difficult task as they have had to split time between catching, and their normal defensive positions. They have both worked extremely hard, and I have been very pleased with their progress. I am confident in their abilities and know they will get the job done if necessary.”

Outfield

Making up the 2014 Miami RedHawk outfield this season is McIntyre, junior Tiyona Marshall (Columbus, Ohio), junior Bree Lipscomb (Middletown, Ohio), sophomore Taylor Shuey (Fishers, Ind.), senior Brandi Hernandez (Bartlett, Ill.) and sophomore Tanya Busby (Gahanna, Ohio), a transfer from Cedarville.

Shuey was an MAC All-Freshman Team selection last season and is expected to see significant playing time in 2014. Overall however, there has been a lot of competition for starting spots in the outfield, a trend Crowell sees as a good thing.

“Coach Lastrapes has done a tremendous job with our outfielders. I have been very pleased with their progress, and believe they will have a great year. They compete against one another on a daily basis and they are a much better unit because of it.”

Final Thoughts and Schedule

 “Our girls have been training hard for the past four weeks, and despite only being outside a few times because of the weather, I believe we are prepared and ready to compete. We have a great group of girls who play hard and play together, and I am looking forward to our journey together this season.”

The RedHawks will play in four early-season tournaments this year. In addition to the Music City Classic, Miami heads to Bowling Green, Ky. for the Holiday Inn Hilltopper Invitational (Feb. 21-24), Carbondale, Ill. for the Saluki Invitational (March 1-2) and Clearwater, Fla. for the Michelle Smith Spring Break Tournament (March 14-16). Miami's home opener comes March 8 when it hosts Austin Peay for a doubleheader starting at 3 p.m. Those are two of 18 home games the 'Hawks will have this season, including nonconference games against Wright State (doubleheader, March 20) and Northern Kentucky (doubleheader April 2) and MAC games against Toledo (doubleheader, Apr. 4), Bowling Green (Apr. 5-6), Ohio (doubleheader, April 18), Akron (April 19-20), Eastern Michigan (doubleheader (May 2) and Central Michigan (May 3-4). The MAC Tournament will take place May 7-10 at Firestone Stadium in Akron, Ohio.