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Lady Flames to Open Richardson Era at FGCU Invitational
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The Dot Richardson Era of Liberty Softball opens on Friday, as the Lady Flames begin 2014 by competing against Western Kentucky at the FGCU/Four Points by Sheraton Invitational in Fort Myers, Fla. Richardson, a two-time Olympic Gold medalist and legend in the sport, leads a veteran team that includes a pair of NFCA All-Region selections from a year ago, in speedy outfielder Katie Zavodny and slugging infielder Sammi Shivock.
The Lady Flames went 20-37 last season, including 8-16 in conference play. Liberty returns a majority of its starters from 2013, including five out of its top six hitters, according to batting average.
While in Fort Myers, the Lady Flames will face 2013 NCAA Regional finalist and Sun Belt regular-season champion Western Kentucky, along with BIG EAST opponent Georgetown on Friday. On Saturday, Liberty meets Ole Miss of the SEC and the host FGCU Eagles of the Atlantic Sun.
Liberty is 0-2 all-time against Western Kentucky, and is 3-1 versus Georgetown.
How to Follow the Lady Flames
Fans can follow all of Liberty's games this weekend through StatBroadcast, provided by the Florida Gulf Coast Athletics Communication Office. Live stats can be accessed through the Live Stats link on LibertyFlames.com.
Two-time Olympic Gold medalist Dot Richardson was named the fifth head coach in the history of the Lady Flames' softball program on July 19, 2013. Richardson helped Team USA win two Olympic Gold medals, along with Gold at five Pan American Games and four World Championships. Among her many honors, Richardson was named the 1980's NCAA Player of the Decade. She is enshrined in the A.S.A Hall of Fame and UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame.
Richardson takes over for Paul Wetmore, who led the Lady Flames to 547 victories and two Big South tournament championships (2002, 2011) over a 20-season coaching career. Wetmore was the first Liberty softball head coach at the Division I level since the program was reinstated in 1994.
Liberty is 12-15-1 all-time in softball season openers, including a 10-9-1 mark in the NCAA Division I era (since 1994).
This will be the first time in program history that the Lady Flames will open a season in Florida. Also, Feb. 7 marks Liberty's second earliest softball opener, as the team opened the 2009 campaign on Feb. 6 in Palm Springs, Calif.
The Lady Flames have gone 0-5-1 in their last six season openers, with their last season-opening win coming Feb. 17, 2007, a 5-3 victory over Appalahian State.
And the Award Goes To ...
Last season, Katie Zavodny was named to the NFCA All-Mid-Atlantic Region first team, while Sammi Shivock earned second team all-region honors. It marked the second time in the last three years in which two Lady Flames were named to the NFCA All-Region team, as Ashley Bensinger and Kelly Strickland both drew second team mention in 2011.
Zavodny led the team with a .384 batting average and tied for second place in the nation with a program single-season record 41 stolen bases.
Shivock batted .328 and recorded a team-leading 13 doubles, 43 RBIs and .537 slugging percentage.
The Lady Flames have hit 40 or more home runs in each of the last four seasons, including 52 in 2010, 61 in 2011, 44 in 2012 and 43 last season.
Kelby Allen paced Liberty with a career-high 10 homers in 2013, while Amber Donovan and Sammi Shivock hit eight homers apiece and Hanna Nichols added six home runs.
Allen became the 10th player in program history, and first since Ashley Bensinger and Kelly Strickland in 2011, to hit 10 or more home runs in a single season.
Going Out With a Bang
Liberty opened the 2013 Big South Softball Championship with a 5-3 win over eventual champion Longwood. The Lady Flames tied a season high with three homers, with Amber Donovan, Jill Stephens and Hanna Nichols all going deep. Chandler Ball picked up the complete-game victory, allowing the top scoring team in the conference just three runs on six hits. The win over Longwood proved to be the 547th and final career win for 20th-year head coach Paul Wetmore.
The Lady Flames then ended up dropping a pair of one-run contests on May 10, falling to No. 2 seed Campbell, 4-3 before being eliminated by top-seeded Coastal Carolina, 2-1.
Liberty vs. Western Kentucky
Western Kentucky went a program-best 43-18 last season, earning a Sun Belt regular-season title with a 20-3 conference record. The Lady Toppers then went on to the NCAA Regional final, where they fell to SEC power Alabama. Top returnee Emily Rousseau was named 2013 Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year, while Rousseau and infielder Olivia Watkins were both voted NFCA All-Region selections last year. WKU is receiving votes in the preseason national polls.
The Lady Toppers are 2-0 against Liberty, with wins in the 2002 and 2003 seasons.
Liberty vs. Georgetown
Georgetown posted a 21-33 record in 2013, fnishing in fifth place in the BIG EAST standings at 10-13 in conference play. The Hoyas will look to fill in for graduated catcher Shikara Lowe, a 2013 All-BIG EAST first team member. Outfielder Alexandria Anttila and utility/pitcher Megan Hyson return after being named third team all-conference last year.
Liberty is 3-1 all-time versus Georgetown. The Hoyas defeated the Lady Flames, 9-2, on Feb. 11, 2012, in Elon, N.C., before Liberty downed Georgetown, 7-2, the next day. Liberty swept two games from the Hoyas, 10-1 and 10-2, in March of 2007 in Lynchburg.
Liberty vs. Ole Miss
Liberty meets Ole Miss of the SEC for the first time, on Saturday. The Rebels went 25-31 a year ago, including 3-21 against SEC opponents. Junior third baseman Allison Brown returns after being named to the NFCA All-Region second team in 2013. Brown batted .354 with 17 doubles and 43 RBIs last year. Ole Miss returns eight starters and four pitchers from last season's squad.
The Lady Flames are in search of their first-ever win over an SEC opponent. In program history, Liberty has faced current SEC teams Alabama (0-1), Kentucky (0-4), Tennessee (0-16) and Texas A&M (0-2).
Liberty vs. Florida Gulf Coast
Florida Gulf Coast is coming off of a 36-18 season in 2013, as the Eagles finished in third place in the Atlantic Sun. The Eagles were voted to place second in the 2014 A-Sun preseason coaches' poll. Senior Chelsea Zgrabik and junior Kelsey Carpenter are back after being named to the NFCA All-South Region team in 2013. Zgrabik, the 2013 A-Sun Co-Player of the Year, was named Atlantic Sun Preseason Player of the Year this season.
Current Liberty pitching coach Paige Cassady is familiar with FGCU, as Cassady served as an assistant coach for 2013 Atlantic Sun runner-up Lipscomb.