Bright outlook

Softball team has high expectations this year

After an offseason that included a major shakeup in the coaching staff, the Liberty University Lady Flames softball team looks to improve on last year’s 20-37 record as it begins the regular season in just three days.

According to senior center fielder Katie Zavodny, a lack of passion may have led to a disappointing 8-16 Big South Conference record last season.

“I just feel like last year, the past three years, we were kind of just going through the motions,” Zavodny said. “It was just like the same routine. This year, it’s different. We believe we can go to the next level.”

Sliding home — The Lady Flames are hoping to produce more runs this season with their renewed focus. Photo credit: Jake Mitchell

Sliding home — The Lady Flames are hoping to produce more runs this season with their renewed focus. Photo credit: Jake Mitchell

Zavodny attributed the change in the team’s attitude to the motivation from the new coaching staff, which includes Head Coach Dot Richardson, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, 16-time Amateur Softball Association (ASA) All-American and ASA Hall of Fame member.

“(Our coaches have) really transformed this team into a believing, winning team that (knows) we can go beyond Big South, that we can go to regionals,” Zavodny said.

The Lady Flames will count on Zavodny, along with senior shortstop Sammi Shivock, junior catcher Kelby Allen and junior infielder Hanna Nichols, to lead the offense this year.

In 2013, Zavodny led Liberty with a .384 batting average while tallying 40 total runs. She also proved to be a threat to opponents’ defenses with 41 stolen bases on the year.

Additionally, Allen contributed 10 home runs, 35 RBIs and 29 total runs while batting .275 last year. Shivock added eight home runs and 43 RBIs last season for Liberty while hitting .328. Nichols hit .277 with six homers, 21 RBIs and 20 runs scored.

Richardson explained that stepping up at the plate may prove to be one of the most important factors for her team this year.

“I do believe that hitting is not only fun, but it’s fun to watch, and it’s essential to feel competent up there,” Richardson said. “… I want (our) pitchers to feel (that) when they give up … three or four runs, we’re gonna score four or five. They give up 10, we’re gonna score 11. … Pitchers have to have the mindset that it’s OK if you give up a hit. It’s OK you give up a run, because we got your back, and we’re gonna get it back.”

Richardson also said she is confident her team will win if they physically and mentally execute the fundamentals they have been practicing in the offseason.

“Fundamentals are number one,” Richardson said. “It does not matter what level you reach in a sport, the team that executes the basic fundamentals of the sport the best will win the game.”

Additionally, the Lady Flames will have to limit mistakes and play solid team ball in order to win in 2014, according to Zavodny. In addition to tough conference foes, the Lady Flames will be taking on one of their toughest opponents in program history in the University of Oklahoma Sooners, the 2013 Women’s College World Series Champions, at Oklahoma March 8.

“That’s gonna be an experience,” Zavodny said. “That game alone, no one’s gonna expect us to win. So we just need to come out like we’re any other team.”

For the Lady Flames, who are predicted to finish seventh in the conference according to Big South preseason polls, their effort and play in the upcoming season are more important than any previous records or expectations.

“I hope they don’t even think about (the preseason ranking),” Richardson said. “It’s just like if you worry about how other people are thinking or how they rank you, isn’t that limiting yourself? … Talk is cheap. Watch our actions. We’re gonna have our bats and gloves and attitude and our effort do the talking. To me, it’s not about rankings. There’s only one team in this nation that wins the last game of the season. And guess what? One day, that’s gonna be us.”

The Lady Flames will open the season with a game against Western Kentucky University during the FGCU/Four Points by Sheraton Invitational in Fort Meyers, Fla., Friday, Feb. 7.

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