FLORENCE, SC - The Francis Marion University women’s softball team will open its 2010 season on Saturday (Feb. 6) at the 2010 Early Bird Tournament in Aiken, S.C.
FMU will play four games in two days at Aiken’s Citizens Park. On Saturday, the Patriots will face Mount Olive College at 2 p.m. and Seton Hill University at 4 p.m., while on Sunday, Francis Marion will play Chowan University at 10 a.m. and Barton College at 2p.m.
Sixth-year FMU head coach Stacey Vallee welcomes back six letterwinners, including three position starters, the designated hitter, and one starting pitcher, from the 2009 squad that finished 32-19, and narrowly missed earning a bid to the NCAA Division II national tournament. FMU tied for seventh during the Peach Belt Conference regular season.
The Patriots have been selected to finish second in the race for this year’s Peach Belt crown according to the PBC’s annual preseason coaches’ poll.
Leading the returnees is All-Region pitcher and designated hitter Michaela Wolf. Wolf (20-11, 1.58 ERA last season) is the only Patriot hurler in the history of the program to win 20 games more than once in a career – having done it three times. The southpaw owns a 70-34 career mark with 583 strikeouts in 700.1 career innings – all school records. She is already seventh on the PBC’s all-time wins list. Her career batting numbers include a .307 average with 10 home runs and 78 RBIs.
“I am looking for a stellar senior year from Michaela, something that she is demanding of herself,” Vallee said. “She has worked really hard since 2009 and has her own personal goals to reach in 20010. If she attains them, it would in turn benefit the entire team.”
Also returning is All-Peach Belt Conference left fielder Jessica Birchmeier (.324 average in 2009) and three-year infield starter Kat Beauvais (.311) at third base. Birchmeier, a 2010 preseason All-PBC selection, owns a career average of .340 and an on-base percentage of .408 in 128 career games.
Also back from the 2009 squad is starting second baseman Ashley Jaramillo who enjoyed a very productive freshman season, batting .324 with a team-leading five home runs and 32 RBIs.
“These four players all hit above .300 last year and will be the foundation of our 2010 squad,” Vallee said. “Although we have 11 newcomers, five are transfers who have previous collegiate experience. This will ease the transition and make it smoother than if we have to throw all true freshmen out onto the field.
“I have been pleased with our preseason, and the adjustments the newcomers have made. The ladies are ready for the season to begin.”
Senior catcher Jamie Holmes and senior right-handed pitcher Emily Dean also return.
Among the first-year Patriots who could crack the probable starting lineup are shortstop Jessica Hogan (Florence-Darlington Tech), first baseman and designated player Tristan Faile (Andrew Jackson High School), outfielder Destinea Schneider (Tallahassee Community College), catcher-first baseman Meghan Heiser (St. Francis College Preparatory High School in California), infielder Chelle Phillips (Indian Hills Community College-Ottumwa), and catcher Olivia Ferguson (Cave Spring High School in Virginia).
Junior righty Cea Knox, a native of Myrtle Beach and a transfer from USC Salkehatchie, will start the season as the squad’s No.2 pitcher behind Wolf.
“Destinea adds speed to our lineup, both on the base paths and in the outfield,” Vallee added. “In addition to the players listed above, our starting right fielder could be any of five different players.
“Offensively, we have some power in our lineup with decent speed. Several different players possess the abilities to bat lead-off and ignite the offense. In the field, I think our overall defense will be stronger than last year.”
Wolf, Birchmeier, and Beauvais were among 10 players from last year’s squad to earn NFCA All-America Scholar-Athlete recognition in 2009, and the Patriots received an NFCA All-Academic Team award for 2009, the fourth consecutive year FMU has earned that honor (and sixth time in the past decade).
Francis Marion has won at least 30 games 11 of the last 13 campaigns. The Patriots' 49-game schedule includes eight home doubleheaders and the annual Patriot Invitational Tournament and the Peach Belt Conference Tournament, both to be hosted at the Freedom Florence Softball Complex.
The 2010 season is the first for conference newcomer Flagler College. The PBC tournament format has also changed, with only the top eight teams advancing to the championship, April 16-18, at the Freedom Florence.