SFA Ladyjack softball is back in full swing as the team prepares for the upcoming 2020 season. Fourth-year head coach Nicole Dickson has high expectations for the program which has experienced a period of success.
“With our program, expectations are always high each season,” Dickson said. “We train and expect to win games. When we recruit student-athletes, we recruit kids who understand our program expectations. So, when they arrive at SFA, they are mentally and physically prepared to compete at a high level. We played a tough schedule last season, and you have to in preparation of facing a strong Southland Conference schedule. We are fortunate to have a lot of returners with experience against high level competition. Also, [with] two years of NISC postseason under our belt now, we hope postseason experience is preparing our team for the next step which is an NCAA postseason run.”
Last season, SFA went 36-23 and finished fourth SLC with an 18-9 record. It marked their second straight 30-win season thatmatched the Ladyjacks’ most wins in a single season since 1991. The Ladyjacks made their second straight appearance in a postseason tournament by receiving a NISC berth in which they also recordedtheir first national postseason tournament victory in the school's NCAA Division I era. For the second consecutive season, SFA advancedto the NISC regional semifinals.
The Ladyjacks will begin the 2020 season in the ULM Tournament on February 7 through 8 in Monroe, Louisiana. Their home-opener is set for 3 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11 against Texas Southern University.
SFA was named the favorite to win the 2020 SLC title and toped first the conference’s preseason poll with 217 points and 11 first-place votes. Three players were named to the preseason All-SLC team. They are sophomore pitcher Kassidy Wilbur, junior infielder Bryana Novegil and senior pitcher Ashley Kriesel. Last season, Wilbur was named SLC Freshman of the Year.
“This year, we have a perfect blend of returners with big game experience who live our culture daily and talented newcomers who care about their teammates, this program’s success and will make an immediate impact,” Dickson said.
Among those players include senior catcher Bailey Richards, redshirt sophomore outfielder Brittany Crawford, sophomore infielder Alex Hedspeth and freshman first baseman Shay Govan.
Dickson said the pitching game will be one of their biggest strengths this season. SFA’s pitching ranked second in the league last year.
“Everything starts in the circle,” Dickson said. “We return two of the top pitchers in the Southland this season, Wilbur and Kriesel. [These] kids have beat Power 5 programs and know how to win and lead. We also have a solid staff and bullpen rotation with senior pitcher Jordan Llinas and two freshman pitchers, Reagan Chism and Katie Hartwell, who will also be key contributors for our team this season.”
Dickson also added that culture is another strength with group.
“They love each other and the game, care about personal training and the team’s success and they just flat out ‘own it,’” Dickson said. “They don’t just talk about being good. So far, they have done what it takes as a team to give themselves a chance this season to make a run and reach their team goals, which are chasing a Southland Championship Title and the NCAA tournament.”
Due to the incident in which the softball field sustained damages, it is still not deemed safe to play on. As a result, the Ladyjacks have rotated practice between Nacogdoches High School and Homer Bryce Stadium. Despite the circumstances, Dickson says that the team has already begun to build their identity together.
“Our team embraced an overcome mentality which eliminated complaining and making excuses for training or being uncomfortable or unfamiliar,” Dickson said.”
Dickson believes this mindset will be an advantage in the long run along with practicing and training on turf.
“We open on turf, over half the Southland softball programs now have turf facilities,” Dickson said. “The 2020 and 2021 conference tournament will be hosted at SLU which has turf. Has the situation been easy for our team? No. But, how they have handled it has been positive and unified and could possibly give us an advantage down the road.”