Feb. 6, 2014
FAYETTEVILLE, NC - After nearly a month of practice, the Fayetteville State softball team finally takes to the field to play an opponent.
That hard work will be tested against Brenau at 1 p.m. Friday in Orangeburg, SC, to open the season. FSU will follow that with a game against Alabama A&M at 3 p.m. and then play three games on Saturday against Georgia Southwestern, USC Aiken and Limestone.
Coach Miguel Justiniano believes this may be the most talented team he's had.
"This is the deepest team I've had since I've been here," Justiniano said. "We plan to win over 20 games. That's a given. We want to win our conference. We want to win our division and our conference. It's in that order."
To accomplish that, the Lady Broncos will have to gel with a few key veterans and several veterans who figure to see time. FSU returns four players who made over 30 starts last season and just one player who threw a pitch in 2013.
Sierra-Bethany Henderson-Holmes (Olivia, NC), the Lady Broncos' top defensive player last year, will shift from catcher to second base. Alex Wickham (Fayetteville, NC), a sophomore transfer from Greensboro College, will slide in at catcher. Clarissa Pitts (Hope Mills, NC) will also see some time behind the plate.
Also returning is senior pitcher/first baseman Spencer Embler (Thomasville, NC).
Embler, who hit .376 last year, believes the team as currently constructed can contend for a title. The way the season ended last year, a 1-0 defeat to Virginia State in the CIAA Tournament, drives each returner.
"That one run, it won't happen this year," Embler said. "I know that we left too many runners on base, didn't get them in and didn't score them. That was a tremendous amount of why we lost that game. I feel like we have the hitters this year to bring them in and not stranded like we did last year."
Justiniano believes that right now, pitching will be done by committee from as many as five people. Embler figures to see significant time in the circle, but Zoe Howard
, Skyler Peebles
, Kyrin Walker
and Rebecca Polaschek
could factor in, as well.
"We have four or five pitchers that we're good with," Justiniano said. "Hopefully everything will fall how we want it to."
Right now, the hitting could be the biggest question mark and has been the biggest emphasis in preseason practice. The Lady Broncos hit .270 last year (11th in the CIAA), had the league's ninth-best on-base percentage (.360) and scored 177 runs (seventh in the CIAA).
"We have to move the runner," Justiniano said. "Make contact and move the runner. We play the runner that's on base. If we do that, then we'll be successful."
The schedule is highlighted by contest against Alabama A&M, a Division I opponent.
That is part of an eight-game road trip to open the season. The Lady Broncos have their home opener at Seabrook Park against Benedict on February 19, part of a four-game homestand that includes two games against Claflin.
Bluefield State will also visit FSU at Seabrook, as will CIAA foes Livingstone and Winston-Salem State. The Lady Broncos start conference play this year in Raleigh on Feb. 15 and 16 against Virginia Union, Bowie State and Lincoln (PA).
Now that the season is on the horizon, all of these things are on the minds of the Lady Broncos. But one thing seems certain: they're prepared.
"We have the team, all we have to do is stay focused," senior outfielder Daniqua Taylor said. "We're ready to get this thing started. We're ready."