HARTSVILLE, S.C. – When looking up and down the Coker softball lineup, several things pop out. This year's squad has experience, a strong upper class and the potential to score a whole lot of runs.
Head coach David Hanna, who enters his 21st year at the helm, described his team as 'offensive.' No, not the rude, unpleasant type of offensive. The kind of offensive that has the potential to put up monster numbers in 2013.
"We do swing the bats well," he said. "This is one of better hitting groups we've had. There have been some outstanding ones come through here, and I think this one could rival them offensively. It's been probably five years since we had this kind of offensive threat."
Leading the charge for the Cobra offense is senior shortstop Jaclin Poole, an NFCA All-America Scholar in 2012, who hit .338 with 12 doubles, four homers, 30 RBIs and 26 runs last season. Also returning are junior outfielder Sydney Weatherford, a first team all-conference selection in 2012, as well as junior catcher Stacy Burr and sophomore pitcher/designated player Bryant McLendon, who both made second team all-conference. That trio combined to hit 19 homers with 89 RBIs and 60 runs scored last year.
While the offense appears to be the strongest point heading into the season, pitching is the area that must stay on point for the Cobras to make noise this year.
"We've got to get consistent on the mound," said Hanna. "Last year we weren't throwing where we needed to often enough."
Enter Lauren Phillips, a junior transfer from USC Aiken, who is set to be the team's ace.
"We're excited about her," said Hanna. "She's throws hard, has a great change-up and just has that presence on the mound."
Phillips, McLendon, Logan Cox and Breanna Skipper will handle the pitching duties. In all, Hanna's squad has seven returning starters. Along with Phillips, junior Lauren Brailsford and freshman Ashley Gallman, the projected first and third baseman, respectively, are the newcomers to the lineup.
Coker reached the third round of the conference tournament before falling to Limestone in an elimination game in 2012. Hanna reached a coaching milestone during the season as he hit his 700th career win. Entering 2013, the veteran coach has 718 career victories.
To switch things up this year, the Cobras did something this offseason they never had before – lifted weights as a team. Thanks to a new strength and conditioning program, courtesy of new assistant coach Ashleigh Jackson, the offseason workouts were a bit different than in years past.
"It's been a busy offseason," Hanna said. "I think the weightlifting will play a big part this year. Hopefully more balls get through the infield and others over the fence. Having Ashleigh running that program has been great. We had an excellent fall, which should turn into an even better spring."
In all his years, Hanna's teams have never picked captains. He says there's always a member or two from the upper classes to step up and provide leadership. He believes this year's candidates are Poole and Burr.
One thing's for sure – this team won't be short on offense. If the pitching is there, this team could be dangerous.
"We averaged over five runs a game last year, and I expect at least that this year," said Hanna. "We just need some pitching to hold it down. I like our chances, though. We're going to have a good year."
The softball team opens up with a road doubleheader against future South Atlantic Conference opponent Wingate University on Feb. 9.