Memphis Softball Opens Spring Camp
Jan. 16, 2013
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The University of Memphis softball team began its spring team practices Wednesday evening in preparation for the 2013 season. The Tigers open the season on February 8 at the Texas Classic in Austin, Texas in a tournament that will pit the U of M against North Texas, Texas A&M Corpus Christi and Texas.
"It's always great coming back in the spring because the season is coming up," said junior pitcher Ellen Roberts. "It's the best part of the year. Everybody's pumped, and we've all been working hard over the break and are excited to be here."
Natalie Poole begins her second season leading the Tigers as head coach after joining the program from McNeese State prior to the 2012 season. Earlier last month she promoted her longtime assistant coach Andy Lott to associate head coach. Former NPF pro and All-Big 10 catcher Roya St. Clair begins her first season as an assistant coach for the Tigers after serving as a volunteer coach last year.
In 2012, Memphis had a 20-37 overall record and finished seventh in Conference USA with an 8-16 mark. One of the team's goals this year is to improve its pitching, specifically the staff's ERA.
Last year the Tigers had a 3.47 ERA and finished sixth in the conference. The staff returns 84 percent of its innings pitched from last season led by Roberts (11-19, 3.06 ERA, 150 SO, 199.1 IP) and sophomore Jordan Richwood (6-11, 3.17 ERA, 106 SO, 110.1 IP).
"We definitely have to have a better ERA as a staff," Poole said. "In the mid three's is not successful enough. It was nice to see us pitch well in the fall. I want us to show better presence in the beginning of the season because we got better (last year as the season went on). I feel like if we start pretty good and get better, we're going to be in pretty good shape."
Memphis also looks to improve on its offense that finished in the bottom of the league in several offensive categories. The Tigers ended the year with its second lowest batting average in the program's seven-year history with a .230 clip. The U of M also had program season lows in slugging percentage, on base percentage, doubles, home runs and walks.
The Tigers return four of its top five offensive leaders in batting average last year in senior infielder Morgan Mosby (.335, 14 RBI, 24 R), senior infielder Laura Curtis (.289, 15 RBI, 19 R, 3 HR), Roberts (.252, 14 RBI, 5 R, 2 HR) and junior first baseman Libby Goranson (.250, 7 RBI). In total, the team returns 62 percent of its at bats, 56 percent of its RBI and 60 percent of its runs scored.
"We've got to create a better offense," Poole said. "I feel like our defensive fielding percentage wasn't the best, but it wasn't far off the mark from the top in the conference either. For us, offense is going to be a key. Offensively, we weren't very confident, and mechanically we needed a lot of work. We did get better last year. We hit .280 as a team toward the end of the year, and that's only 20 points away from what the top team did. I think we'll be a better offensive team with less strikeouts and be able to put the ball in play more than we did."
Memphis returns five of 10 position starters, three of five pitchers and 12 of 19 letterwinners. Seven newcomers that include five freshmen and two transfers also join the Tigers.
"I think that everybody that played for us last year is better," Poole said. "From the internal side and their mental strength and confidence to their actual physical skills, I think they're better all the way around. Then you add that to fresh young talent that doesn't really have fear of opponents. They're just vying for positions to play. It's a good combination."
Prior to the start of practice, the Tigers spent the past couple of days bonding as a team cut off from all the distractions of everyday life.
"We had a good time," Poole said. "We laughed a lot. We worked together. We did some problem solving. We did a lot of things where we spent a lot of time being in each other's space. We began to figure out what it was going to be like to be together."
The team spent two nights and parts of three days in a lodge at Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park in Millington, Tenn. With no television, Internet access and cell phone service, the squad spent the hours setting goals, playing games, problem solving, working on team handshakes and cooking meals for each other.
"I feel like it was a nice opportunity to get the girls separate and away from the day-to-day distractions and kind of just work on us as a team," Poole said. "Anytime I've listened to a national championship coach talk about their team, the thing they said the most is they enjoyed their team; it was a good group that worked well together, and they were just a joy to be around.
"I think for us, at times we struggled with conflict, we struggled with the stormy part of the season when people got hurt and people become complacent or were having trouble with their roles. We needed to learn how to stay motivated. I think it was important to address those issues beforehand so that as the season goes on all we have to do is be reminded and not teach this in the middle of the season when we are working on other things and we don't have enough time to correct things."
Roberts said she enjoyed the experience.
"It was a great experience, and I'd love to do it again," she said. "I think we're closer together from it too. We had a lot of fun. It was nice hanging out with all my friends."
The Tigers will play its first home games when it hosts the annual Blues City Classic on February 22-24. This year's tournament is doubled in size, featuring 12 schools. The tournament will be played in Southaven, Miss., at Greenbrook Park that hosted the Tigers prior to the completion of the Tigers Softball Complex. This year, admission for all home games will be free.