HANCEVILLE ? Wallace State Community College?s softball team begins defense today of its three-year run as state champions.
The Lady Lions, ranked No.2 in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) preseason poll, play a doubleheader at Georgia Perimeter before traveling to Aiken, S.C. on Friday to participate in the Aiken-Ringor Classic over the weekend.
Wallace State?s season-opening tournament in Odessa, Texas was snowed out last weekend.
Wallace State has dominated the Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) softball landscape during their three-year title run and made an impact on the national level, winning the 2008 NJCAA national championship and finishing as the NJCAA runner-up last season.
?We?ve won it three years in a row and each year it becomes harder to keep advancing. I know how hard our kids work, and with the talent we?ve got there?s no way we shouldn?t win the state championship again,? said Wallace State coach Jayne Clem, an eight-time ACCC Coach of the Year. ?You?ve got to focus first on winning the state title. You can?t worry about winning in Utah if you don?t win the state title.?
Wallace State has two NJCAA First-Team All-Americans returning to anchor the club. Pelham product Kelsey Dennis returns as the team?s ace, while first baseman Stephanie Needham of Hewitt-Trussville is back as the team?s biggest power threat.
Dennis was named the NJCAA Region XXII Player of the Year last season after a sensational freshman campaign. She finished the year with a 34-4 record and a 0.84 ERA. She struck out 340 batters in 249 1/3 innings, while tossing 24 complete games.
Needham led the Lady Lions offense with a .457 average, 15 homers and 71 RBIs. She was also the ACCC Tournament MVP.
?Having Kelsey and Stephanie back is huge. We?ve got a good nucleus returning and we will start about six sophomores. The outfield is the spot which is going to be young,? Clem said.
Austin?s Ali Barnette will be the lone sophomore starting in the Lady Lions outfield, but Saige Wright returns at shortstop to pace an experienced infield along with Needham and utility players LaRae Womack, Haley Anderson and Jessica Graves.
Wallace State?s pitching staff has tremendous potential behind Dennis. Sophomore Kristen Skinner returns and the freshmen duo of Lauren Seibert and Cara Law bring decorated high school credentials to the team.
Skinner complemented Dennis last season with a stellar 19-2 record and a 1.38 ERA in 24 starts.
Seibert, out of West Morgan, was the Class 3A Player and Pitcher of the Year last season as she led the Lady Rebels to their first softball state championship. Law was the 4A Pitcher and Player of the Year for Saks High School.
?Lauren Seibert and Cara Law are different types of pitchers like Kelsey Dennis and Kristen Skinner have different styles,? said Clem, whose team is 131-18 over the past two seasons. ?Our two freshmen pitchers knew they could come to Wallace State and help us right away.
?We?ve got the chance to have a great staff. Our pitching has been really impressive here during practice. They are definitely ahead of our hitters.?
Clem?s teams have been a mystery to solve for any ACCC opponent during the Lions dominant run, and it has helped put Wallace State on the map on the national level. The Lady Lions also boasted a 3.72 GPA as a team last season, which was tops in the nation.
?We always a have a target on our back, but I still don?t feel we get all the respect we deserve. That should motivate us,? Clem said. ?Look across the state. Alabama has the second-ranked team in the Division I preseason poll, UAHuntsville is No. 1 in Division II and we are second in the NJCAA. We are all doing something right, and most of it comes from the talent within the state.?
Clem and assistant coach Tracy Grindrod were named last year as the 2009 Alabama Junior College Athletic Association (AJCAA) Coaching Staff of the Year. Clem has won five titles (2003, 05, 07, 08, 09) at Wallace State.
Wallace State?s home season opener is March 4 vs. Indian Hills. The conference opener is March 9 at Snead State.
For more information about Wallace State softball, visit wallacestate.edu or wscsoftball.com.
Wallace State Community College
P.O. Box 2000, Hanceville, AL 35077
1-866-350-9722 Direct line: 256-352-8443
Visit us online at www.wallacestate.edu