With the start of the spring semester comes the start of spring sports. The East Carolina University softball team will return full swing in February to start its 2020 season.
ECU softball is scheduled to begin on Feb. 7 in Conway, South Carolina for the Kickin’ Chicken Classic. They will face four teams in five games over the course of the weekend, including Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Feb. 8, 6 p.m.) and Campbell University (Feb. 7, 3 p.m./ Feb. 9, 11:45 a.m.).
After multiple seasons of having a young team, ECU finally sees more experienced upperclassmen walk on the field this season. Fourteen of the 24 players this season are in fact juniors and seniors. The familiar names of senior outfielder Olivia Narron, senior infielder Kendra Ziemba, junior right-handed pitcher Erin Poepping and junior infielder Ashleigh Inae will continue to be seen on the roster.
“We’ve got Olivia Narron, who’s started every game for the past three years. Kendra Ziemba, who’s now coming back to second base for the third year in a row,” head coach Courtney Oliver said of her team late in the fall of 2019. “So we’ve got some key players coming back. Ashleigh Inae is our junior shortstop.”
New names will also be heard during games this spring. A combination of upperclassmen transfers as well as some freshman will enjoy their official spring debut in the upcoming tournament.
Junior right-handed pitcher Kama Woodall and junior infielder Chandley Garner both transferred from North Carolina State University over the summer to play for East Carolina. Freshman infielder and Greenville native Madison Bowers and freshman center fielder Sophia Wools are also likely to see time on the field this season.
“We have a transfer pitcher, Kama Woodall, in the circle, and a transfer middle and fielder, she’s been playing third, Chandley Garner. They both came from NC State,” Oliver said. “We also got some younger ones that are trying to break through the line up, but I would definitely say this is a more experienced team than we've ever had.”
With a more experienced team comes the hope for a successful 2020 season. Coach Oliver enters her fifth season with East Carolina in the new decade and is only five wins from her 100th win with the program. After fall scrimmages, Oliver believes that the team doesn’t have many weak spots in their game, but did make mention of showing a strong defensive game.
The 2019 squad experienced many ups and downs. Energy was high after starting the season off with consistent wins. However, midway through the season saw injuries that benched key players. This stunted the teams momentum and sent them into a 12-game losing streak in late March and into April.
Despite finishing the season with a losing record (23-31), the Pirates did end the 2019 season on a positive note with wins against both the University of Houston and the University of Tulsa. Both teams that finished the 2019 season ranked in the top-40 programs in the country.
“We did start off really strong, and then halfway through conference we had an injury of a key player that made things hard for us moving forward,” Oliver said. “Towards the end of the season, it really ended on a high note. We beat Houston, then we beat a No. 2 Tulsa and that’s a top-25 team in the country. I think that we had a lot of confidence at the end of the season and it motivated our players to get that much better over the summer.”
East Carolina’s softball team has resumed practice for the spring season as of Jan. 14 in preparation for their first February tournament. Despite some difficult moments in 2019, both coach Oliver and her team look forward to the beginning of the 2020 season.
ECU will begin its season on the field with the Kickin’ Chicken Classic in Conway, South Carolina on Feb. 7 against the University of Iowa.