Milligan could contend in AAC softball

Ivan Sanders
STAR CORRESPONDENT

  
In athletics, the success of a team hinges upon the willingness of the participants to sacrifice during the off-season to improve on weaknesses they have identified from the previous campaign.
   With that in mind, Milligan's Lady Buff softball program is looking to use the improvement in skills they have worked hard on during the winter to gain an advantage in the AAC conference race in 2002.
   "We have a pretty equal chance at claiming the top slot," said head coach Wes Holly. "Montreat, Tennessee-Wesleyan, UVA-Wise, and Virginia Intermont are all equally staffed and either team can defeat the other on any given day, as was the case last year."
   The Lady Buffs will be relying on a pitching staff, that should be among the best in the conference, and a solid defensive unit to rank at the top of the AAC.
   Former Unaka standout, junior Ashley Fine, will be anchoring the pitching staff after receiving All-AAC recognition last year.
   "Fine has excellent control and spots her pitches well," stated Holly. "We would like to get a little more speed from her as the year progresses."
   The Lady Buffs will also be looking to freshmen Brandy Waddle from Telford, TN and Ashley Magdziuk, a former Johnson County Longhorn, to add a supporting role from the mound.
   Said Holly: "Waddle is a hard thrower who we have been working with to hit her spots more consistently and improving her mental toughness. Magdziuk is continuing to work on her confidence and location of her pitches. Shelly Banion is also another thrower who could get some mound time."
   Milligan has three newcomers to the team this year that should make an immediate impact for the Lady Buffs.
   Waddle, a prep pitching star at David Crockett, infielder Danielle Gilley from Sullivan South, and first baseman Brooke Davis from Knoxville Halls will be looked to solidify the Buffs defense, as well as add pop on offense with their bats.
   The Lady Buffs have quality leadership from Fine and junior shortstop Andrea Henriott from St. Petersburg, Florida. Both garnered All-AAC accolades last season.
   Shelby Banion, hailing from Paris, KY, will also be looked upon this season as a leader from her third base position.
   The offensive power of the Lady Buffs will found in the middle of the batting order where Henriott, the returning hitter in the conference last year with a .471 batting average, will lead the charge.
   Other players Holly will be looking at to provide some power with the stick are Fine, Banion, Lori Baimbridge, Brooke Davis, and Waddle.
   Fine, Alyson Bowman, Rebecca Dawson, Carissa Ellis, Danielle Gilley, Ellen Stoots, Brittany Fine- a former Unaka standout, Sarah Steele, Rachel Peterson, Lauren Keister, and Magdziuk should all be counted upon with the bat as they are all excellent contact hitters.
   One of the things that Coach Holly is hoping his team will do is learn how to have more mental toughness and confidence, something that was lacking for the Lady Buffs last year.
   "We had too many games last season that we had to play catch-up ball or had leads and just lost our focus," said Holly. "Improvement in these areas are essential, if we want to be a front runner."
   The roster of the Lady Buffs consist of several players from the local region. Coach Holly looks at this as a significant indicator of the success of the local high school teams.
   "Having these local girls also helps generate more local interest, while allowing the girls a chance to stay at home, play ball, and then get their education," stated Holly. "I will try to keep local talent involved at Milligan whenever possible."
   For all those who enjoy softball, plans should be made to attend one of the Lady Buffs contests. According to Coach Holly, it is always encouraging for the girls to see a large crowd with their family and friends in attendance.
   Said Holly: " The girls have been working very hard and I believe if our chemistry comes together early, we could have a very good team this year and be exciting to watch."