By D. J. Davis
The Valdosta State Softball Team will be in a difficult position when they take the diamond to open up this season as the pre-season No.1 team in the Gulf South Conference; they will have to figure out how they can improve on the school’s best ever season.
The Blazers went an incredible 58-5, 26-1 in the Gulf South Conference, en route to the first National Championship in school history. Valdosta State defeated UC San Diego 4-1 in Louisville, Ky, last season to cap off the championship season.
Valdosta State appeared in the championship game in 2010 as well, losing to Hawaii Pacific, 4-3.
Head Coach, Thomas Macera, looks to guide the Blazers to a repeat as champions in his third season with the school. Macera was able to secure a National Championship after losing in the regional round in his first season at Valdosta State.
Macera was not worried about his team being motivated to repeat this year.
“I don’t think there’s a problem with that,” said Macera. “The type of player you’re recruiting is a kid that already has that instilled in them, they want to win; it’s not just a kid going through the motions. The practices are too hard, the conditioning, and the weights. As much stuff as they have to put into this, if you really aren’t devoted to playing ball you wouldn’t want to go through this. I guess the way to keep them motivated is to keep the pressure on them and make sure they stay hungry.”
The Blazers will have plenty of talent coming back to Valdosta this season, six National Fast Pitch Coach Association All-American Scholar Athletes return for another run this season. Junior pitcher Brianna Hancock, along with sophomores: Allison Coulter, Fran Johnson, Abigayle Kohler, Angela O’Connor, and possibly most significant of all, Courtney Albritton.
Albritton both patrols the outfield and catches the game from behind home plate for the Blazers, but it may be her bat that makes all the difference. Albritton led the Blazers in almost every significant offensive category including: runs scored, hits, homeruns, and runs batted in.
The Valdosta State pitching staff will try to repeat the stunning efficiency they had when closing out games last season. The Blazers were 43-0 with a lead. If the Blazers scored first, the game was effectively over last season.
Finding a way to replace the leadership of the eight graduating seniors from last season championship team, especially in the infield with five infielders graduating, will be critical for Valdosta State in the postseason if they are to repeat this season.
“You can never replace anybody. You can’t replace Mari Littlefield, a Sam Posey, or Hutchens, one of the best second baseman I’ve ever coached in my career, Alanna Hadely, so many great players here last year,” said Macera. “You just gotta hope you recruited good kids like you recruited them and try to develop them like you developed the older kids and hope it falls together.”
The Blazers will get their chance to begin developing that leadership when they launch their season with the West Florida Tournament.
Valdosta State will face South Arkansas and Young Harris in Pensacola, Fla., on Feb. 2. Then the Blazers will travel to Albany, Ga., to take on the Golden Rams on Feb. 11. VSU opens at home on Feb. 12 against Georgia Southwestern.