Gone are the initial recruits of College of The Albemarle’s first-ever softball team.
Those two-year players helped the Lady Dolphins achieve their first winning season at 23-16 last spring.
Now it’s up to a new batch of players to maintain the upward trend, and they sound more than ready to embrace the task at hand.
“We’re sophomores now, so it’s time for us to step up and show them what we got,” said COA pitcher and infielder Kambrie Robinson. “It’s our turn to show the teams in this conference who’s boss. We are good players.”
Despite sporting just 11 players, the Lady Dolphins have reason to strive for higher goals.
They were amongst the top three teams in the race for last year’s Division II NJCAA Region 10 Conference crown, losing three one-run games to eventual league tournament champion Patrick Henry Community College.
Those first-ever COA players started the work, and Lady Dolphins coach Mike Pierce looks to this group to keep the good vibes going.
The Lady Dolphins (0-2) started this season with close losses at Pitt Community College last weekend, a perennial power at the NJCAA Division I level. Those kinds of games, Pierce adds, will make COA tougher against its region slate of Division II teams.
“I tell them all the time people don’t put us on the schedule anymore for a win,” Pierce said. “They put us on the schedule now to help them, because they know we will be competitive. Anybody we play, it’s not, 'Hey, COA’s a first-year team’ anymore, we’re getting more established.”
There are unexpected holes the team had to fill, beginning with last year’s starting catcher Megan Mento, who opted not to return. Pierce also had a shortstop recruit from Greenville who instead returned home this semester.
That will make for a rotation between pitchers Lilyann Arnold, Taylor Surrento and Robinson at short, as well as center fielder Allison Cuthrell getting some infield duty.
Depth didn’t bother Pierce when the program first started playing games, and he said it won’t hamper this team.
“My first year we had occasionally nine,” said Pierce with a laugh. “Softball, give me 11, give me 12, that’s a good roster. As long as I have 2-3 pitchers and a couple of catchers, we can go.
“We’re coming along and people know we’re here now and it’s established, and it’s here to stay. It’s not, 'Oh, are they going to make it or not?’”
And to replace Mento there are catchers available in sophomore Jessica White and freshmen Brittney Asche and Rebecca Scott.
Surrento, a standout player at Northeastern, was the biggest find for COA. She will provide immediate help in pitching and fielding while the team plays its home games on her former high school field.
“It was a big get for us, because she (Surrento) had other opportunities,” Pierce said. “She wanted to stay home for at least a year as a lot of freshmen do. She throws harder, and she’s got the big-game experience coming out of Northeastern. She’ll fit right in.”
Both Surrento and Robinson will throw hard, while Arnold, who led the Lady Dolphins in innings pitched at 121 last year, will use her movement and wits to confuse batters.
A 1.90 ERA and 11 wins in 2012 proves Arnold has tactics that work other that brute power.
“I’ve heard it my whole life,” said Arnold about her lack of speed. “I’ve never been about speed, I’ve been about placement and keeping batters off-balance. Anybody can hit a fastball.”
Pierce likes her tenacity and ability to make hitters think twice.
“Lily is the kind of pitcher coming into softball now that’s a good weapon,” Pierce said. “We teach our softball kids from 5-6 years old to hit the 70 mile an hour fastball. Lilyann’s not going to throw it 70, but she will keep them off-stride, she has the whole gamut of pitches.
“I tell everybody that when I start walking off the third inning and I hear the other team talking about she’s so slow, I can’t hit her, that’s when I know she’s in their head.”
With pitching being a strength, it could offset the skills of COA’s outfield, players that comprise what Pierce calls the best outfield in Region 10.
Cuthrell, a former Camden player, is at the top of the list, and will get help from freshmen Lauren Ward and Chastity Ledford to run down potential hits.
Another former Lady Bruins player, Jordan Cutrell, will also get time in the outfield.
“And she (Cutrell) brings more speed to the outfield, so we can cover some ground,” Pierce said. “Fortunately, I don’t think we’ll get to show them off, because I really expect our pitchers to do well, so as good as they are, I hope they don’t get too many opportunities out there.”
Robinson will get time at third base and should provide offense, hitting in the No. 4 spot. Jamie Denson will be the starting second baseman, but also alternate with White at first.
Hitting will be the one aspect Pierce believes will need work, with just one hitter back at a .300 or better clip in Arnold (.377). It will begin with team speed to manufacture runs.
“Taylor’s got good speed, and Lilyann, too, so we have some speed and we’ll have to steal a run here and there,” Pierce said. “If we can steal a couple of runs a game, then get them the traditional way, then we should be in some ballgames.”
Although the goal now is to do more than hang around.
“I’m beyond being competitive, I want to start competing to win now,” Pierce said.