The Lipscomb Lady Bisons were picked in the Atlantic Sun preseason poll to win both the regular season and tournament championships for the second year in a row.
But as the Lady Bisons prepare to open the A-Sun portion of the season Friday at ETSU in Johnson City and Saturday at USC-Upstate in Spartanburg, S.C., coach Kristin Ryman admits she doesn’t feel like the favorite.
“At this point, halfway through the season, USC Upstate has really been the team to beat,” Ryman said. “Even with the preseason rankings I feel like we are kind of an underdog right now.
“I think that is fine. We have to focus on the task at hand and not make any situation bigger than it is.”
The Lady Bisons are 11-11 after playing arguably the most difficult preconference schedule since Ryman took over the team. Despite several new faces in the lineup she stresses that she likes the progress she has seen.
“We are going to get an idea right off where we rank in the conference,” Ryman said. “This is still a team with a lot of talent one-through-nine and off the bench. We don’t need anybody on the team to carry anyone else.
I feel very strongly about the talent level on this team based on the way we are playing lately. We have to continue to focus on the things we can control.”
ETSU enters the series with an 11-15 record. USC-Upstate is 28-3, ranked 25th in the nation by one poll.
Ryman is downplaying the success of last season. The Lady Bisons are starting new players at three of the four infield positions and one of the outfield positions. Rena’ Cothron is at third and Bridgette Begle is playing second. Both are freshmen. Vanessa Medina, who redshirted last season with a knee injury, is at first. Only shortstop Courtney Bullington and catcher Mollie Mitchell return in the infield.
Bree Thurman has taken over center field with Mackenzie Tucker in left and Caroline Mason in right returning from last season.
“We have started working through the pressures that some of the girls put on themselves and some of the pressures we put on ourselves as a team because of the success last year,” Ryman said. “The team is finally starting to understand that what we did last year was last year.
“We can’t try to be something we are not with a whole new group of players. The older girls can’t be in the same roles they were in last season because they are in different roles. Our freshmen can’t try to please everybody and try to live up to the standards of last year because they are new players.”
The ETSU doubleheader begins at 3 p.m. Friday. The USC Upstate doubleheader will also start at 3.
The Lady Bisons have won the last six meetings with ETSU after losing the first six. The last time ETSU beat the Lady Bisons was April 5, 2008.
ETSU is led by Katie Henderson with a .395 average. ETSU is third in the conference in hitting with a .294 average.
The Lady Bisons are led in pitching by Whitney Kiihnl with a 9-6 record and 1.21 earned run average. She has 163 strikeouts in 104.1 innings. Opponents are batting .150 against her.
Ali Watson has shown progress with a 2-1 record and 3.27 ERA. She has joined freshman J.J. Nelson, 0-4, 3.66, in the pitching mix.
Center fielder Bree Thurman paces the Bisons at the plate with a .339 average. She has three doubles, three home runs and 10 runs batted in. She also is five-for-five in stolen bases.
USC Upstate has two top pitchers. Morgan Childers is 20-2 with a 1.27 ERA. Freshman Hannah Alexander is 8-1 with a 1.07 ERA.
Janna Lewis leads USC Upstate with a .479 batting average.
“Our team is anxious to start conference play,” Ryman said. “We have to put the games, the challenges, the negatives and the positives up to this point behind us and move forward.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.