The team is led by seniors Christen Campbell, Lauren Dortwegt, Alaina Jacobson, Abby Keese and Kellie Sirus along with Christy Grisham. But the sophomore class, particularly Courtney Billington, Whitney Kiihnl and Mollie Mitchell, is also making a big impact on the team.
“We are losing a great group of seniors this year, but we aren’t losing everything,” Lady Bisons coach Kristin Ryman said. “We are losing a big chunk, but we aren’t losing everything.
“We had high expectations for that class when they started here as freshmen. They have blended in so well with our older girls.”
The Lady Bisons, 25-7, 4-0, are in Florida this weekend to face Jacksonville Friday at 4 and North Florida Saturday at 1 in Atlantic Sun doubleheaders. the doubleheader with North Florida has been designated as the "Series of the Week" by the conference office. The Lady Bisons are the only team that has not lost a conference game.
Kiihnl, a right-handed starting pitcher, is the anchor of the team’s success. She has been honored as the Atlantic Sun Pitcher of the Week three times this season. She has thrown seven shutouts, including one perfect game. She is fifth in the nation in shutouts and seventh in earned run average. She is first in NCAA Division I in hits allowed per seven innings (1.97).
Kiihnl is second in the conference in earned run average with a .72 and has a 17-2 record.
“Whitney played in the same summer organization that Christen Campbell played for,” Ryman said. “She took lessons from the same pitching coach as Campbell.”
Rose Kalisack, the pitching coach, told Ryman about Kiihnl. At the time only Mississippi schools were recruiting her.
“Whitney is a Church of Christ member,” Ryman said. “She knew about Lipscomb. She narrowed it to us and Mississippi State. I think she came here and felt comfortable in this environment.
“She is like Courtney. She doesn’t say a whole lot. She wasn’t her best as a high school pitcher until her senior year and won several awards in Mississippi. I knew Whitney had all of the tools to be great at this level. As good as she was last year for us, she is even better this season.”
Kiihnl was named Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year last season and was a unanimous selection to the All-Freshman Team. Billington made the move this season from second base to shortstop. She is tied for the conference in doubles with 12. She leads the A-Sun in sacrifice bunts with 10.
“Courtney was such a good athlete coming in here,” Ryman said. “She was a little under the radar from a recruiting standpoint. A lot of people saw her, but they didn’t think ahead to the potential she had.
“From the first moment I saw her play I thought she was great athlete. She didn’t do everything right, but most incoming freshman don’t. I saw that she had power potential at the plate. She brought a lot of speed. She could cover a lot of ground in the middle infield.”
Ryman used Billington more in the outfield than the infield as a freshman. As the season progressed she moved to second base. Billington was named to the A-Sun All-Freshman Team.
“Courtney is not one who is really going to say a whole lot,” Ryman said. “She leads a little bit more by her actions. She is becoming a little bit more vocal.
“But she is so unassuming about what she does. She just goes out and does what she is supposed to do.”
Mitchell has been the starting catcher since her freshman season. She is 10th overall in the conference in hitting with a .337 average. Last season she was a unanimous selection for the A-Sun All-Freshman Team.
“Mollie was similar to Courtney,” Ryman said. “I felt like Mollie was a great athlete and I felt like she was overlooked a little bit. She has a great work ethic. She has a great personality. She has a great family. She is also a Church of Christ member so I knew she would be a good fit.
“I remember watching her play and thinking that she was so raw. But she had the arm and the athleticism. Those are the two things that are really tough to teach at that next level. I felt like she had potential as a hitter. I knew she could hit with some power.”
Rounding out the sophomore class are Vanessa Medina, who had a started the season strong before being sidelined with a knee injury and outfielder Caroline Mason, also sidelined for the near future with a head injury. Mason rounded out the selections to the A-Sun All-Freshman Team last season.
“Hopefully, we don’t lose both Vanessa and Caroline for an extended period of time,” Ryman said. “We hate to lose Vanessa because she started out so hot at the plate.
“We knew Caroline could come in and compete right away last season especially as a hitter. She is unique in that she is an outfielder who is more of a power hitter. Most outfielders are speedy kids. She had been a lead-off hitter in high school and was a left fielder. But she has such a strong arm. We were working with her this season almost exclusively in right field.”
A-Sun Leaders: Keese leads the conference in hitting with a .388 average. Kiihnl is second with a .373 average. Keese is also first in total bases with 67. She is second in slugging percentage (.684) and hits (38), third in on base percentage (.440), tied for third in home runs (7) and tied for seventh in runs batted in with 21.
Sirus is first in runs scored (23). She is third in slugging percentage (.670) and tied for third in RBI (23). She is tied for fourth in total bases (59). Sirus is fifth in on base percentage (.425) and tied for fifth in home runs with six.
Dortwegt is second in runs scored with 26.
Kiihnl is first in opposing batting average (.088). She is second in wins (17) and third in strikeouts (183). She is fourth in appearances (22) and fifth in innings pitched (116.1).
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.