NASHVILLE, Tenn. – On the first day of preseason softball practice the Lipscomb Lady Bisons were as brisk as the weather.
The Lady Bisons worked outside on conditioning and defense for approximately an hour-and-a-half before coming inside to work on hitting Tuesday.
Lipscomb coach Kristin Ryman liked the upbeat attitude of her team. The defensive alignment is still not set for the Lady Bisons with the status of Gracey Aguirre being the key piece to the puzzle.
Aguirre was sidelined last season after sustaining an injury after only 24 games. If she is completely healthy, Aguirre is expected to play right field, while first base could also be a possibility.
“Figuring out where Gracey is going to fit is a challenge and is going to determine a few other pieces of the puzzle,” Ryman said. “I don’t say that meaning that players aren’t making pushes at other positions.”
The infield will have a completely new look with two starters returning from 2014, but not at their former positions.
“We have always been a good defensive team,” Ryman said. “We have had our moments here and there, but when you look at our fielding percentages through the years we are always in the top half of the conference.
“Defense is a big emphasis for us. Knowing we are going into the spring season with an infield where no one is playing the position they played before is a little nerve-wracking.”
Leadership is important, especially with so many changes in the infield. Ryman points out that she and her staff spent almost as much time in the fall working on and determining who the leaders might be as they did on the physical aspects of the game.
“We spent a ton of time in the fall working with our infield and figuring out who were going to be our leaders on defense,” Ryman said. “Just getting them comfortable and confident in the positions they are playing is going to be a big deal for us.”
Paige Neely is expected to move from third base to shortstop replacing Bridgette Begle who graduated. Mimi Cartwright, the starting second baseman last season, is being looked at for the third base position.
“Mimi can still play second, but we think she fits better at third this year,” Ryman said. “Paige is making the shift to shortstop, a position she is very familiar with but has not played in a while.”
Riley Brown is also getting work in at third as well. If Cartwright moves to third the second base battle will be between Baylee Williams, a junior college transfer from Chattanooga State, and senior Jordan Abell who was sidelined for much of the fall with a concussion.
“Both Baylee and Jordan bring a few different things to the table,” Ryman said.
Kristen Sturdivant graduated leaving first base open. There are a number of possibilities for the spot ranging from Aguirre to freshman Caitlin Plocheck.
“Caitlin spent the most time there this fall,” Ryman said. “She is a freshman and she is talented.”
Laura Dukes, a senior transfer from Middle Tennessee, is expected to be the primary catcher replacing Rena’ Cothron who graduated. Also working behind the plate is freshman Abby Fenichel.
“Laura brings the experience and maturity back there,” Ryman said. “Although this is her first season with us she is a veteran behind the plate.
“Abby brings a really strong upside physically. She does a nice job blocking. She does a nice job throwing and framing. She is getting used to catching at this level and working with our pitchers. She has a ton of experience playing at a really high level of travel ball.”
In the outfield Brianne Welch returns in left and Brittany Elmore is back in center field. If Aguirre plays first base or serves as the designated player, the right field position will be up for grabs.
“Brianne is such a great defender and that has always been her biggest strength,” Ryman said. “Her hitting has really improved over the last year. She knows she has to continue to hit in order to stay out there.
“She brings that experience in the field. She brings a lot of leadership in the outfield. She is easily one of our hardest workers. She is that defender that we want out there. ”
Elmore, who can also play second base, has become a mainstay at center.
“Brittany is a more versatile player than a lot of people might realize,” Ryman said. “We like her in center. She is getting more confident and comfortable out there.
“We are asking Brittany to bring a lot of leadership because she is the centerfielder. We like her arm strength. We like the ground she can cover.”
Welch could move to right. Other possibilities are Becca Dean, Finichel and Plocheck are also in the mix.
“In an ideal world Gracey will be out there,” Ryman said. “That is the way everything flows the best.”
Kasey Gibson and Dee Baddley are also possibilities in the outfield as well.
“Defensively we want to continue to be a strong team,” Ryman said. “We don’t want to have a big drop off there and put pressure on our pitchers and our hitting to have to win games. We want to play tough behind our pitchers and give them the confidence to do what they need to do.”