Annie Smith set the bar pretty high in her first year as Georgia Southern’s softball coach.
All the Eagles did in 2012 was dominate the Southern Conference and win the league championship, while Smith was named SoCon Coach of the Year.
The good news doesn’t stop there.
The Eagles (42-20, 22-2 SoCon in 2012) return all their pitchers, three of the top five hitters and plenty of pieces from a squad that took the conference by storm. Plus, there are only three new faces on the roster.
“I had 10 new people, and now I only have three,” Smith said. “We’re further along. They’ve worked really hard in the weight room as a group, we’re all comfortable together and we all know each other.”
Sarah Purvis, who became the first pitcher in GSU history to win at least 20 games in a single season, returns to the circle, and is the favorite to repeat as the SoCon Pitcher of the Year. Purvis mowed down 253 batters in 220.1 innings pitched last season.
Also returning experience to the circle are Allie Miles and Brooke Red, a sophomore who was named to the 2012 SoCon All-Freshman team.
Former Screven County Gamecock Marla Thompson rounds out the pitchers. She finished her freshman season with a 1.12 earned-run average, striking out eight in 14 appearances.
The biggest loss from the 2012 squad is outfielder Marie Fogle, who started every game, blasted nine home runs and hit .397. Andrea Tarashuk, Tabby Douberly and Alexa Lewis return to the lineup with a combined 77 runs batted in last season.
Smith still isn’t sure exactly what the lineup will look like by the time SoCon play begins on March 9.
“You want to put your best hitters in the lineup, but at the same time, defense wins championships,” Smith said. “I need that right combination, and I don’t know quite yet because we haven’t played a game.”
Georgia Southern opens the season today at 5 p.m. against St. Johns. It is the opening game of the Eagle Round Robin tournament, which will be played through Sunday at Eagle Field and features GSU, St. John’s, Akron and Tennessee Tech.
The Eagles are the preseason favorite in the Southern Conference, but Chattanooga and College of Charleston were voted second and third, respectively.
With first-year coaches at UNC Greensboro and Furman, and veteran talent returning across the league, Smith isn’t ready to speculate on who will be in the mix for the 2013 SoCon championship.
“Until we get going, I can’t tell you for sure,” Smith said, “but Chatt and Charleston are the two that are on my radar.”