First-year coach Mandy Burford led the Bulldogs onto the diamond for the first home game of the season on Tuesday, as the softball team took on Mississippi State. With that, a new chapter in Samford softball history has begun.
Burford took over the helm from Stephanie VanBrakle after spending last season as an assistant coach and the two prior seasons on the coaching staff at Birmingham Southern.
The Bulldogs also added Ashley Holcombe Bell and Brandon Duncan to the coaching staff this year. Bell was a member of the United States national team in last fall’s Pan-American games.
“Our goal for the season is to be SoCon champions,” senior pitcher and infielder Robyn Harmon said. “[With the new staff] we have the coaching and the talent to accomplish it this year.”
The team is largely rebuilt, as eight starters ended their Samford careers last year. The Bulldogs feature five true freshmen this year, while Harmon and infielder Tessa Frates are the only two seniors on the team.
Junior pitcher Misha Aldridge, who transferred from Chattanooga State, began her Samford career last weekend by rising to the top of the conference leader board in several statistical categories.
“We have a very talented freshman group and two more players our conference hasn’t seen before,” Kayla Shaffer, the Bulldogs’ junior outfielder, said. “We’re going in as the underdog and definitely plan on upsetting a lot of teams.”
The Bulldogs opened the 2012 season by finishing 2-2 at the Stetson Invitational in DeLand, Fla. Besides Mississippi State, other non-conference teams on the schedule this year include Alabama, Butler, Eastern Illinois and Memphis.
“The coaches have put together a competitive schedule for us,” Harmon said. “We want to show that we can play anyone, anywhere.”
The Southern Conference season opens for the Bulldogs with a home series against Georgia Southern on March 10. Another notable SoCon series will occur when Samford plays host to preseason favorite and defending conference champion Chattanooga in April.
“Chattanooga has been picked in the preseason poll as number one, but preseason picks mean nothing,” Harmon said. “Samford has the talent and heart to win. Our plan is to play one game at a time.”
The season will culminate in the SoCon tournament, which will take place starting on May 9 in Boone, N.C.
With a differemt staff and new roster, the softball Bulldogs hope to set a new standard for years to come.