Winthrop softball gets cranked up this Friday as the Lady Eagles will take part in a tournament hosted by the Georgia Bulldogs. Winthrop will play the season opener at 2 p.m. against Longwood.
Saturday, the Lady Eagles will take on Elon and Sunday they'll face Cleveland State at noon, followed by a 2 p.m. showdown with Georgia.
Winthrop was 36-19 last year and has won the previous two Big South titles. They were a unanimous pick to win it again in the annual preseason poll.
Lisa Kingsmore and Megan Evans also picked up preseason honors.
Kingsmore, a senior right fielder, was voted the conference's preseason player of the year. She earned player of the year honors last season after she batted .446 overall, .500 in conference games and was also the Big South Conference Scholar Athlete of the Year.
Kingsmore's six home runs and 30 RBIs were second on the team last year.
Individual accolades are nice, but Kingsmore is more interested in team goals.
"I try not to think about (player of the year). I'm focused on getting a (championship) ring," Kingsmore said. The 5-foot-5 native of Brampton, Ontario, strung together a 20-game hitting streak last season.
"We'll play the best teams first and try to get at a high level of play right away," Kingsmore added.
Evans, a junior left-handed pitcher, was voted the conference's preseason pitcher of the year. In two seasons, Evans has posted a 43-14 record and is a two-time All-Big South first team selection.
She was second in the preseason balloting last year, so the nod wasn't a complete surprise.
Like Kingsmore, the lefty is one of many Canadians on Winthrop coach Mark Cooke's roster. Evans is out of Brooklin, Ontario.
Evans has worked on her change up and curve since the end of last season. Those pitches will compliment her rise ball that has been the go-to pitch.
The 2007 and 2008 defending conference champions return a veteran squad that only lost two starters from a year ago. All-Big South selections Mallory Hogan, Cari Wooldridge, Jo-Lynn Smith, Pearl Coleshill and Tessa Thomas are back.
The biggest loss is at shortstop where Stephanie Reid played out her Winthrop career. Reid led the team with 16 stolen bases and was third in runs scored, home runs and RBIs.
Cooke is confident his team will be as good as advertised. Even with the loss of Reid and second baseman Sarah Magee. Cooke said most other Big South schools lost much more.
Freshman Megan Chapman looks to get the nod at shortstop. Second base could be manned by either Laura Schauman, a freshman, or junior Ashlee Revell, who transferred in from Florida Community College at Jacksonville.
The catching duties will be handled by a couple of sophomores, Carole Reda and Lauren Levin.
Evans and Wooldridge, both juniors, make up a formidable 1-2 punch on the mound. Evans was 18-7 with a 1.39 ERA last season. She struck out 156 and walked 39 in 161-plus innings.
Wooldridge was 16-10 with a 1.91 ERA. She recorded 108 strikeouts while walking 49 in 146-plus innings of work.
"Megan and Cari came in and blossomed. Having two great pitchers is hard to get. It is hard to get a left-handed pitcher, especially a good one," Cooke said.
The key to this team, offensively, is the combination of power and speed.
Cooke will have Thomas and Kingsmore at the top of the batting order. Thomas, a senior center fielder, hit .332 a year ago. She led the team with 48 runs scored and 13 doubles.
"Thomas and Kingsmore make a lot of things happen. They disrupt the other team in many ways. They are very aggressive and always try to take an extra base," Cooke said.
Hogan will play first base and bat cleanup. The redshirt senior belted a team-best 10 home runs and led the team with 49 RBIs.
Smith was primarily a flex player last year. She hit .263 with four homers and 22 RBIs. Coleshill is the third baseman.
Lenny Stoddart is a junior that can play multiple positions and has a big bat. She hit .258 with three home runs and 21 RBIs last season. She led the team with 27 walks.