Winthrop softball team excited about season after good start in California

Softball coach Mark Cooke said Winthrop's main objective when it traveled to Palm Springs, Calif., to participate in the Cathedral City Kick Off last weekend was to prove the Eagles belonged.

Mission accomplished.

The Eagles got everyone's attention when they won their first two games -- 8-4 over Cal State Northridge and 4-1 over No. 18 Oregon State.

The Eagles lost the next three -- they were in every game, according to Cooke -- but they boarded the flight home feeling good about the prospects of a second straight Big South Conference title and another trip to the NCAA tournament.

"All the teams we faced were rated in the top 100 and our goal was to go out and compete at the same level," Cooke said Wednesday. "We saw the best pitching that we've ever seen in a tournament like that. Every team threw their No. 1 at us.

"We came home knowing we competed. Our top four hitters were average. If they had been themselves, then I think we would have really shocked some people."

Cooke was referring to veterans Tessa Thomas, Lisa Kingsmore, Stephanie Reid and Mallory Hogan, who were a combined 16-for-66.

The good news for Cooke was that a pair of freshmen -- Lauren Levin and Jo-Lynn Smith -- stepped up. Levin was 5-of-10 while Smith was 4-of-10 with a home run.

Pitcher Megan Evans picked up where she left off last season. Last season's Big South freshman of the year turned in a performance that earned her the league's pitcher of the week award.

The Eagles were supposed to return to action on Wednesday, but Furman's field was too wet and the game was postponed. It will be rescheduled for a later date.

• FAST START: The women's golf team opened the spring season with an impressive third-place finish in the 16-team Lady Braveheart Classic on the par 72, 6,089-yard Oak Valley Golf Club links.

Coach Jodi Wendt's squad shot a 36-hole 652 to finish behind Cal Poly (629) and San Diego State (645).

Freshman Allison Itria led the Lady Eagles with an 80-77-157, which was good enough for a sixth-place tie.

Other Winthrop scores were Jutta Degerman (80-82-162, T16), Sara Hester (81-85-166, T34), Rachel Smith (84-83-167, T37), Erin Sweeney (90-84-174, T62) and Brittany Dauble (91-89-180, T84).

Winthrop will be back in action on March 2-4 when it travels to Mobile, Ala., for the USA Lady Jaguar Invitational.

• STILL ON HOLD: Last week, track and field coach Ben Paxton said he was 99 percent sure that record-holding hurdler Kandrick Cooper would make his indoor debut this week in the Tiger Invitational at Clemson.

Tuesday, Paxton used that one percent fudge factor to say the senior indoor and outdoor record-holder would miss the race because of a lingering hamstring injury. Paxton added he fully expected to see Cooper on the track during the Big South Conference meet at Clemson on Feb. 29-March 1, giving him two shots at qualifying for the NCAA championships.

"He's fine and has had great workouts," Paxton said. "He could probably run, but like I've said before, we'd rather error on the side of caution, especially with this being an Olympic year, we don't want to do anything to set him back."

Cooper has run a 7.83 indoor time in the 60-meter hurdles and a 13.98 outdoor at 110 meters. Both are school and conference records.

If Cooper doesn't qualify at conference, he would go to Notre Dame on March 8 for the last chance meet.

• STADIUM EXPANSION: Workers are installing 800 additional seats at the soccer complex, a move that will bring the seating capacity at Eagle Field to approximately 1,800.

The bench-style seats with backs were removed from The Winthrop Ballpark during recent upgrades and have been completely refurbished.

"For quite some time now, people have asked for seating behind the player benches," coach Rich Posipanko said. "So, we're installing 200 seats on each side of the press box."

• MAKING THE TOP GRADE: Assistant men's soccer coach Daniel Ridenhour recently earned his United States Soccer Federation A license.

"That's the highest license they have," Posipanko said. "You have to have it if you want to coach high-level club teams, national teams or international teams."

Ridenhour just completed his fourth season at Winthrop.

"It's a three-year minimum process," Posipanko said. "You have to get your C, then B, then A and you can only do one a year.

"It's a 10-day course that runs all day and is very intense. Only about a third of those who attend the course each year pass, so it's a pretty big achievement."

Posipanko said classes include all aspects of the game and that there are numerous tests.

• STILL KICKING: John Gilkerson's dream of playing Major League Soccer is still alive.

Gilkerson, a two-time All-Big South defender and third round pick of New York, survived another round of cuts on Tuesday.

"He doesn't say too much one way or the other," Posipanko said. "He's says he's still getting use to the faster pace, but he's hanging in there.

"They're training in California now, then they're going back to New York next week. Then they'll go over to Austria."