LYNCHBURG, Va.- While last season ultimately fell short of expectations, the Randolph softball team did find itself qualifying for the Old Dominion Athletic Conference Tournament as the seventh seed. The team is much different than it was from the end of the last year as 11 players depart including eight seniors. It will be a younger squad in 2019 with 10 underclassmen (including seven first-years) making up the roster.
Five seniors are on this year's team led by Courtney Lucado (Buchanan, Va./James River). Lucado had 90 at-bats last season, which represented a career-best. She scored 14 runs on 22 hits, bashed two homeruns, two doubles, one triple, batted in eight runs, and stole five bases while batting .244. She was primarily an outfielder and also saw time behind the plate at catcher. While she played in just 21 games with 30 at-bats in 2018, Rachel Lee (Clifton, Va./Centreville) led the WildCats with a .367 batting average and .457 on base percentage and will hope a full season of production will benefit the 'Cats.
"Luc has become a true leader," said third-year head coach Sara Flinn. "She has always had a great drive and work ethic and now, as a captain, she has found her voice and takes pride in what we do so the underclassmen often look to her to set the tone for the team. Lindsey and Rachel offer an excellent balance as co-captains with their determination and positivity."
A junior transfer a year ago, Taylor Craft (Altavista, Va./Altavista) was a solid contributor for the WildCats. She hit .255 in 47 at-bats with 12 hits, 11 runs scored, and six runs batted in. Sarah Reed (Luray, Va./Luray) has been used a pinch runner for Randolph with 12 runs scored and three stolen bases a year ago to give the 'Cats a speedster on the base paths. Sophomore Briana Harbison (Dumfries, Va./Potomac) had the most at bats of any first year player last year with 62. She responded with 15 hits as she tied for the team lead with four doubles and will hope to replicate that as a utility player.
The pitching staff will once again be fronted by senior Lindsey Chaney (Charlottesville, Va./Covenant School). Chaney had a career season last year with 105 strikeouts and 6.62 strikeouts per inning to rank fifth in the ODAC. She is currently second in career strikeouts and career wins and ranks in the top five in several statistical categories. Also factoring in the rotation will be junior Abbi Pannill (Prince George, Va./Prince George) and first-year Danielle Shannon (Greenville, Va./Riverheads).
"Lindsey has worked harder this off season than I've ever seen her work," noted Flinn. "She has the ability to have her best year yet. I am also pleased with the growth we see in Abbi on the mound. She will really challenge batters this year. Danielle offers a different look in the circle and I think she will have a key place in our pitching rotation. This will be a team effort and you really never know who might make an appearance in the circle this year."
The season gets underway this weekend at Salem where the WildCats will face the host Spirits along with Frostburg and Brandeis. For the first time in program history, the team will head south to Florida the first week of March for a tough slate of games against several 20-game winning teams and one NCAA Tournament participant.
As always, the conference portion of the schedule will feature several challenging matchups including the first ODAC doubleheader of the season against defending ODAC and NCAA Champion Virginia Wesleyan on March 16. Lynchburg (March 26) and Randolph-Macon (April 14) are two other ODAC schools that qualified for the NCAA Tournament a year ago. In addition, the WildCats host ODAC newcomer Ferrum on March 30. The Panthers won 23 games in 2018. A non-conference matchup at Pfeiffer closes out the month of March. The Falcons were 37-5 last season and won the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Championship.
"We chose to go to Florida this year to challenge ourselves," noted Flinn. "We know we have the toughest conference in the country, so we want to play top teams in the country to get ready for the ODAC. The key to our success this year will be every player gaining trust and confidence in herself and her teammates and also how quickly we bounce back from setbacks. No matter what a team's record was the year before, each day brings another chance to succeed. As long as these WildCats step onto the field believing we will be successful, we can do anything we set our minds to."
Randolph plays Salem at 4:00 on Saturday and then takes on the Bobcats at 6:00 p.m. The home opener will be February 23 against Southern Virginia.