Playing in the National Club Softball Association, the schedule carries over from the 34 games that were played in the fall. In those 34 games, the Golden Knights went 20-14, including going an undefeated 9-0 against opponents in the North division of the South Atlantic Conference.
WGTC coach Stephanie Herrera is looking forward to her team to continue its success this spring.
“The girls I have coming back are very committed. I look for my lineup to be very tough. My one through six are very, very solid and I think they will do big things for us,” Herrera said. “My expectation level has completely changed. I expect these girls to win more and not just compete with the teams we came up shy against. We should beat those teams and definitely end the season undefeated in conference play.”
There are 11 players returning from the fall squad and four more were added. The new additions will make the Golden Knights even more dangerous than the 20-win squad from the fall.
“The team that we had in the fall, I have 11 of those players returning and since then we’ve added four additional players in key positions,” Herrera said. “Look for those four girls to come in and really step it up. I think, with the addition of these girls, it is going to trump the ream we put on the field this fall.”
Blair Byrum comes in from Central Alabama Community College to solidify the pitching rotation, Ashley Williams returns to the team as a corner infielder after not playing in the fall, catcher Kristen Massey comes to WGTC after spending two years at Southern Union and Kayla Castle adds speed and versatility to the infield and outfield.
That group will join returning players like stolen base leader Ashley Parker, ace pitcher Casey Bucy, Katie Stone, along with shortstop and power hitter Courtney Braswell, a Central High School product.
“As a team, they’re very close and have stuck together, but I think adding those key positions — adding a pitcher, a catcher, someone on the corners — that is going to add a lot more depth so we can go play two or three games in a day or a five-game tournament and not be tired,” Herrera said. “I feel like with the addition of these four kids, it’s going to put us at the next level.”
Along with playing club teams, the Golden Knights have also faced their fair share of junior college programs and even picked up a first-ever win against a four-year school in team history. The difficult schedule will help prepare WGTC for a run at a conference title and a trip to the club tournament.
“These girls are looking to face some tough competition. We played tough competition in the fall, but I created a tough schedule for them. It’s only because I want them to see it is only going to make them better, so when it comes time for those conference games, it’s going to be a walk in the park,” Herrera said.
The Golden Knights open 2013 at the Darton College Tournament, facing Andrew College, Georgia Military, Southern Union and Wallace Dothan.
“The Darton Tournament is a pretty big tournament. We are getting to face some teams we wouldn’t normally face, a lot of the teams we have played and are going to play will be there. It will give me a little bit of a chance to scout out those teams a little bit and see what they have to prepare us for that competition,” Herrera said. “Mainly with the Darton Tournament, I want to see my team come together.”
As they come together and continue their success in the second year of the program and second year competing at the club level, they are preparing for a move — like baseball — from club to the NJCAA level. The team is already getting noticed with coaches wanting to play the Golden Knights and four-year coaches inquiring about players. With that, the next step becomes that much easier to take.
“When [Athletic Director] Walter [Dunson] and I talked last year, we had the same common goal — we need to build a little bit before we take that step. I knew if I had the ability to go out and recruit and recruit some good kids, we would be able to compete this year. I don’t want to just compete at the JUCO level, I want to be able to win and we have done that. I definitely think next year, with us being successful this season, will bring in a lot more kids,” Herrera said.
The program will also grow as support continues. The Golden Knights will play at home 13 times the rest of the year — with 12 of those dates being doubleheaders — at the Douglas County Sports Complex. The home opener this fall is on Feb. 12 with a doubleheader against Southern Union.
“We’d love to have support. I think as the program grows, the more [support] will come along. But the more support we have, I think [the program] will continue to expand,” Herrera said.