Heather Leigh is one of three seniors on the UAPB softball roster. (Commercial file photo)
First year head coach Tiffany Ansley is trying to give the Arkansas-Pine Bluff Lady Lions a clean slate.
“Anything that has happened in the past, has happened in the past,” Ansley said. “There is nobody really that I treat differently, old or new.”
UAPB finished last season with an overall record of 8-36 and 6-11 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The Lady Lions are picked to finish 8th in the league.
“We are looking for a lot of improvement,” Ansley said. “We are looking to break a lot of records and hopefully we continue what the football team accomplished and make it to the SWAC championship.”
But the main goal for this season is for UAPB to set a foundation for the future.
“We want to do better in SWAC and do better in overall record,” Ansley said. “Kind of forget about the past and kind of build for years on end.”
Ansley was hired back in August and started in September. She was an assistant coach at Jackson State, which finished as the 2012 SWAC runner-up.
“The fall was very stressful,” Ansley said. “It was very hectic. But now, I’m a lot less stressed and I’m just focused on the girls.
“Mainly their academics so they can get ahead in the class and make sure their health is good.
“Honestly, this is the least amount of stress since I’ve been here.”
Currently, UAPB’s first game is at home against Central Arkansas on Feb. 13. But Ansley and UAPB are trying to schedule a game for Saturday against Southern Arkansas.
If the Lady Lions want any chance of erasing the memory of last season, their pitching will have to greatly improve.
Last season, UAPB had a team ERA of 8.13 (the worst in the conference). The Lady Lions gave up 32 home runs – the second most in the league – and teams had a batting average of .364 against them, the highest in the league. UAPB gave up 157 walks and struck out just 132 batters.
“We are lucky to have three pitchers this year,” Ansley said. “We had three in the fall but we had to let one of them go for NCAA rules.
“But we were able to bring a pitcher in this semester, and I think we are going to be very strong in the pitching aspect.”
Pitching for UAPB will be senior Heather Leigh, incoming junior Alexsis McCain and junior Lacie Sutterfield.
Last year, Sutterfield had a 6.21 ERA and was 1-12 in 14 starts with six complete games. In 89 innings of work, she gave up 100 runs (79 earned) on 136 hits with 37 walks and 36 strikeouts.
Her opponents had a .339 batting average.
McCain, who played softball for Fort Smith Southside High School, transferred to UAPB from Arkansas-Fort Smith.
Ansley said her assistant coach CeCe Kolesar, who played softball for UAPB, will be instrumental in helping the Lady Lions become more dominant in the circle.
“I think she is very strong and works with them well,” Ansley said.
Ansley said the team’s biggest strength for the 2013 season is the team’s overall comradery.
“Everyone seems to get along well,” Ansley said. “When your team doesn’t get along, it shows up on the field.
“Our team bonding is there and you can see that on the field. They take care of each other.”
Last season, UAPB had a team batting average of 2.30 with 48 doubles, nine home runs, 106 RBIs and 98 walks.
“It is difficult because they have had different coaches the past four years,” Ansley said. “Every coach has taught them a different technique.
“So instead of teaching them a different technique, I kind of just tweaked what they already know.
“The little tweaks have improved their skill a lot with the bat. So we will just see how it goes when they face a live pitcher.”
Last year, sophomore Tiressa Jacobs had a batting average of .300 in 33 games. She had 27 hits, 14 runs, six doubles, 17 RBIs and eight walks.
Heather Leigh had a batting average of .290 in 33 games. She had 27 hits, 10 runs, four doubles, two home runs and 13 RBIs.
Ansley said UAPB will be a combination of small ball and long ball.
“We have three lefties,” Ansley said. “They can slap for power, slap for little pops. They can also bunt and have some very good speed.”
Defending SWAC champions Mississippi Valley State is the preseason favorite to win the 2013 title according to the coaches’ poll.
The Devilettes were the overwhelming pick to repeat as champions, garnering 155 points and 11 first place votes.
Jackson State was picked to finish second with 141 points.
“The biggest game that I’m looking forward to is the Jackson State game,” Ansley said. “I know of a lot of the players and I’m close with the coach.
“I’m looking forward to that.”
UAPB will play Jackson State on March 23 as part of the SWAC Roundup in Longview, Texas. The Lady Lions will play the defending champs that same weekend.
On Feb. 27, UAPB will play against Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss.
“Our biggest game this year, besides the conference ones, is against Ole Miss,” Ansley said. “That will be a really good game and a different atmosphere.”