North Alabama (Lions)
Coach: Ashley Cozart (4th season; 136-39)
Conference: Gulf South Conference
2016 Finish: 60-7 (30-3 in GSC – NCAA National Champions)
Defending D2 Softball National Champions North Alabama begins the 2017 season in familiar territory.
Following their historic run to the first national title in program history, the Lions have been unanimously chosen the top in the nation in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) D2 Top 25 Preseason Coaches Poll.
The Lions return senior Anna Gayle Norris, a First Team All-American selection last year when she hit .387 for the Lions, drove in 64 runs, and was second on the team with 14 home runs. She was also a D2CCA first team All-South Region selection after collecting 63 hits, including seven doubles.
Also returning is junior shortstop Reagan Tittle — an honorable mention selection last season who started every game at shortstop for the Lions in 2016. Tittle hit .352 on the year and posted 22 multiple-hit games, along with 11 games with at least two RBI. She was also tabbed First Team All-GSC, first team NFCA All-South Region and first team D2CCA All-South Region.
In the circle, the national champs return their top two pitchers from 2016: Hillary Carpenter and Raven Cole. Carpenter and Cole were both First Team All-GSC selections last season and posted a combined record of 58-6.
2016 GSC Coach of the Year Ashley Cozart is entering her fourth season at the helm of the Lion dugout, and offered us some insight into the upcoming season:
What will be the biggest difference between this year's team and last year's team?
"I think our offense will be different! Not a bad different but we're going to score in different ways and have to get more production from everyone not just a few players. I think we will have more speed options too instead of relying solely on power."
Which newcomers do you think will make the biggest impact for your team this season?
"We have several freshmen who have really stepped up for us. Hannah Shollenberger will play some 3rd for us and had a great fall, Madison Daniel will see time in the outfield and has a lot of speed, and Sydney Sanders will be a big bat in our lineup and give us innings behind the plate."
Which players do you expect to lead the team this season? Please name the captains if you know them.
"Obviously our pitching staff Hillary Carpenter and Raven Cole will be huge impact players this year for us. Along with Reagan Tittle our short stop, Anna Gayle Norris our DP, and Bailey Nelson our lead off from last year."
Is there one team/series you have circled on your calendar as your 'Game of the Year'?
"In this conference and with our schedule this year, every game is our game of the year. We've always focused on "winning the next game" and with the target on our back this year…..we're going to have to bring it every game."
Is there anything else you want fans to know about your team?
"Just that it's a new year and a new team and we're going to have our own identity and be ourselves but also still have a lot of fun and be us!"