SEASON PREVIEW: Ayers Gives Inside Scoop On 2018 Dolphins

Makenzie Buss rounds first

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With a roster that's deep, a team that's young, and a coach that's passionate, the Jacksonville University softball team is sure to have a strong season in 2018. 

The Dolphins' season begins this Friday, Feb. 9 at home with the team's first tournament, the River City Leadoff.  With upperclassmen making up nearly half of the roster, first-year head coach Erica Ayers has a lot of confidence for 2018. 

"We have a really deep roster and I can see us going very far.  We're going to have fun and win," said Ayers.  

With nearly 20 years of coaching experience – including the past two as assistant coach for the Dolphins – Ayers was elevated to head coach this past summer.

After posting a 30-25 record last season, Ayers and staff prepared a hefty schedule for 2018.  Jacksonville will host four consecutive tournaments to open up the year, then head north to Terrapin territory for the Maryland Invitational. With a non-conference slate that features four new opponents (Miami University, Texas Arlington, Army, and Utah), the Dolphins will also contend with seven participants from the 2017 NCAA Division I Softball Tournament and two who participated in the 2017 National Invitational Softball Championship.

Jacksonville plays host to Connecticut, Jacksonville State, and Army in the season-opening River City Leadoff on Feb. 9-11. 

The Battery

"We feel like we have five quality arms that we can go to, "said Ayers. 

With three returners to the circle in senior Madison Ragan and sophomores Alyssa Bilodeau and Seana Mora, the Dolphins also add a pair of freshmen pitchers in Haley Holloway and Maddie Kaufman.

While Ayers is not yet able to name a starting pitcher for opening day, she's expecting Bilodeau and Mora to take on increased roles this year. She also believes that Holloway will see a lot of innings and Kaufman will be used strategically to work middle innings to throw the opposing batters off of their game.     

There are three options for catchers  with seniors Heather Roberts and Kamille Larrabee, and freshman Abby Genest. Expected behind the plate is Roberts who will be starting her third year with the Dolphins. 

"We've got three kids back there that we're pretty confident in. Kamille Larrabee is a good backup option for catching; she'll get some time, but I think Heather will probably be there most of the time. We also have freshman Abby Genest, who's coming along. She'll have a little time behind the plate as well," said Ayers.

Offense

The Dolphins have seven returners as well as "quite a few young kids that have some promise," stated Ayers. 

Ayers believes that Roberts, Ragan, and senior Danielle Baker will lead the Dolphins offensively.

"Heather is a pretty dominant offensive player. She has a tremendous amount of power, is very smart on the bases, and she's really quick. I would say she's our best hitter. Madison is a great hitter too; she hit four fours last year. Danielle hit three home runs last year, despite an injured wrist. She's speedy too, so I'm looking for her to have a breakout senior year now that she's healthy," said Ayers. 

Ayers also has a lot of faith in senior Allie McCourt, who set the Dolphins' single-season record with 35 stolen bases.

Added Ayers, "Allie was a spark at the top of the lineup last year. She hit over .330, got on base a ton and stole over 30 bases. She can be a catalyst for the offense, which I have a lot of confidence in and we'll find ways to score runs."

Defense

"I expect our entire infield to play well. We have experience and talent, so I anticipate that they will be playing at a high level this year," said Ayers. 

Around the diamond, Ayers predicts Roberts will likely be behind the plate with senior Jordan Daniels at third, Baker at shortstop, and freshman Serena Quinata at second. Chasing down fly balls will be McCourt in center field and senior Kristen Griffith in right.

"First base is a little up in the air, same with left field. [Sophomore] Makenzie Buss will be on the field no matter what. A lot of who we play in the field will depend on who our opponent is," added Ayers.

"The kids are incredible; we have a great group of girls who really make the job easy. I'm fortunate to coach softball for a living; I don't consider it work. It's fun. We're going to prepare and do our best. We'll make some mistakes, but we'll learn and we won't make them twice."