Head Coach Beverly Smith Recaps 2020 Fall
Looks ahead to 2021 spring season
“I had a lot of takeaways from the fall. I’d tell you the day was our last day of practice. I feel so fortunate that we were able to get in as many practices as we did. We had great weather. I think I’ve said before, we’ve have 27 players on the roster. So we’re really deep the season. It was great to get out there after the COVID break and just get in the reps and start introducing the new players into the system and getting them familiar with our returners. A couple takeaways, outside of our depth, I think we added a lot of team speed. I think we’re faster than we’ve been in the past. We’ve added a plethora of left-handed hitters. So we’ll look a little bit different from the left-handed side. And I’m just excited about the depth and the decisions we’ll have as coaches.
“That’s a good question, Patrick. I think we have a lot of room to grow there still, but what I felt good about from a coaching standpoint is where we started and how we finished. And you can see the progression of the team and their development. And I feel really good about our projection.
“Yeah not being able to have outside competition was tough. Normally for us, as you know, we’ll get the play eight games in the fall. Not having outside competition. We tried to make it as interesting and competitive as possible. And again, as coaches, we were excited. We have 27 players. We were going to do two teams split the whole time. We introduced some of the athletes on limited model in terms of scoring. We tried to keep it as interesting as possible. So the first three games was a straight, a three game inner squad scrimmage coaches picks the team. And then after that, we went with the athletes unlimited model where our top two point earners drafted and we went into a three team draft. We had three teams for the next three game series, and that turned out to be very competitive as well. So a lot of competitive games, I think we learned a lot inside of the competition. And I think the other thing is while it was really competitive, we’re also ready to just face an opponent. You can only see your pitchers and hitter so many times, but I’ll be excited when we actually get to square up against a different Jersey.
“That was fun for me personally. So they were our three top point earners. And so they won, they had the draft and I loved hearing their comments as they’re drafting their team. And then once they drafted, I said, well now make out the lineup and then decide who’s starting and who’s closing for the pitching staff and it completely stressed them out. And then they said, well who’s available, who’s injured, who can somebody play? And I said, welcome to my world. Be prepared if somebody comes in and they can’t play, or they’re out sick, or we call it sudden change, be ready for sudden change. So then having to decide who was going to be the starting pitcher and who was going to close, it was really fun to watch. The other thing we did inside of that is we had some players that were injured and they coached the bases and made the game calls. So that was fun to watch too. I think they could continue to learn inside of practice even if they couldn’t participate.
“Well, it’s always disappointing when we lose a player to injury. But I tell you, I think we’ve got a great medical team here. And that was one thing we really battled more than the virus as we were battling the injury bug. So I think just making sure our players are really getting in their rehab and strength additioning over break is going to be really important. But certainly as a coach, you never want players to go down and lose a year to injury. But I know that Haley Simpson will come back as good as ever. She’s going to get some great care. And it’s particularly a bummer for Alex being this is her senior year.
“Yes I think that we got a lot of live hitting in this fall, which would definitely was great for our offense and our hitters. They saw a lot of live arm. For me having seven pitchers offers us a lot of possibilities. It’s nice to see Kelsey Oh and KK Drotar back and healthy. And then having four other arms, we’d have two lefties on staff now. I think specifically, ’cause we don’t know what’s going to happen in the spring. If somebody gets sick or goes down, I feel like we have the depth in our pitching staff that will be able to compete. So I do, I like all the different looks. I think it’ll be good for match-ups for us. I think we’ve got a nice balance of pitching speeds of different strength of pitchers. And we’ll definitely be able to give teams lots of different looks. I think you bring up a great point. And I think it’s not just with our pitching staff, but all of our COVID seniors. It’s been fun to watch because we have 10 rookies on the team. It’s been fun to watch, like you said, KK and Kelsey mentor the pitchers in the bullpen. Mac and Kenzi are doing the same thing on the infield. Lauren Stewart, same thing in the outfield is we have these great mentors. I’ve been calling them COVID seniors. Our COVID seniors are back. They’ve all have a lot of game time under their belt. They’re very respected by their teammates and they have been great mentors out there on the field for us. So that has really been fun to watch that growth. And I think you’re right, the rookies have really gravitated towards them.
“I know it’s crazy. And same thing with Cayla Drotar. Lauren Stewart will be in her sixth season. She transferred in, but when we recruited that group, they all came in with a mindset of changing the program and winning a national title. And they have come in with the work ethic to do it. And they really have changed the culture here for South Carolina Softball. You’re right from their freshman year, the extra work they get in and the way they come about in doing their business has not changed. And it is fun to watch. It makes me feel old sometimes. I started recruiting KK Drotar when I got the job here in 2010, she was in seventh grade and she was such a talent at that point. I kept hearing about, hey, you need to see this seventh grader at Hartsville High School. So to think about life without them, it’s definitely going to be different next year. And I am so grateful that the four of them made the decision to come back and play there and take advantage of their senior season, because I believe they have been the best to wear the Garnet and Black and I want them to go out on top and have an opportunity to set the individual records that they can do. But what they want is an SEC Championship and a national championship as well.
“Oh, there’s no doubt. And that’s one of the things that’s been fun to watch this fall is I think our outfield is going to be really strong. I keep talking about any ball in the air, we’re going to catch it. And Lauren Stewart leads that charge. And the thing I like about Lauren is she was really the first COVID senior to speak up. She has had so many injuries she’s battled over the years. You would have understood if she would have said, “No I’m good.” Right? And she was the first one that just say, “I’m in, I’m back.” And just the way she’s taking care of her body and prepared, she wants to come back and compete and win. And I’m going to be excited this year in the outfield again.
“I like everything about this class. And you have to remember, this is the class that was recruited to replace our COVID seniors. And so I’m thrilled that they get to be there and work alongside them. I mean, it has really been a blessing honestly, that they get to work out with them. So the class itself is very talented. We’ve got just, I would say athletes, the athleticism of this class is big, but having two pitchers, we’ve got infielders that are utility that can go play the outfield. We’ve got outfield and speed. And as I mentioned, seven of the 10 rookies swing from the left side. So we didn’t get to see Zoe Laneaux a lot this fall, she was injured, but I think she’s going to add a tremendous amount of power with her and Leslie Carroll, from behind the plate, we add some power, speed and just a ton of depth. So I’m very excited about this class.
“Yeah I think we can play the matchup game. I think we can put the ball down and run. We can create some chaos for teams. We can swing. I think we could have matchups based on who the opposing pitcher is. I just think we have a lot of different options, but there’s no doubt I could stack lefties if we needed to as an option. But there’s no doubt that our depth is going to be a key to our art strength this year.
“Yeah I think position battles for us are going to be behind the plate and the corners. Kenzi and Mac have been four year starters for us in the middle. I feel Lauren Stewart’s going to lock down an outfield position, but I feel like our question marks are really at the corners and behind the plate. And again, we’ve just got a lot of great athletes competing for those spots. So for me, it’ll probably shake itself out from an offensive standpoint because all of the players really do a nice job defensively. So we’ll have to let it shake out on the offensive side. But I think the competition piece is really good. And I think that we have to be ready. We say it all the time is flexible and we have to be ready for sudden change if we run into any contact tracing or COVID issues when the spring starts. So I think everybody has prepared themselves to stay ready and play multiple positions.
“I have no updates on the spring schedule, unfortunately. I can tell you that the coaches and the SEC we’re all on the same page in terms of, we feel like we want to keep this schedule as close to normal as possible. Since we were all affected by COVID last year, we would love to play 56 games if that’s possible. But we certainly want to have a non-conference portion and then roll into a conference piece. But we won’t know the answer probably until the end of the month, unfortunately.
“I am thrilled to get out and watch Women’s Basketball. I can’t imagine what they went through as a team when you win the SEC Tournament and you’re poised to be the overall number one seed and the tournament gets ripped away from you. So I’m excited to see this new group for her come out and really give Gamecock fans a lot to cheer about.”