NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Head softball coach Jeff Dabney is preparing for the 2014 season with the completion of their fall playing season and individual workouts. Dabney moves into his fourth season with nine returners and eight newcomers. Freshmen Angela Adkins (Bowling Green, Ky.), Rebekka Gross (Angels Camp, Calif.), Olivia Lawson (Rogersville, Tenn.), and Hannah St. Clair (Taylorsville, N.C.), along with sophomore-transfer Carmen Hill (Marietta, Ga.) join 2012 early signees Courtney Gearlds, Sydney Shoulders and Liz Stansberry as the new group of Tigers for the upcoming season.
“These five, and when you add Sydney (Shoulders), Liz (Stansberry) and Courtney (Gearlds), is a great incoming class,” said Dabney. “I think each year we have gotten better with quality athletes. This group, if you set aside the athleticism and the pure playing ability, they bring the one aspect we needed around here, that is a new prospective and a great attitude.”
Adkins was a four-year starter at Greenwood High School and closed out her senior season as part of the only undefeated team in Kentucky fastpitch history as the Lady Gators captured the state championship with a 44-0 record. Adkins won the National Guards Best and Brightest Award and the South Central Outstanding Regional Excellence in Sports Award, as well as being named GHS Best Female Athlete. As a freshman, she was voted Rookie of the Year at GHS and was a three-time Best All-Around Player selection. Adkins earned a spot on the All-State, All-Region and All-District teams as a sophomore and as a senior.
The outfielder was selected to play in the Kentucky/Tennessee All-State Game and was a two-time member of the Kentucky East/West All-State game. Adkins was also a four-year member of the basketball team and was named to the All-District team in 2011 and 2013 and earned a spot on the All-Region team as a senior. Adkins played travel ball for the Louisville Magic who finished ninth at the 2013 PGF Platinum National Championships. Off the field, Adkins was a two-year student volunteer at the Bowling Green Humane Shelter and was a pledge drive volunteer for WKYU.
“Angela is someone we tried to get in the early signing period,” Dabney said. “She is a great kid with a great personality and has a big upside. I anticipate a great career out of this kid. She’s an outfielder who can play the infield. She is the type of kid we are looking for; solid bat with speed, a good arm, good instincts, and she understand the game.”
Gross is a four-year letter-winner for head coach Jacey Bray at Bret Harte High School. The catcher hit .393 as a four-time All-League and All-Area selection. Gross was also a four-year member of the basketball team and served as captain for both sports during her senior season. The California native played her travel ball for John Heinz and the All American Sports Academy, as well as for the late Phil Mumma and Sorcerer Softball.
“Becca was an accidental find,” Dabney stated. “I saw her playing centerfield the first time I ever watched her. She was a solid outfielder, but at the time, we weren’t really looking for an outfielder. It was during a camp and she came up and asked what I thought, I asked her if she did anything else besides outfield. She replied, ‘I am a catcher’. We were in the market for a catcher. We put her behind the plate and it did not take long to realize she understood what it took to be a catcher. She was a person you could not just say no too. I had to have her in our program. Great instincts behind the plate and she is exactly what we wanted. Our pitchers will love throwing to her.”
Lawson batted .479 with a .825 slugging as a four-year player at Cherokee High School under Charlie Christopher. Lawson was selected to the All-Conference team as a sophomore, junior and a senior, as well as to the District All-Tournament Team in those same seasons. The utility player was named All-Lakeway as a senior. Lawson was a four-year member of the CHS volleyball team and won the Hustle Award as a junior and named All-Conference in her senior campaign.
In the classroom, Lawson was a 4.0 Athletic Award recipient and a Tennessee-Virginia Scholar. She ranked seventh in graduating her class and was a member of the Beta Club and Mu Alpha Theta. Lawson finished school with perfect attendance from Kindergarten-through-end of senior year, as she graduated with honors and distinction.
Lawson started her travel ball career with the Morristown Hurricanes where she batted .575 for head coach Kenny King. Lawson continued her playing career with Mike Mayfield and the Tennessee White Lightning before closing out her travel experience hitting .500 for Coach Courtland Styles and the Knoxville Speed.
“We did know exactly what we were getting in (Olivia) Lawson,” Dabney commented. “I saw her on video and saw potential. She played multiple positions and having a true utility kid, in every sense of the word, is good for us. What I didn’t realize is how she is such a big of a competitor and hard worker. She just brings a high level of competitiveness to the field all the time. I like what she is going to bring in the circle and I believe she will be able to give us good quality innings. I like what she is going to bring at the plate as a strong kid with power potential. But, her attitude is the biggest draw for our program.”
St. Clair played for four seasons with coach Montey Sherrill and Alexander Central High School. The pitcher was selected as the MVP of the State Championship team her sophomore season. St. Clair competed in volleyball, soccer and basketball while at ACHS and earned the Coaches Award in volleyball. She was an Honor Graduate and a member of the Beta Club. St. Clair competed in the 2013 ASA National Tournament with the Atlanta Vipers, coached by Charlie Sullivan.
“We were looking for quality another arm and she stood out,” Dabney stated. “I love her mentality; she is a competitive kid and likes to work. Everything we needed in a freshman pitcher. Hannah came to camp last year and we’re watching this kid moving the ball around and popping the glove pretty good. Obviously, pitching is a big part of this game and I believe she will be a big part of our success this year.”
Hill transferred after one season as a member of the SWAC Champions, Mississippi Valley State. At MVSU, the outfielder played in 19 games, starting 16, and finished with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in 81 chances. Hill excelled academically being named to the President’s List and an NFCA Academic All-American.
Hill competed for Nancy Donnelly at Marietta High School. The four-year letter-winner was named defensive MVP as a junior and team MVP as a senior. In her final season at MHS, Hill earned a spot on the All-Region 1st Team. During travel ball, her Georgia Elite team, coached by Daniel Caldwell, claimed a Top-10 finish at the 2011 Premiere Nationals.
“We had seen her in the summer prior to going to MVSU,” Dabney said. “Our staff really thought she could play, but we didn’t have the means at the time. We had signed everybody by the time she popped up on the radar. It just happened to work out that she wanted to be a student at Tennessee State. So we took a chance on her, and having played against her former team, we had a chance to see her in person. She will fill a role and will have the potential to play.”
The additions of this year’s class will look to mesh with the returnees.
“We have heard from the returners about how much they like the newcomers,” Dabney said. “When your freshman class fits in quickly, the chemistry works. If they keep doing things the right way, that, in itself, makes us a better team and a better program.
Beyond that, kid-for-kid, they are bringing a level of play that they are all going to push for playing time. A few of them are going to be everyday starters. I can see that already. From top to bottom, we have solid pitching, speed, power, athleticism, leadership qualities and flexibility. Outside of Hannah as a pitcher, there isn’t one person in the group that plays just one position. Everybody else has flexibility. You can put them anywhere on the field and they will still thrive. That will give us more options as a program. Our goal when we first got here was to have a team that was so athletic, so flexible, that we never had to worry about injuries or slumps. There is always someone who can play a position.”