Nashville, Tenn. - The Tennessee State Tigers were picked to finish eleventh in the 2012 Ohio Valley Conference Preseason Softball Poll, which is voted on by the league's head coaches and sports information directors. The Tigers finished 11-43, 5-24 in the OVC, last season.
"Not a surprise based off of our history and last season," said Coach Jeff Dabney. "Picking us last is probably the correct thing."
The Tigers return seven from the 2011 season, including junior Tedra Alford who led the team with a .319 batting average and 23 runs scored. Alford was recently named to the College Sports Madness OVC Preseason All-Conference Second Team.
"It is a good thing for Teddy," Dabney commented. "She gets recognized for the things she did last season. She stood out quite a bit in conference play and is rewarded for her play."
Also returning is senior Kelly Troglin who batted .274 and picked up three victories as a pitcher.
Dabney, the Tigers second year coach, has brought in seven newcomers to help the team goal of reaching the conference tournament for the first time since 2001. Along with early signees Jordan Rehl and twins, Kate Morris and Shea Morris, the Tigers first-year members include junior college transfer Jennifer Givens, St. John's transfer Devin Amar, and freshmen Tayler Shimizu and Savannah Gutierrez.
"Luckily for us we have a lot of new faces around here and the talent we have is not a representative of a last place team," Dabney said. "Hopefully we just go out and do the things we need to do and we will see what happens. Hopefully the kids use it as motivation, but hopefully, playing well is the main motivation."
Givens comes to TSU via Volunteer State where she spent two seasons. The Kingston, Tenn. native stole 106 bases in her two-year career and was named a Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-American as a sophomore.
"Jennifer is going to be an impact player for us and will fill a need for us in the outfield," said Dabney. "She will bring many different elements to the table and I expect her to be one of the top players in the league."
Amar comes to TSU as a sophomore after playing in the Big East conference as a freshman. The Oxnard, Calif., native saw limited playing time in her first season after a very successful prep career. In 2009, she helped her travel team, the So Cal Pumas to a third place finish at the ASA 18-U National Championships.
"Devin was a late gift," Dabney stated. "She came to us out of nowhere and she is going to be a big presence for us in the middle of the line-up. I expect her to be a threat in every game we play."
Shimizu batted .380 as a senior in high school and was named team MVP at Baldwin High School in Wailuku, Hawai'i. Shimizu, a three-time All-Maui Interscholastic League selection, played travel ball for the Hawai'i Kamikazes.
"Tayler is a good find for us," Dabney commented. "We brought her in for one position and found out she will help us at another. She is an athletic kid who is going to help us in the lineup and we look forward to her showing her skills immediately as a freshman."
Gutierrez was a four-year starter and two-time all-league selection at Paraclete High School. As a senior, she batted .413 with a .541 on base percentage and 23 stolen bases. The Lancaster, Calif., native finished with a 1.65 earned run average in the circle and was named first team All-CIF. Gutierrez played her travel ball for the California Stealth-Adams.
"Savannah was a late find for us," said Dabney. "She brings leadership qualities above and beyond her skills. She is going to do things for us in the outfield and in the circle. We are looking for some big things out of her and I can't wait to get her on the field.
TSU will play in four tournaments to start the season before opening OVC play against Murray State on Saturday, March 10. Tiger Field will be the site for the three-game series with the Racers.
"The positive is we can't go any lower," Dabney mentioned. "We can only go up. There is no expectation of our program from anybody other then ourselves and that is exactly how we like it here. Now the team is locked in and understands what other teams' focus is. They are not worried about us. So we can go ahead and play and do our job and move up the ladder on our own."
The season opener is Thursday, February 10, in Columbia, S.C., as the Tigers face SEC member South Carolina.
(as voted on by the league's head softball coaches and sports information directors)
1. Jacksonville State (14 first-place votes) - 190
2. Eastern Illinois (Two first-place votes) - 162
3. UT Martin (Three first-place votes) - 159
4. SIUE (One first-place vote) - 139
5. Southeast Missouri (One first-place vote) - 132
6. Tennessee Tech (One first-place vote) - 117
7. Murray State - 109
8. Eastern Kentucky - 75
9. Morehead State - 61
10. Austin Peay - 37
11. Tennessee State - 24