Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Championship Team; Five Years in the Making

Five seasons ago, Jacksonville finished dead last in the Atlantic Sun Conference with a 4-14 mark and managed only 15 wins throughout the year.

That was Amanda Lehotak’s first season as the head coach of Jacksonville and also marked the beginning of a steady climb up the A-Sun softball ladder for the Dolphins. JU claimed five league wins in 2009 and finished 11th out of 12th in the first year of collegiate softball for now seniors; Katie Kelly, Kat Engler and Jackie Samuels.

The following season, the Dolphins qualified for the 2009 A-Sun Softball Championship for only the second time in program history. As the four seed in the tournament, Jacksonville dropped both of their games by a total six runs, but the team gained valuable championship experience with Amanda Schmidt, Melissa Morales and Sarah Sigrest all seeing action as freshmen.

In 2010, Lehotak and the Dolphins has a breakthrough season by winning 33 games and posting only the program’s second winning record since joining the Atlantic Sun. The team added key pieces in with freshmen Olivia Kline, Sarah Simon, Morgan Kibler and transfer Annike Don, which helped the team win their first A-Sun Championship game since 2005 after finishing the season 10-10 in conference play.

With a balanced attack throughout the lineup, Jacksonville tore up the Atlantic Sun schedule with an 18-2 record to win the regular-season title, the program’s first. JU finished on a 12-game winning streak to enter the A-Sun Championship on the campus of USC Upstate as the top-seed.

In Spartanburg, Jacksonville saw contributions from every class. Starting with the underclassmen on Thursday with sophomore Sarah Simon’s two-RBI single in the second inning to key a 4-1 victory against Mercer, which advanced the Dolphins to Friday against Lipscomb where a freshman, Karson Tuck, drove a delivery over the left-field wall for a three-run trip around the bases in the bottom of the sixth inning when it looked like Lipscomb would take down the top seed.

On Championship Saturday, it was the upper-classmen that controlled the game with three seniors seeing action in the game including Kelly starting the game at short. Schmidt, a junior, made her mark on the game with two homers, while fellow junior Sigrest dealed mowed down Lipscomb batters with a complete game three-hitter for her third win and to earn the Tournament MVP honor.

The 7-1 win completed the Jacksonville turnaround in five short seasons under the tutelage of Lehotak and the coach put it best when describing the turnaround.

“Five seasons ago, we sold the seniors of a dream of winning the conference championship and to accomplish that this season in their final year makes me feel like a proud mother.”

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