Feb. 6, 2013
GREENVILLE, N.C. -- East Carolina's softball team officially began its next era with the hiring of head coach Beth Keylon-Randolph to run the program in late October. Since that time, Coach Keylon-Randolph and her staff have been working tirelessly to prepare the 2013 Pirates for action. The group that she inherited is an experienced group of 11 letterwinners, seven returning starters plus both primary pitchers from last season. Her program also has five talented freshmen to infuse the group with youthful enthusiasm and depth. It is truly a new era for ECU softball and on Friday, Feb. 8, it will all be on display for the Pirate Nation to see.
Prior to the start of the season, Coach Keylon-Randolph broke down her roster, gave an in-depth analysis of the 2013 Pirates, talked about her coaching philosophies and her first few months on the job.
Q: Thoughts on the upcoming 2013 season?
"We are very excited that the 2013 season is finally here. It has been a short time since my coaching staff and I arrived on campus, but we feel like we are prepared. The team is ready and excited for the year to start. In the few months since we have been here, the team has really come to believe in themselves. We are ready to start the season and are fired up. Some of the positions and who is playing where is still to be decided, and it may be that way for most of the season, yet the team is eager to be part of the everything going forward as one cohesive and collective group. That is always important. You always try to get the team believing in a team-first attitude and this group has it already in place."
Q: Expectations for upcoming season?
"It is my job to mentally prepare the team and each member of the squad to believe in themselves. Part of my job and my coaching staff's job is to let the team know that they are good and aid them in reaching their full potential. We are a very good team. I think the team's record last year was disappointing to them and not up to the standard and goals that they had wanted for themselves, but the team knows that they are better than their record would indicate and they are out to prove it this year. We are a very smart team. Our kids are very intelligent both in the classroom and on the field. We would like to be aggressive and force our game on our opponents. We are going to play the game hard and challenge each other and our opponents. It is very important for us as a staff to work on the process. And that process is to play Pirate Softball the best way that we can play. We will adjust our in-game strategies based on each of our opponents and the scouting report that we have, but we will always play our way no matter who we are playing."
Q: What is Pirate Softball?
"Pirate Softball is very much taken from my own personal philosophy. I like to be aggressive in all phases of the game. This involves running when we get people on base, hitting sometimes in unconventional situations, bunting when you don't think we would or with players that you won't expect and not bunting when you think the situation calls for it. I like my teams to be aggressive and somewhat unpredictable. I don't mind taking chances, but at the same time we will still play the game fundamentally sound and execute when asked to. We have such great defensive players that we feel like we need to be creative and stay aggressive offensively."
Q: Leadership of the Team
"We have quite a few leaders in different categories. Even though we only have two seniors, we do have seven juniors that we can call and rely on. Having nine kids that are upperclassmen is a huge benefit to our team. An upperclassman that really sticks out is junior Jill Jelnick. She is an amazing person and she is very committed to being the best in everything that she does. The great thing about Jill is that she wants to bring the team along with her. She is very excited about how the team has come together as one and now has a focused common goal to strive for. A few others that have led throughout the fall and early spring are Jasmine Robbins, Jordan Lewis, Kai Clark and Cicely Lopez. All four of them are great team leaders in their own right, but each also is very different in how they approach their leadership roles. Some are more leaders by example, while others can be a little more vocal."
"At our catching position we have Kai Clark. Kai is a senior that has been earning playing time since she came on campus as a freshman. She is a tremendous all-around catcher with an excellent throwing arm. Kai is a great on-field leader for us when she is behind the plate. Junior Abby Wynne is also competing for time for us. Abby is a fantastic hitter plus is smart and agile behind the plate."
Q: First Base
"We have a lot of options at first base. The thing that I really like about this team is the depth and the amount of options that we have at several positions including first base. We have a lot of flexibility and what I like to term `interchangeable parts'. Cicely Lopez and junior Jordan Lewis are the two primary first basemen in the preseason. Both of them can also play the outfield as well. Kelsi Briggs is a freshman that I could also see getting in the mix for playing time at first base. Kelsi is also capable of catching and playing third base."
Q: Second Base
"Kristi Oshiro is as solid as they come at second base. I feel as if she is one of the best all-around second basemen in the country and is a true leader at the position. Chelsea Kaluhiokalani-Glackin can and will also play some second base for us."
Q: Third Base
"Alex Fieldhouse is our number one player as we head into the season at third base. She is a junior with a lot of experience at the position. In the fall, she showed herself to be a player that would rise to the occasion and really played well in clutch situations. She knows the game and always seems to be in the right spot at the right time. Kelsi Briggs will also see time at third base for us this year."
"Chelsea Kaluhiokalani-Glackin is very experienced player and has earned the right to start off the preseason as the starter. However, freshman Casey Alcorn is an exciting player that is really going to push her at the position. She is one of the best all-around athletes on the team and only lacks experience right now. Casey is also a versatile player that will see time at third base and in the outfield. Her ability to hit, plus versatility will allow her to find a place somewhere in the lineup on a regular basis."
"The outfield is another position where we have some flexibility. Jasmine Robbins is our centerfielder. She really had a great fall with both her hitting and defense. She covers a lot of ground in the outfield. Our whole outfield is getting more aggressive and that is something that I want. When I first arrived the group was a little conservative and were fearful of diving for balls, but now we are getting the group to take some chances since they are beginning to understand that someone will be behind them as backup. Jill Jelnick has really taken over leftfield. She continues to improve daily and has made some great strides defensively. Right field is where things are interesting since we have many players that are capable of playing the position. Cicely Lopez is one that we are looking at. Jordan Lewis is another that is in competition for playing time. Chelsea Kaluhiokalani-Glackin can also play out there. Casey Alcorn might find some playing time in right field. Meredith Mitchell transferred in at the semester, but she is a tremendous outfielder that covers a lot of ground. She has a great arm and can play all three positions. Right field is a position where a lot of different girls can and will play this year. On any given day we have about nine hitters that we would like to see in the lineup and right field is a position where a lot of them could end up at different points throughout the season. The position is a critically defensive spot for us and our goal daily is to find the best person that can both hit and play that position defensively."
"As I look at my depth chart I have four pitchers listed, but I don't have them listed in any particular order because I feel like any one of them is capable of being our game starter depending on the team that we are playing. We don't really have a clear cut number one starter at this point. All of them bring something different to the table and depending on what we are looking for or how the game is going, they all may get the chance to start or pitch in relief. I have complete confidence in all of them. Sophomores Sarah Christian and Courtney Smith both have the experience. Morgan Eisenga is only a freshman, but she has played in strong club programs and pitched well during the fall. Mary Beth Smith is a freshman that was battling sickness for much of the fall, but is great pitcher and hitter that can also play in the outfield. She is finally healthy and will certainly factor for innings as pitcher and playing time in the field. I would title the group as 1a, 1b, 1c and 1d."
Q: Designated Player
"If Jordan Lewis is not playing in the field in right field, she will be our designated player. I really think Jordan is going to have a great year. Her hitting has always been good and consistent. It is her confidence level that we have really seen increase. The other player that will be used as the designated player when she doesn't catch is Kai Clark. I could also see Casey Alcorn or Kelsi Briggs getting time at the position."
Q: Feeling about this year's non-conference schedule?
"I love to play the best teams and having a strong non-conference schedule is certainly part of that. I like my teams to be challenged and I expect us to respond well. It is always exciting to play against elite competition and ranked teams and I feel that the only way to become the best, is to beat the best."
Q: Hosting three tournaments to start the season at home?
"Ideally you want to play as many of your games as you can at home because it is where your community and fans are. Our goal is to have a great and successful season so we can host a regional. A big part of that is making sure our team is comfortable in their home environment. We also want to travel and play well on the road because to consistently win and reach our goals, we are going to have to play well away from home. Nothing tests a team more than playing great competition on the road."
Q: Your Conference USA Schedule?
"Conference USA is one of the top softball conferences in the country. The conference sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament last season. We have so many great coaches in the conference plus some fantastic ultra-competitive teams. We need to come out to play hard every day in every series. There are no weekends where we can give less than our best."
Q: Your Coaching Staff?
"I am blessed to have such a great coaching staff with me here at ECU. Steve Jaecks brings so many tools. He is a great recruiter. He is phenomenal at scouting opponents, is excellent at strategy and we work well together. He is a true student of the game, but his best trait might be his ability to always look at the big picture and see where we need to go and the things that we need to do to get there. Leah Kelley and Courtney Crews are both young coaches, but I have the utmost confidence in both of them. I trust Leah to work with our hitters, as well as our middle infielders and outfielders. She has done a tremendous job of working on the outfield and making them more aggressive and consistent. Courtney's experience of catching in the Super-Regionals for Hofstra last season cannot be understated. She is also a very diligent worker and knowledgeable about the game. Her ability to work and relate to our catchers and the rest of the team is tremendously important."
Q: The type of coach you are?
"I am very passionate about the game. I think that a team will often mimic their head coach and I feel because of that you have to be very consistent with your players. Your players have to know that you expect excellence from them through their work ethic and daily efforts, but at the same time they also have to feel like you are supportive. I will coach, teach and instruct my team to play the game the right way, so when it comes to a tight or difficult situation there is no doubt what needs to be done to be successful. I think confidence is a key to success in the game of softball. If a team or player is not confident and comfortable, they are not going to perform well. Every player that plays for me has to earn their playing time and my trust. I am aggressive and demanding, but at the same time my teams know how much I love the game and enjoy coaching them."
Q: The type of softball the fans will see when they come out to watch the team play this season?
"I think fans are going to see a very energetic team that expects good things to happen. When a person comes to watch us play, they will see the interaction of all of us being in the moment and in that particular pitch. We take everything one pitch and out at a time. We will be aggressive and hustle and take care of the process without worrying about what the scoreboard says. Fans will see players believing in each other and coaches pushing and challenging the players in a very positive environment. I think that successful teams need to be in a positive environment, if they are going to reach their full potential. Don't get me wrong if the team is not producing or playing well, they are going to hear about it though."
Q: After being pursued in the past to take over other school's programs, what is the reason you decided to come to East Carolina?
"The number one reason was because of the tremendous support of the administration and the community. The facilities are also top-notch. I feel like East Carolina is a place where we can get the best athletes in the country to come and play, while also competing at the highest level with the added incentive and expectation of winning. And that is something that really appeals to me. I can't stand to lose. Some of the other places that I was pursued by in the past didn't have that commitment to winning. I wanted that level of commitment and to be pushed and challenged."
Q: Not many people can say they have won a national championship as a head coach, but you can, what was that experience like and what are some things that you learned going through last season that can be brought to ECU?
"A national championship is something that you strive for every year. If it is not your goal, then what is the point of playing and competing? If you don't make it, the season is not a failure by any means. It just means that you hadn't reached that particular goal. Going through the season last year, I think we did our best job of understanding the process of the game. I keep going back to the process, and what I mean is that even if a team struggles early in a game and are down by a couple of runs they have a choice. They can either throw in the towel or find a way to keep battling. What we did last year at Chattanooga State was to keep battling and never get rattled or off course. We also had good depth and kids that played their roles very well. Leading up to the national championship we expected to win it. That seems arrogant, but it was simply the confidence that had been instilled in the team throughout the season about never quitting. The whole year we dealt with a lot of adversity, but at the same time our team thrived in that environment and in those moments. I firmly believe you need to believe you can do something before you do it. To win a national championship you need to have confidence, some luck and every person in the dugout believing that it is going to happen."
Q: How have your first few months on the job at ECU gone?
"The first few months have been quite busy, but I don't do well as a coach or a person unless I am being kept busy. Getting used to everything, knowing what to do, where to go and who to see has made for an interest few months. The support that I have received here has been tremendous though from our fellow coaches, the administrators like Rosie Thompson and J.J. McLamb and everyone else that has made the transition go smoothly. No one has ever told us no or told us that we had to figure out something on our own. They have all been supportive and ask us how they can help us. It has been busy, but also very rewarding."