"It was different for a lot of people," Alabama outfielder Kayla Braud said. "...(The healing) was that first meeting when (Murphy) laid everything out on the table. That's when it was just over with, put in the past and we have big things to do this year." Alabama's season begins today at the Mardi Gras Invitational in Mobile, where it will play four games, including today's opener against Memphis at 3 p.m. and against host South Alabama Saturday at 5:30 p.m. Alabama defeated Memphis 7-1 last season in an NCAA regional in Tuscaloosa.
SCOUTING MEMPHIS Memphis enters the 2012 campaign coming off of its best season in school history. In only their sixth season of existence, the Tigers went 36-14, posting a school record .720 winning percentage and finished fourth in Conference USA. Memphis was selected for its first ever NCAA tournament appearance, where they were sent to the Tuscaloosa Regional. The Tigers return 14 letterwinners from last season’s squad, including five of 10 starters and three pitchers. Senior first baseman Jessica Phillips returns after her record setting junior year, where she set school records with 15 home runs and 44 RBI. In the circle, Carly Hummel returns. She was a big reason for their success last season, posting a 21-8 record with a 1.46 ERA. The right-hander struck out 196 in 168 1/3 innings pitched. Opponents hit a paltry .140 against the sophomore a year ago. The Tigers are led by first-year head coach Natalie Poole, who enters Memphis with a record of 312-299 in 10 seasons of coaching, previously coaching at McNeese State.
The era of new head coach Natalie Poole begins today as the University of Memphis softball team opens up their season on the road with a doubleheader against No. 2/3 Alabama and South Alabama in the Mardi Gras Invitational in Mobile, Ala. For Poole, opening the season against a team as highly ranked as the Crimson Tide can set the tone and establish expectations for the rest of the season. "You're facing a team (Alabama) that you're going to see in the postseason," Poole said. "You're facing a team that's basically going to create every scenario that you need to be in before you get into conference play"
The Alabama softball team will be featured nine times to a television audience, the Southeastern Conference announced Thursday. A total of 30 SEC softball games will air in accordance with the agreement with the ESPN networks and regional partners FOX Sports South/SportSouth and CSS. The Crimson Tide will play in front of a national audience six times on the ESPN family of networks. The nine total television dates are the most of any team in the conference.
"Kentucky's still an SEC school," said sophomore Diandra Milliner, who vaulted to the Tide's second perfect 10 of the season last week. "They're still pretty good. We're just going to try to have fun and stay focused and use this as good practice to move on." Alabama has performed twice at home, before crowds of 14,501 and 12,457. Kentucky has drawn 3,686 and 1,697 to its two home meets. "Being on the road, not having our own crowd, sometimes gets us down," Milliner said. "As a team, we create the excitement for ourselves at away meets."
2. Alabama: In any other league, Alabama would be at the top, and it wasn’t a slam-dunk that LSU would get the No. 1 spot. Mark Barron was the best safety in America. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick is poised to be a first-round draft choice, while the Tide’s other cornerback, DeQuan Menzie, was one of the more underrated players in the country. Alabama’s defense was menacing this season, and a big reason why goes back to how much they improved from 2010 to 2011 in the secondary.
Barron is our top-ranked safety, and for good reason: he's a hard hitter who plays the run well and possesses superb ball skills. He's got the long arms that Reese likes and has played a major role in both of Bama's recent National Championships. I'd expect him to immediately contribute on special teams before eventually becoming a key nickel player, and eventual starter, on defense. Giants' DC Perry Fewell loves to play a 3 safety defense, especially in this age of dominant TEs, and Deon Grant, a free agent, is not a lock to return. Even so, a replacement needs to be groomed. What better candidate than a guy from a Nick Saban championship defense.
Q: Did the strength of the defenses in the SEC compel you to change your offensive approach when you got to Alabama?
A: Number one, you adapt to the personnel you have, and you adapt to their strengths. Before you look at anyone else, you blend what you do offensively with your own defense and special teams. I've never cared about numbers, but I think our numbers were pretty decent. But at the end of the day the only number that matters is how many wins you have. However it works, that's the important part. But as far as opponents, it wasn't unlike the brief time I was in the National Football League, in that it's driven on not letting certain players disrupt what you do offensively, and not allowing them to create havoc within a game. There is a lot of those personnel matchups that you really have to focus on when you're putting the game plan together. Through personnel groups, through shifts and motion, if there is a way to create matchups that help you be successful, that's was a big part of the game plan. We tried to do that each week.
Former University of Alabama tight end Brad Smelley was honored as the Montgomery Quarterback Club's college player of the year earlier this week. The Tuscaloosa native, who played at American Christian Academy in high school, went with his family to receive the award at the club's annual awards banquet on Tuesday. Program director David Bowen said the club typically chooses an athlete who has not only performed well on the field but has also displayed strong academics and character. As well, the club also tends to favor athletes that might not have received as much recognition as they were due.
"The results came down and the decision with Andrew and his family was to play,'' Grant said. "He wanted to rejoin the team. We were told there was no health risk. Andrew has shown no signs of being hesitant or leery.'' Steele said he's hoping he can bring more awareness to athletes who suffer concussions. Concussion symptoms are a hot topic in sports like football and hockey, but it should also be taken as seriously in basketball or any other sport. "It's dangerous, and you have to make a good decision,'' Steele said. "The biggest thing is the headaches. You have to be honest. It's not like you broke a bone or something. You have to be honest with your symptoms. The long-term effects aren't worth the risks.'' Steele said he had headaches, was sensitive to bright light and "really loud noises." "You can tell that your body isn't normal,'' Steele said. "Sometimes I couldn't sleep well.''
"I definitely didn't expect for [the title game] to play like that," Jefferson told WCNN. "Alabama was a little bit more prepared than us. There was a lot of things that we should've did different to catch a rhythm on offense. To win a type of game like that, you've got to win all three phases -- offense, defense and special teams -- and we just didn't get over that hump to winning those phases. We kind of fell short in that game."
Though the round-the-clock sports-news company gets its deserved criticism for the chauvinistic template, it has a co-conspirator in all of this, and that would be millions of misogynistic college sports fans. Those fans, after all, inspired ESPN’s complain-here-about-women dropdown in the first place. The network’s Pam Ward in 2002 became a regular play-by-play announcer for Big Ten matchups. USA Today at the time called it a "pioneering" move. Big Ten zealots, however, called it something far different. Far more frequently, too, via complaints registered on the ESPN site. So frequently, in fact, that someone at ESPN felt the need a decade ago to break out all the slams against Pam Ward into their own virtual hive. The box is labeled "Commentator - dislike female commentators"; truth-in-labeling standards would dictate a different moniker: "Pam Ward Complaint Box."
Saban was less guarded. Then again, Saban's Bama team just won the national championship a month ago. In fact, Belichick grilled Saban about a handful of Bama's draftable players during the round. "I think when the season's over we all need a little solitude of doing something different," said Saban. "Just psychologically, you got to get sort of mentally flushed out so you're ready for the next thing. For [Belichick] it's going to be free agency and the draft. For us, we just finished recruiting, so we have an offseason program coming up and spring practice."
In addition, both people said, Rutgers is close to finalizing a home-and-home deal with Arkansas, starting this fall -- which would fill the other hole on the schedule. Rutgers would play at Arkansas this year, with the Razorbacks coming to High Point Solutions Stadium in 2013, becoming the first SEC team to play in Piscataway.