Jeri Gulsby/UA Media Relations
Head coach Patrick Murphy, associate head coach Alyson Habetz, assistant coach Stephanie VanBrakle, volunteer assistant coach Adam Arbour, student assistant coach Whitney Larsen and director of operations Kate Harris of the 2012 NCAA Division I National Champions Alabama have been named as the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division I National Coaching Staff of the Year, the Association announced on Wednesday. The Crimson Tide went 60-8 on the year and battled back from a 0-1 deficit in the WCWS Championship Series to capture the first softball national championship in school and SEC history Alabama turned in a 23-5 record in the always tough SEC, capturing its third-consecutive regular season championship and first tournament title since 2010.
Familiar names like Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza have long since moved on, but the Americans always have a full supply of top-notch talent. Traina, a 5-foot-11 Naples, Fla., native who led Alabama to their first NCAA title last month as a sophomore, is one of their best newcomers. She went 42-3 in the circle this season, with a school-record 361 strikeouts, and after Alabama beat Oklahoma 5-4 in the third and deciding game of the NCAA championship series, she was named the tournament’s outstanding player. She also got the victory Monday, giving up one hit over four innings while striking out five and walking no one, in a 3-0 USA decision over Australia in the World Cup of Softball final in Oklahoma City.
OG Chance Warmack (Sr.)
2011 season: Started all 13 games at left guard, running his consecutive starts streak to 26 games. Second-team All-SEC selection by league coaches. Three-time offensive player of the week choice by UA coaching staff. Up Front Award recipient at team banquet.
2012 spring practice: Heads into third and final season as a starter. Alabama has posted a 22-4 record in Warmack's 26 games on the job. Lee Roy Jordan Headhunter Award recipient.
What he brings to the table: A devastating force when pulling from the left guard spot, Warmack seldom misses intended target on power plays. Combination of strength and athleticism has Warmack on the rise in the eyes of NFL scouts.
Alabama: Even with such a dynamic back like Trent Richardson gone, Alabama still returns a very deep and talented running back corps. We all know that Nick Saban loves to pound teams into the ground running the ball, and it should certainly happen again this year. The best thing going for Alabama’s running backs is all the talent and experience returning along the offensive line. But let’s stick to the backs returning for the sake of arguing. Alabama hits you with two very physical backs who dish out blows just as easy as they take them. Eddie Lacy will head this group, and he is the Tide’s leading returning rusher with 674 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Sharing the load with Lacy will be Jalston Fowler. Both Lacy and Fowler are over 220lbs each, with Fowler tipping the scales at 250lbs. Fowler carried 56 times for 385 yards and four touchdowns a year ago. Alabama will feature those two backs, but freshmen TJ Yeldon and Dee Hart and sophomore Blake Sims should see playing time. Yeldon was an early enrollee who stole the show at Alabama’s A Day Game. Hart missed last season with a torn ACL, but he’s a dynamic playmaker who will likely provide a spark on special teams. This group is deep and talented, even with Richardson gone.
The first event, the SPARQ Rating National Championship, will feature all athletes at the event, regardless of position. The event measures every player's results in a series of different drills in order to calculate the player's SPARQ rating (which stands for speed, power, agility, reaction and quickness). Among those expected to challenge for the SPARQ title are Alabama commit Reuben Foster from Auburn High School, as well as running back Derrick Henry who recently named the Tide his current favorite school.
Tide commitments competing include Reuben Foster, five-star linebacker from Auburn High School, Ala., Altee Tenpenny, four-star running back from North Little Rock High School in Ark., O.J. Howard, four-star tight end from Autauga Academy in Prattville, Ala., Cooper Bateman, four-star quarterback from Cottonwood High School in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Maurice Smith, four-star cornerback from Dulles High School in Sugar Land, Texas. Tenpenny participated in The Opening a year ago where he was one of the top overall performers. A lot of eyes are on Foster who said a few days ago he along with Georgia commitment Tray Matthews are "definitely" playing together in college. Alabama remains hopeful he will stick with his commitment while Auburn and Georgia are strongly in the mix.
But at this stage, equal or lesser access for the have-nots is even more hypothetical. All the strongest indications we have suggest that access will increase, not decrease. And that's on top of the all-but-incontrovertible fact that if the national championship door for the Boises and Cincinnatis and even Southern Misses of the FBS world isn't wide open yet, at least it's finally been cracked. There may come a day when the optimism of men like Big East associate commissioner Nick Carparelli -- who told Murphy that "the notion there is going to be less access is a false one" -- is proven false, and the criticism of the playoff's openness towards the have-nots is justified. But that day hasn't come yet--and based on where things stand today, we'd argue that the day will come instead when the have-nots raise their proverbial glasses to the BCS's demise instead.
It's hard to find a team that went through a more disastrous off-season than the Razorbacks. Petrino, after wrecking his Harley Davidson and a attempting (horribly) to cover up his inappropriate relationship with the 25-year-old Jessica Dorrell, is out, and Smith, a former Arkansas assistant who is on the backside of his coaching career, is in. On top of that, three Arkansas players, including promising wide receiver Marquel Wade, were arrested for felony burglary and promptly suspended. And just yesterday, it was revealed that Smith was filing for bankruptcy because of some bad real estate investments. Arguably no one wants the season opener to arrive faster than the Razorbacks because they're still good enough to be one of the best teams in the country. Wilson and Davis give Arkansas one of the best one-two punches in the nation and the defense, under new coordinator Paul Haynes, shouldn't be a liability like it's been in years' past. Though the national-title-or-bust hype was tempered a bit by all that's gone wrong, Arkansas is too good of a team for it to completely disappear.
Alabama seems somewhat willing to schedule teams, but they have a knack for pursuing "neutral site games." I'm not sure how neutral Arlington, Texas, will be later this year when Michigan and Alabama clash. (Alabama has a November showdown with Western Carolina in the middle of November 2012). Nor am I too sure how neutral Atlanta, Georgia will be in 2014 when the Tide meets Virginia Tech. (Alabama does have a home-and-home scheduled with middling Michigan State in 2016 and 2017, one must wonder how much weight that holds with Saban due to his reluctance to set up the same arrangement with Wisconsin.)