Softball team sets school record

Junior first baseman Anna Gayle Norris awaits the pitch against Valdosta State Feb. 12. The Lions are off to their best start in school history with a 21-4 record and a No. 8 ranking in the NFCA Division II Top 25 Coaches Poll.

by Associate Sports Editor Savannah Vickery

The UNA softball team (21-4, 7-2 Gulf South Conference) reached its highest ranking in school history this week at No. 6 in the NFCA Division II Top 25 Coaches Poll. Last week, UNA set the record at No. 8 in the initial poll.

Despite the record-setting accolade, the team is not concerned with the rankings, said head coach Ashley Cozart.

“The No. 8 ranking is awesome, and it’s a testament to how hard they work,” Cozart said. “But it is just a number, and no number could ever say how proud I am of them.”

The team added another accomplishment to its belt Saturday, as junior right-handed pitcher Hillary Carpenter earned career win No. 49, setting the record for most wins in school history.

Carpenter said she believes the team has potential to play for a championship, given its strength of schedule.

“We play in one of the toughest conferences in the nation,” Carpenter said. “I think that prepares us to go all the way.”

Carpenter said the high ranking is a big accomplishment, but where they finish matters most. Carpenter, who is a three-year letterman for UNA, said this may be the most cohesive unit she has played with.

“I think this year’s team chemistry has the potential to take us even further,” Carpenter said. “It is definitely our biggest strength.”

The No. 8 ranking is a great accomplishment for the team, but the Lions do not plan on stopping, said sophomore outfielder Bailey Nelson.

“Rankings are great, but they don’t win championships,” Nelson said. “I think if we continue to play up to our potential, then we can be in the mix at the end.”

Nelson said she agreed unity is the biggest strength for UNA so far.

“Everyone in the lineup is dedicated to improving and accomplishing their role to be a better team,” she said.

Cozart said not only is this team talented, but it has remarkable chemistry, making her the luckiest coach around.

“Our best quality is how well we work together,” Cozart said. “You can have all the talent in the world, but if you’re not playing together, then you’re not going to succeed. That has been a big part for us.”

Compared to last season, Cozart said hitting throughout the lineup is the biggest improvement.

“Areas we’ve improved from last year include our strength at the plate from batters one through nine,” Cozart said. “At any point in our lineup, we have the ability to change a game. We also have more leadership on this team.”

The Lions face West Florida (17-4, 7-2) in GSC action March 5-6. The series will be three games long, all played at the UNA softball complex.

Cozart said this week’s matchup with West Florida (17-4, 7-2 GSC) could factor into where the team ends up later in the year.

“There’s no doubt in my mind this team has the ability to play for a championship,” Cozart said. “But we’re taking things game by game, and there’s a lot of games left till we get to where we need to be.”

UNA hosts the Argonauts in GSC action March 5-6. The series will be three games long, all played at the UNA softball complex.