Softball has always been a big part of Andi Williamson’s life.
It has taken her many places and she’s been able to achieve a lot in the sport.
The 2013 season, however, will be the swan song for Williamson, a senior pitching ace at Marshall University and a former prep player locally at Harts and Chapmanville.
With the new season just three week away, the Marshall softball team began preparations for the upcoming campaign on Monday as the first official practice was held.
Marshall is scheduled to open the season on Feb. 8 against Big Ten powerhouse Michigan at the University of South Florida’s USF-Demarini Tournament in Tampa, Fla.
Williamson had a record-breaking season last year for the Herd as she won 25 games to lead Conference USA and to break Marshall’s single-season record of 23.
The 1.50 ERA posted last year by Williamson was the fifth-best number in Marshall school history. Her 268 strikeouts was also top among Conference USA pitchers. Williamson held opponents to a .195 batting average, the lowest number in school history and the only one ever below .200.
At season’s end, Williamson was named Second-Team All-Conference USA and was named to the NFCA Mideast All-Region Second Team.
And now, work begins for the 2013 season.
Williamson and Marshall coach Shonda Stanton are excited about this spring’s prospects.
“Andi’s work ethic and determination is evident in the success she has displayed,” Stanton said about her top pitcher in a recent statement. “We cannot underestimate the value of her role to this program and cannot wait to see where she takes us this year.”
Williamson and the Herd played well all season in 2012, advancing all the way to the C-USA championship game.
But it didn’t end well as Marshall lost 3-2 to Tulsa in the conference championship game and were not picked to play in the NCAA Tournament.
With a 36-21 overall mark and 15-9 record in the conference, Marshall figured it would be chosen to play in the national tourney.
Marshall, however, received no invitation.
The NCAA Selection Committee instead picked Tulsa and passed over the Herd by tabbing Conference USA teams Houston, UAB and UCF.
The UCF pick was quite puzzling as Marshall swept the Golden Knights, 5-0, 4-0 and 1-0 in a late-season series at Dot Hicks Field in Huntington.
Marshall also took two of three against Houston last season at home as the Herd won 5-2 and 1-0 and fell 3-2 to the Cougars.
“We were very disappointed that we weren’t picked,” said Williamson last May as she attended Chapmanville’s regional baseball tourney game against Wayne at Ted Ellis Field. “With the teams that made it over us we felt like we deserved to be there. We were the runner-up team in the conference.”
The Conference USA picks ended up doing poorly in the NCAA Tournament with a combined 2-8 record.
Conference champ Tulsa won 9-7 over Oregon State in its tourney opener at Norman, Okla. The Golden Hurricane then lost 7-1 to the Oklahoma Sooners and were eliminated 2-1 by Oregon State in a rematch.
Houston was also 1-2 in its Austin, Texas, region. The Cougars won 2-1 over Auburn, then lost 13-9 to Northwestern and 10-1 to the host Texas Longhorns.
UCF was 0-2 in its Gainesville, Fla., region, losing to South Florida (1-0) and the host Florida Gators (7-1).
UAB went 0-2 at Knoxville, Tenn., falling to Virginia Tech (4-1) and to the host Tennessee Volunteers (7-1), Williamson’s former team during her freshman season.
Williamson played one season at Tennessee in 2010 before transferring to Marshall in 2011.
“I thought this season (2012) was a lot better than last year,” Williamson said. “We had a point to prove this year because they predicted us eighth in the conference. We had a point to prove and I think that we played well.”
Williamson said she hopes the Herd can do even better this spring.
“We have goals set for the team and anything less than first place would be unsatisfying,” she said.
Williamson had a storied prep career — first leading Harts High School to the 2006 Class A state championship game and then leading Chapmanville Regional High School to 2A state crowns in 2007 and 2009. In her 2009 season, Williamson was named as the West Virginia State Softball Player of the Year and finished the season with a 0.09 ERA for the 32-3 Lady Tigers.
As is the case in most years, Marshall’s softball team will face a very difficult schedule this season.
It all begins in Tampa with the Feb. 8 opener against the Michigan Wolverines. Michigan, led by 27th-year head coach Carol Hutchins, is one of the top women’s softball programs in not only the Big Ten but also the Midwest.
Michigan has made 20 NCAA Tournament appearances since 1992 and have made it to the Women’s College World Series nine times. The Wolverines won the national championship in 2005 with a 65-7 record.
Last year, Michigan went 42-17.
After taking on the Wolverines, Marshall then plays South Florida, Samford and Florida Atlantic twice in the Tampa tourney, Feb. 8-10.
The Herd then heads to Atlanta to take part in the Georgia Tech Classic, Feb. 15-17. There, the Herd are set to face the host Yellow Jackets, Indiana twice and Miami (Fla.) twice.
Then its on for a third road trip on Feb. 22-24 as Marshall is scheduled to play in the Spartan Classic in Greensboro, N.C. The Herd are slated to face Drexel twice, host UNC Greensboro twice and Quinnipiac.
Marshall is then set to have its home opener on March 1 against Buffalo in the annual Dot Hicks Invitational in Huntington. The Herd are also scheduled to play Robert Morris and Eastern Illinois.
Marshall then travels to Lexington, Ky., to play the Kentucky Wildcats on March 6 before traveling to Tulsa, Okla., to take on the Golden Hurricane in the Conference USA opener. Marshall and Tulsa are set to play a three-game series.
Marshall later plays conference foes Southern Miss, UCF, Memphis, Houston, East Carolina, UAB and UTEP.
Other non-conference games this season are against Wright State, Northern Kentucky, Stetson, Ohio and Morehead State.
The C-USA Tournament is scheduled to begin May 9 and will be played at Tulsa, Okla.
* Nine Marshall softball players were tabbed as 2011-12 NFCA All-America Scholar Athletes, the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) announced recently.
Emileigh Cooper, Morgan Cottrell, Jessica Ferrick, Rebecca Gamby, Alysia Hively, Jessica Hughes, Brianna Miluk, Samantha Spurlock and Andi Williamson were all honored for achieving a grade point average of 3.50 or better during the 2011-12 academic year.
Nine honorees are the most for MU since having nine named during the 2004-05 year.
“We had a successful year both athletically and academically and we look forward to build on that success in 2013,” head coach Shonda Stanton said.
Marshall was one of 140 Division I institutions honored by the NFCA. The Thundering Herd was one of six Conference USA members and ranked second among conference schools. Houston led C-USA with 11 student-athletes honored.
The honor marks the second component of the Association’s academic award program. Back in late October the teams with the highest GPAs in each membership category were recognized as 2012 NFCA Top Ten All-Academic Teams. Marshall finished in the top 50 with a team GPA of 3.27, marking 13 consecutive seasons the Herd has had a GPA of 3.0 or better under Stanton.
“We know what it will take to break into the top 25 in both categories and are committed to such excellence,” Stanton said. “We are really proud of our players and a quick review of their accomplishments demonstrates the quality of student-athlete we have in our program.”
Williamson is being honored for the second time. The physical education and health major had a 3.5 GPA during her record-breaking junior season. Williamson twice has been named to the C-USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll and was awarded the academic medal in 2011.
MU has now collected 79 NFCA All-Academic Scholar Athlete awards since 1999-2000.