For the first time in nine seasons, the Union University Lady Bulldog softball team will open their season with a new head coach. Brian Dunn, who took over a two-year old program in 1997, spent the last nine years bringing the Union softball program to national prominence. Dr. David Blackstock, the new head coach for Union, is new to softball but not to coaching. He is aware of the expectations set before him, however, is excited about he opportunity and challenge of coaching Union softball. Blackstock, spent 11 seasons as head coach of Union’s baseball team from 1975-1985. He was one of the co-head coaches to lead Union baseball to their only NAIA World Series appearance in 1983. Blackstock also spent 17 seasons as the head coach for the Union women’s basketball team before he retired in 1999. He took Union to their first ever NAIA National Championship in 1998 and is also a member of the NAIA Hall of Fame.
In picking a team to start a softball coaching career with, Blacktock could not have had a better fit. The 2006 version of the Union Lady Bulldog softball team is full of experience and tournament tested leadership. Union has eight seniors returning from last year, plus two sophomores who started as freshman in 2005. Coach Blackstock also has one junior, three very talented freshman recruits, and a walk-on senior to complete this softball team.
Of the eight returning seniors on this year’s team, three of the seniors, Holly Haycraft, Jessica Kee, and Mary Kosco, are all four year starters for Union. Haycraft has been in center field since coming to Union as a freshman. She is a great defensive outfielder, excellent hitter, and superb base runner. She holds every stolen base record for Union. Kee is also started at third base since coming to Union as a freshman. She is coming off her best season as a Lady Bulldog. Kosco, after being the No. 2 pitcher behind four-time All-American Leah Gronberg, Kosco stepped out last season for an All-American performance of her own. She was 26-10 while being named conference and region pitcher of the year.
Five of the seniors transferred to Union in 2005 as juniors. First baseman Danielle Pope proved to be on of the best power hitters that Union has ever had as she set a new record with 14 homeruns in a single season. She also was an outstanding defensive first baseman and received the region player of the year award. Starting pitcher Jackie Cliff proved to be a clutch pitcher for Union down the stretch last year as the Lady Bulldogs made their run back to the national tournament. She will be one of the leaders on what is expected to be a great, as well as, deep pitching staff for Union. Kylie Sullivan spent the season last year as Union’s primary catcher and should expect the same roll again this season. She is a savvy catcher with an above average arm. Chrissa Norton is a very versatile player for Union. She posted the second best ERA on the team last season as pitcher, going 7-1. She will bring that experience along with the ability to hit for power into Union’s lineup on a daily basis. Amber Bryant is a player that can play in the infield or outfield for Union. She spent the majority of her time in right field last season for Union. Becky Andrews is a walk-on senior for Union this year. She will be used as a utility player this season.
Union’s lone junior on the team, Kristen Kolter will be used as a designated player and a backup catcher. She played in 47 of Union’s 60 games as a sophomore.
The sophomore class for Union is comprised of two very talented middle infielders. Amy Chatham and Candace Cross spent the first part of last season splitting time at second base. However, midway through the season, Cross had to take over the roll of starting shortstop. These two gained valuable experience and playing time as freshman that will only make the middle infield for Union that much stronger this season.
Union has three very talented freshman starting their careers this year. Kristen Kirk is a very good hitter who can also pitch and play the outfield. Michelle Albonetti has a good glove and is an exceptional slap hitter with tremendous speed. Bethany Burnett is a very good pitcher and also has a lot of speed on the bases. All three freshman will be making big contributions to this senior laden team in 2006.
All of the pieces are in place for another run at their sixth trip to the NAIA Softball National Championships in May.