SOUTH PRINCE GEORGE, Va. -- Richard Bland College will open its 2017 softball campaign this weekend, January 27-28, at the JUCO Kickoff Classic in Clearwater, Florida. The Statesmen are coached by first-year head coach Katy Lampman, assisted by Cassidy Clayton, Pete Berrios and Danielle Beverly. Coach Lampman will guide a squad that returns eight student-athletes from a year ago, while adding eight first-year team members for this season. The fourth-year NJCAA Division II program finished 2016 with an overall record of 20-20, including 10-6 in Region X, while the overall three-year record of the program is an outstanding 76-43 (.639).
"This group has quickly become one of the best teams I've ever coached," said Lampman. "They've bought-in and their team chemistry looks good on the field, which is exactly what every coach wants. Hopefully, they continue to progress as the season moves along so that we are peaking at the right time. Our team sat down and made their individual and team goals for the year. They want to go to Nationals, and obviously, that is the ultimate goal – to win a national championship. We're trying to create a championship culture with every single thing that we do, whether on the field, or off the field and just in our lives in general."
Richard Bland will play five games in two days against NJCAA Division I members during the prestigious season-opening tournament in Florida. The Statesmen will open with two games on Friday, Jan. 27, including Georgia Highlands College at 3:20 p.m., followed by a game against nationally-ranked No. 6 Northwest Florida State College at 5:20 p.m. Richard Bland will play three games on Saturday, Jan. 28, including the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota at 9 a.m., nationally-ranked (receiving votes) Florida State College at Jacksonville at 11 a.m., before concluding with Seminole State (Fla.) College at 3:20 p.m.
"It's important for us to play in this tournament to give a bigger platform for our players to get recruited, which is ultimately a goal that we have to have – to see them on to the next level – that is exactly what Florida will do for us," explained Lampman. "We'll play some very, very good Division I JUCO programs. I want a strong schedule, and I want our team to feel prepared and confident as we move into our conference and regional play, as well as into the post-season – where they will know and understand the level that they can play."
The eight returners include right-handed pitcher/outfielder Shannon Buffington/Virginia Beach (145.2 IP, 15-10, 2.74 ERA, 49K | .277, 7 2Bs, 21 RBIs), right-handed pitcher Katelyn Cobb/Newsoms (32.1 IP, 0-7, 5.63 ERA, 13K), first baseman/right-handed pitcher Tabby Dabney/Mechanicsville (.328, 1 2B, 12 RBIs | 40.2 IP, 4-2, 4.30 ERA, 17K), right fielder Tiffany Hedge/Fredericksburg (six games), outfielder/designated player Sierra Johnson/Capron (five games), left fielder Katelyn King/Chesterfield (.214, 1 2B, 1 HR, 7 RBIs), catcher/utility player August Ringer/Yale (.316, 1 3B, 8 RBIs, 12 SB) and third baseman Morgan Whitley/Franklin (.317, 2 2Bs, 14 RBIs).
Buffington is the lone returner who garnered All-Region X honors from last season when she was named as a first-team pitcher.
The eight newcomers are outfielder/right-handed pitcher Brooklynn Bilyard/Culpeper, second baseman/outfielder Taylor Daniel/Alberta, outfielder/catcher Ashley Fritz/North Chesterfield, shortstop Kay'Lee Justice/Suffolk, third baseman Kamryn Lanier/Chester, catcher/infielder Kara Morris/Kents Store, outfielder Kennedy Presson/Wakefield and first baseman Tess Thomas/Tappahannock.
Coach Lampman says her opening day outfield will include King in left field, Bilyard in center field (when not pitching) and Hedge in right field.
"Our outfield should be super strong this year. Brooke has a great arm and is one of our fastest players. Tiffany is also fast and has a great arm. Katelyn King is a phenomenal athlete and leader on the field. We have lots of depth in the outfield. Taylor will play some in center field, and she has a ton of speed and is one of our slappers and makes a smooth transition from middle infield to outfield. Kennedy will be a big hitter for us at DP, but might make some appearances in the outfield, as needed. August will mainly catch and play second, she could make some appearances in the outfield, as well. Sierra will add depth to our outfield, and she has great softball IQ and will help us at the plate."
The infield will consist of Dabney and/or Buffington at first base, Daniel at second base, Justice at shortstop and Whitley at third base.
"Tabby is by far our most vocal leader on the field," said Lampman. "She has received lots of recruiting interest and is a Division I first baseman with great hands and softball IQ. Shannon will play first when Tabby is pitching – she is brand new to the position, but her athleticism, range and quickness, and her adaptability for us is a huge asset. Tess joined us this semester, is a huge hitter and she will be in the mix at first base, as needed throughout the year. Taylor has great range and hands. August will play second when needed and is very comfortable there, as is Brooke, who can play some short too. Kaylee transitioned from third base, and has taken the role at short and run with it – her development has been great. Morgan will play third for us, and Katelyn King might see some time there too. Kam gives us depth at third base – she has great footwork and a good arm, and adds to the left side of our infield."
Ringer will open behind the plate and catch for a pitching rotation to include Dabney, Buffington, Bilyard and Cobb.
"August is super comfortable in the position – very vocal and takes charge of the field," explained Lampman. "She has a great rapport with our pitching staff. Kara and Ashley will play some catcher, too, both have skills behind the plate – Ashley has great hands and is very strong – Kara is very familiar with Brooke, the two of them having grown up together.
"Our pitching staff is very strong – we have four pitchers who could potentially start for us and be in the rotation. Tabby is one of our strongest in the circle – her confidence and ability to focus and lock-in is amazing - she brings a lot of movement and speed and will be exciting to watch this season. Shannon is another returner who threw a lot last year – she has tons of movement and spins, and has a great demeanor in the circle. She will sign with (NCAA Division I) Norfolk State University – I'm excited to see how she dominates this year. Brooke brings a ton of velocity and strength to our staff, and is probably one of our best all-around athletes. As she gains confidence, she could do some serious damage in the circle for us. Katelyn Cobb is a great compliment to the other three pitchers – she throws a little bit differently – I potentially she her starting a few games, but closing a lot for us."
Coach Lampman feels her team will be efficient defensively, while explosive offensively.
"We have worked very hard at being very efficient. We want clean, quick defensive play – we try to empower our players to make decisions on the field on their own, and as soon as they get that confidence, the game will open up for them and it will be fun watching them. I think they are very comfortable and prepared for the season. We'll be strong up the middle, but some our best leaders will be at the corners for us at times.
"We're going to be as explosive and powerful as we possibly can on offense. Some of our biggest hitters are explosive and fast runners, as well. I'm expecting to score a lot of runs and steal a lot of bases, but ultimately, our goal is to hit home runs and drive our power numbers up high this year."
Richard Bland will open Region X competition in mid-February with doubleheaders at Southeastern Community College-Whiteville (N.C.) and Florence-Darlington (S.C.) Technical College, respectively, on Feb. 17-18.
"In our region, we'll have some strong opponents," said Lampman. "Florence-Darlington is always at the top of the region and we might see Pasco-Hernando (Fla.) at tournament time, another strong program. We tried to build as much tough competition and big games as we could, even scheduling Christopher Newport University, a Top 10 NCAA Division III program. We just want to get our team to be very comfortable with the speed of the game, and be pushed so that we don't get content during the season.
"I'm looking forward to my first year and watching this team play, and seeing how much fun they have on the field together, and how much they grow and learn how to compete as a team."