In this undated photo, Kristi Marquez (15) watches for the ball during a Lady Raider softball game at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of MTSU Athletics)
The MTSU softball team wants its final chapter in the Sun Belt Conference to end happily after years of struggle.
It has been a struggle for the past few seasons for the Lady Raiders because they have finished near the bottom of the conference standings every year.
This year, however, they hope to finish out their last season in the Sun Belt with people having a new-found respect for the team.
In order to do that, the program hired a new head coach, Jeff Breeden, who is known for his success at Riverdale High School for the past nine seasons.
During his time as the Lady Warriors head coach, Breeden finished with an impressive 423-74-2 record, which included a state title.
Now, MTSU is looking to him to help the softball program catch up with rest of the Sun Belt.
So far, players said they have been pleased with preseason practice but believe they have something to prove because, once again, the Lady Raiders are picked to finish last in the conference.
“That is a big issue for us, so we have a lot to prove,” senior left fielder Chelsea Good said. “That is the chip on our shoulder, and we are going to come out and show everybody what we’ve got because we’ve got something good this year.”
The Lady Raiders are returning with a mix of experience with 13 starters back from last year’s team, which finished 16-33, and 10 newcomers, including a trio of former Riverdale players.
Regardless of their experience, Good said, fellow players know that when the season opens it is time to step up to the plate.
“It has been really easy because we have the best group of girls,” Good said. “We have a bunch of goofballs, but we also know how to turn it on when the time is right.”
The Lady Raiders open the 2013 season with three tournaments on the road.
Their first stop is Friday, Feb. 15, at the Georgia Softball Classic in Athens, Ga. During the three days of action, MTSU will face Campbell University, No. 9 University of Georgia and Northwestern University.
“Everybody is anxious to start the season Friday,” Breeden said. “We have worked a lot and have been working hard, so hopefully it will pay off.”
The following weekend, MTSU heads to the Red and Blue Classic in Oxford, Miss., to face the University of Tennessee-Martin, Drake University, Mississippi Valley State University, McNeese State University and Ole Miss.
MTSU will also play in the War Eagle Classic in Auburn, Ala., during the weekend of March 1-3.
The team hopes to use these games playing quality non-conference opponents before opening its conference schedule Tuesday, March 5, against Troy.
“It will help us a lot and get us prepared for conference play,” Good said.
Besides the conference schedule, which includes home games against Western Kentucky, South Alabama, Florida Atlantic and North Texas, the Lady Raiders will also welcome two SEC schools, the University of Kentucky and Auburn to the Blue Raider Softball Field.
No. 11 Louisiana-Lafayette is the heavy favorite to win the Sun Belt this season, as the Ragin Cajuns are the five-time defending champions.
Despite the odds, Breeden said his players will remain focused on improving their game.
“It will take our kids having the mentally of going into every game believing they can win,” Breeden said. “They have to be confident that they have prepared themselves for a challenge. We have to compete during every pitch.”