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February 7, 2013The celebrations are long over and the quest begins anew Friday for the defending national champion University of Alabama softball team.
The Crimson Tide will open its season indoors at the UNI Dome Tournament in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
"I don't think there's any championship hangover with this group," Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said.
Alabama lost six seniors from last year's national title team, but returns a senior class led by leadoff hitter Kayla Braud.
"We understand what it feels like," Braud said. "We've tasted it."
Back are full-time starters Braud in left field, Courtney Conley at third base and Kaila Hunt at shortstop, as well as Danae Hays, a part-time starter at shortstop. They are joined by seven returning position players, five newcomers and a pitching staff led by ace Jackie Traina, who went 42-3 in the circle to earn Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year honors along with All-America accolades. She also batted .319 with 10 home runs.
Head coach Patrick Murphy learned a little last season about what it takes to win a national championship, and it started with Traina.
"You've got to have a fierce, very competitive pitcher and she can't look back when it comes down to the nitty gritty," Murphy said.
Keima Davis returns with outfield experience, and freshmen Andrea Hawkins, Haylie McCleney and Kallie Case could also play there. Jackey Branham has experience at first, second and shortstop, with Hays in the picture at second and shortstop and Ryan Iamurri in the mix at second. Jordan Patterson, Chaunsey Bell and transfer Molly Fichtner will compete for playing time at catcher.
Freshman Leona Lafaele and sophomore Jadyn Spencer are candidates at first base, with Case capable of playing several infield positions.
Murphy believes this is his deepest team yet, with two or three starting candidates at each position.
"If you don't push it and play hard," Murphy said of his depth situation, "you could get run over. It could be whoever's hot with the bat could start (at any position)."
Murphy points out that no member of the team posted a grade-point average below 3.0 in the fall, and that all four seniors are on schedule to graduate in four years.
The foundation, he believes, is in place for a program that has won three straight SEC titles and last year's national crown.
"Now it's try to win another one," he said.
The players are ready for that quest to begin.
"I feel bad for the other teams that have to play us," Braud said. "We can't sleep we're so excited to put on the jersey."
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.