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UNCP spring sports gear up for 2007

By Dan Kelly
Sports Editor

The spring sports season has arrived at UNCP and brings not just athletics but optimism from the coaches.

Men’s baseball certainly has reason to be as it has received preseason recognition in the NCAA Division II polls for the first time in school history.

Baseball            
           
The men’s baseball team coached by Paul O’Neil is coming off of a 32-24 season with a 12-15 record in the Peach Belt Conference.

The four captains on the team represent each major part of a baseball team.            

The captains are catcher Alex Keith, the closing pitcher Jacob Allen, shortstop Jason Morales and left fielder Jorge Gonzales.

He said that success this season will depend on the team executing fundamental plays like moving runners from second to third base and driving them home.            
           
Another key for O’Neil is the pitching that will be returning for this season. The pitchers on the roster currently account for 31 of the 32 wins from last season.

“But what you did last year doesn’t count to a hill of beans, does it,” O’Neil said.            
           
Finally, O’Neil said that handling the numerous adverse situations throughout the season will be the final key to success.

“Do I feel that we are mentally strong enough to handle that adversity? Absolutely,” O’Neil said.

Softball            
           
The women’s softball team enters the 2007 season off a 23-32 overall record and a 3-11 in the Peach Belt Conference.

Coach Steve Johnson’s goal is to get the Braves back into the playoff hunt as they were two seasons ago.            

“Our biggest question mark this year is going to be how do we mesh together,” Johnson said.

Senior Wendi Cochran will be a key player as she is the captain and a career .300-plus hitter.            
           
Brittany Berrier was having a tremendous season at .357 hitting and five home runs before being injured in the 2006 season.

Johnson said that the team could possibly break a school record with a 35 to 40 win season if they can end up in the top third of the Peach Belt and take advantage of their non-conference games.

Track and field            
           
Head Coach Larry Rodgers says that the women will be a balanced team overall but with a definite strength in the field events.

The standout field-event specialist for the women is Marquita Walters who is the current UNCP record holder in the shot put, discus and hammer throw events.            

The men, on the other hand, will be strongest in the track events, Rodgers said.

Senior runner Giovanni Bilotta, who runs the 10-kilometer distance and is looking to get his time under 34 minutes, will lead them.            
           
Justin Gordon is the Braves leading middle distance runner at the 800 and 1500-meter lengths.

He was sixth in the conference last season and 34th in the regionals.
           
"He kind of figured it out that if you train year round, and especially during the summer, you’ll have a good season. It took him two years to figure it out,” Rodgers said.

The goal Rodgers has for both squads is to win the Carolinas Championships, which is an event for schools that have track and field but their conference doesn’t sponsor it.

Men’s and women’s golf            
           
The men’s team finished last season in the Peach Belt tournament in fourth place out of eight teams and also qualified for the regional tournament.

Head Coach David Synan is entering his second season as the head coach after a successuful first one.            

He expects this team to reach the regional tournament in Savannah, Ga., this season.

The team will be led by senior Chris Helms who was a PBC All-Tournament player with his fourth place finish in the event.             Sophomore Matt Morrison was an All-Peach Belt selection last season as he had six top 10 finishes.

Unfortunately, Travis Marshall, the team’s No. 2 golfer, injured himself over the winter in a skiing accident and will be unavailable to play.            
           
The women’s golf team is an entirely new program started in fall 2006 and is also coached by David Synan.

The top player for the Braves is freshman Christina Corvetti who had two top 10 finishes in the brief fall season.            
           
"I’m real excited about it. We are nowhere near where we need to be as a  program here at Pembroke,” Synan said.

Women’s tennis

The Braves tennis team is coming off a 14-11 season and is returning its No.1 and No. 3 singles players in seniors Stacey Wood and Natalie Dies.            

The two are also the No. 1 doubles team for the Braves this upcoming season.

"Our goal is to stay aggressive, be that brick wall, force them to make the error and, hopefully, we can get those eight games before the other team,” Dies said.            
           
Head Coach Robin Langley has led the tennis team to three of its nine total 14-win seasons.

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Updated: Thursday, March 15, 2007
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