With the start of the 2012 softball regular season right around the corner, Mercer senior shortstop Sara Stukes picked up preseason All-Atlantic Sun honors as released by the conference office last Wednesday.
“We are very proud of Sara and all of the accomplishments she has made both on and off the field,” said head coach James DeFeo to MercerBears.com. “She has been picked as one of our captains and she is definitely a stalwart leader on the team and we look forward to her doing big time things for the Bears on the field,” he added.
Stukes and the Bears finished 32-24 overall a year ago. The impressive season included an impressive showing in the conference tournament. Before the 2011 season, Mercer was picked to finish eighth in the A-Sun, yet finished the regular season as the fifth seed. In the tournament, the Bears also picked up two wins including a shocking elimination victory over tournament host USC Upstate.
After an offseason that saw the Bears lose two of their powerhouse pitchers in Jenni Holtz and Kari Chambers as well as the sudden resignation of head coach Mike Raynor, the Bears squad will look to build off the recent additions of five talented freshmen and newly appointed head coach James DeFeo.
Even with the voids on the mound, former SEC associate coach DeFeo takes over a team of seven returning starters. Looking to veterans such as Sara Stukes to make his transition a little smoother, DeFeo knows his competition will be stiff. “The Atlantic Sun is a very tough conference. There are a lot of good pitchers and very good defenses and we are looking to match that standard,” said DeFeo. “We’re getting back to the basics. We are working hard on the fundamentals. Building off of what we have done in the fall, we are going to take it day by day trying to get better,” he added. The Bears went 7-1 in the fall. On and off the field highlights included: getting the opportunity for DeFeo and his players to become acquainted with one another, everyone getting a chance to play and the six homerun, two grand slam 17-2 drubbing in their final game of the eight-game stretch.
Mercer softball was selected to finish seventh out of 10 teams in the conference as voted upon by coaches in the A-Sun. The Bears feel confident in what they were able to do and what they believe is still to come. The team as a whole knows they have a tough task ahead of them and are more-than-willing to face the challenge. “We haven’t really proven anything yet,” DeFeo said. “Preseason rankings are just people making decisions on past performances and since we really haven’t played yet, it is what it is. We have a lot of work to do as a program and we are going to take these rankings with a grain of salt because it’s not where you start, it’s where you end.”
Jacksonville is heavily favored to win the conference in both the coaches’ poll and fan poll. When asked of the team’s expectations this season, Mercer team captain Sara Stukes responded without hesitation: “Coach D has his sights on the A-Sun championship. We are working extra hard to get prepared and beat everybody in our path. He is really strong on the team and we have always had really strong chemistry. We are all about winning this year and we have a clear-cut focus.”
Mercer kicks off the 2012 season at the Kennesaw St. Classic on Saturday, Feb. 11 at 10:30 a.m. against Austin Peay. Their first home game isn’t until March 6.