Rebel softball begins new era

The Ole Miss softball program is about to begin the Coach Missy Dickerson era.

Ole Miss will be looking to build a foundation in 2006 as new head coach Missy Dickerson and her staff, along with a newly renovated stadium, highlight what is setting up to be an exciting time for Ole Miss Softball.

Dickerson, who won three NCAA Championships as a standout infielder at UCLA and led Texas A&M-Corpus Christi to three NCAA Regionals in her first Division I head coaching venture, along with her staff, looks to bring an exciting brand of winning softball to Ole Miss.

And there will be no better place to build that championship foundation than in a newly renovated Ole Miss Softball Complex. A $1.2 million renovation includes one of the nation's elite indoor hitting facilities for softball, a state-of-the-art new press box, a brick façade lining the seating and the refurbished dugouts and comfort-designed chair-back seats in the center seating section.

Twelve letterwinners from last year's school-record 30-win squad, including five position starters and all three pitchers, will team with five newcomers to form the Rebel crew in Dickerson's first campaign

Leading the way is a dominant pitching staff, led by veterans Mary Jane Callahan and Dana Brill, who have set numerous school records in their careers.

Callahan also returns as the offense's top hitter after batting .371 a year ago. Sophomore Lauren Rowe hit five home runs in her rookie campaign, and will be counted on to provide a big bat in the lineup, especially with the departure of catcher DeDe Justice, who finished her stellar career with the second-most home runs in Southeastern Conference history with 49 and also ranks in the top 10 in slugging percentage and walks.

Seniors Stacy McCommon, Rebecca McIntire and Mandy Ott, along with Brill, should provide leadership on and off the field with their years of experience.

And keeping with the theme of new faces in Oxford, all five newcomers, including transfers Cathie Hacker and Jessica Plemons, and freshmen Lisa Conchos, Ashley Hilton and Michelle May, will be in the running for starting positions and playing time.

"The fall was a nice surprise with the refreshing acceptance of what we were trying to instill," Dickerson said. "The kids seemed to adapt well to our philosophies and ideas, and made tremendous strides as far as their offensive development and the defensive challenges that we presented to them. We hope that it carries through to the spring and shows out on the field."

With a beautifully renovated ballpark and lots of entertainment planned for Rebel fans, it looks to be an exciting year for Ole Miss Softball as the coaches and athletes build a strong foundation for the program.

Veteran Pitching Staff

Junior transfer Cathie Hacker (University of the Pacific) joins senior Dana Brill and juniors Mary Jane Callahan and Tara Willitt to form what should be a high-level pitching staff for the Rebels in 2006.

Brill, Callahan and Willitt combined for a 1.65 staff ERA a year ago, which ranked third in the SEC behind national powers Tennessee and Alabama.

"We're looking for Mary Jane, Dana and Cathie to lead our pitching staff this year, while we plan to red-shirt Tara. All four of them made a great deal of improvement over the fall. (Pitching coach) Tom McLauchlin has worked with several of them with adding a few pitches. The strength of our team is our pitching staff, so we're looking for them to carry us this season."

Through just two seasons with the Rebels, Callahan ranks in the top five in seven of eight categories on the school's career pitching chart. Brill's name also appears seven times. Last year, Callahan set a school season record with a 1.49 ERA, while notching the school's third-best marks with 12 victories, 154 strikeouts and five shutouts. Brill was not far behind, recording a 1.56 ERA and notching 11 wins.

Hacker joins Ole Miss after playing two seasons with the University of the Pacific Tigers and spending one year as a Dean's List student at Arizona State University. A former Big West Pitcher of the Week honoree, Hacker brings quality experience to the Rebel staff, having even started a game against the USA Olympic team, in which she pitched three scoreless innings before allowing two runs in the fourth.

It appears that the Rebel pitching staff is a great place to begin the foundation for success.

Developing Position Players

The Rebels return five position starters from last season in infielders Rebecca McIntire, Lauren Rowe and Brittany Warner and outfielders Vanessa Gibbs and Kayla Mosley.

Rowe had a solid freshman campaign, hitting five home runs and a team-high 11 doubles, while collecting 18 RBI. After beginning the season in the outfield, Rowe showed her versatility, spending time at both third and second base.

McIntire, a senior from Chatsworth, Calif., has played solid defense at third base throughout her Rebel career, and will be counted on as a leader this season.

"I look for Rebecca to lead the infield, especially defensively," Dickerson said.

Warner has also displayed solid infield defense for the Rebels, while Gibbs and Mosley provide more experience and good outfield speed.

Senior outfielder Stacy McCommon will look to rebound from a season-ending injury she suffered at the beginning of the season a year ago, and take on the role of a team leader.

"I look for Stacy to be a leader in the outfield and help the younger kids grow into their positions and lead by her play as well as her years of experience," Dickerson said.

Incoming freshman Lisa Conchos could contribute right away, possibly vying for the starting shortstop position vacated by last year's starter Chloe Kloezeman.

"I think Lisa will come in as a freshman and start in the infield for us, and help solidify the middle of the field," said Dickerson of the Phoenix, Ariz., product.

Offensively, the Rebels have struggled in the past, and will also be trying to replace speedy leadoff hitter Brooke Turner and slugger DeDe Justice, who were seniors last year. However, the Rebels seem to be developing nicely under Dickerson's tutelage.

"I look for M.J. (Callahan), Stacy, Lisa and (junior utility player) Jill (Bandhauer) to give us our consistency offensively," Dickerson added. "We don't have a lot of speed, so we're going to have to do a lot of manufacturing of runs. We're going to need consistency, and hopefully those kids can give us our stability through the lineup. They can give us the opportunity to hit-and-run, while Lauren and (freshman catcher) Michelle (May) can give us some of our power that we're looking for.

"If they can take what they've learned in the fall and carry it over into the spring, then we will be alright. One of our goals is to try and make it to the conference tournament because they were so close last year. We're trying to improve on the batting average, and I think we've done that with what we've tried to instill in them in the fall."

Exciting Schedule

There is no lack of competition in this year's demanding schedule. Not only is the SEC one of the toughest softball conferences in the nation, but the Rebels will be traveling to three early season tournaments that should prove to be significant tests.

Ole Miss will face top 25 teams in Louisiana-Lafayette at the Louisiana Classics and Texas, who is expected to be a preseason top five pick, in the Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational.

The Rebels are also slated to play rival Memphis in Lafayette, La., and Dickerson's former team Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, in Austin, Texas, among other talented non-conference foes.

"We play a lot of tough non-conference opponents," Dickerson said. "It's going to give us a test. We could even see Alabama in the semifinals or final of the Florida Atlantic Tournament. There are some tough early opponents that will tell the tale for us."

Ole Miss will debut its newly renovated stadium on March 8, when Southeastern Louisiana visits Oxford.

The first two SEC series on the Rebels' schedule will be visits by the LSU Tigers and Florida Gators on March 11-12 and 18-19, respectively.

"We start off with LSU and then Florida, so we're starting off with two powerhouses in the conference," Dickerson added. "It will be a tough challenge right off the bat. We're looking forward to it, but it could make or break your season, along with the rest of conference play."

The challenging conference schedule includes other home series against Arkansas, Alabama and Kentucky and road trips to Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina and Auburn.

The Rebels will once again play a home, neutral and away game with in-state rival Mississippi State this season, with the April 5 game in Ridgeland, Miss., to coincide with a pair of high school games to generate support for fastpitch softball in Mississippi.

"It's an exciting opportunity for this coaching staff to be a part of such a successful conference," Dickerson said. "The strides that the SEC has made over the last several years have been tremendous, and we're looking forward to turning the program around here and being competitive in the SEC as well as on the national level.

"I think this team can compete with anybody. We're lacking in a few areas, but we can compete with anybody on any given day."

OM Spirit Top Stories