The Columbus State Lady Cougar softball team opens the 2016 season this weekend looking to regain their familiar spot near the top of the Peach Belt Conference standings. The team finished ninth in the PBC last year, just two years removed from back-to-back conference championships in 2012 and 2013.
Looking to put 2015's 24-26 record behind them, CSU starts their season with four games this weekend in the Southern Softball Showdown at the South Commons softball complex.
On Saturday, the Lady Cougars face Alabama-Huntsville at 11 a.m. and Valdosta State at 4 p.m., while they face Delta State at 11:30 a.m. and North Alabama at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Senior infielder and Russell County graduate Katie White says the Lady Cougars are eager to get on the field this weekend.
"Everybody is stoked. I think we're just ready to play," she said.
This weekend begins a very favorable start to the schedule for the Lady Cougars. They don't leave the Columbus city limits for their first 11 games of the season.
"I think it's huge. It allows us to get comfortable at home and will hopefully let us get rolling," White said.
"Usually, I'd say it's a good thing to play your first 11 at home, but there are some really good opponents in that stretch," coach Brad Huskis
son said. "One thing it will do, though, is give us some extra practice and preparation time we wouldn't have with traveling."
White is one of only four seniors -- outfielder Rachel Rhodes, first baseman Samie Anderson, and utility player Kailey Boone are the others -- who will be looked at as leaders on a very young Lady Cougar team.
"The small group (of seniors) we have is really good, but we also had a big freshman group that came in last year, and a lot of those girls provided a lot of leadership too," said White.
"The team runs as a unit really well."
"We're still young," said Huskisson.
"It's basically all sophomores for the most part. Even when you start looking beyond classes, based on playing time here at CSU, everyone is here for their first or second year. In my mind, we're all freshmen and sophomores, but I think all our kids have transitioned very well."
White has a unique spin on her leadership skills as she has participated in mission work in Africa, helping those in Third World countries less fortunate than those here. She says the experiences there can teach life lessons back home.
"There's so much that I learned from over there," she said.
"You learn to appreciate the small things. It's cool to take all that from over there and apply it here. As a leader, it makes me look a little deeper with people."
Prognosticators from around the Peach Belt have the Lady Cougars tabbed for a ninth place finish in the PBC, which would match their finish last year. Despite the temptation to prove them wrong, Huskisson says he's not using those preseason rankings as bulletin board material or incentive for his Lady Cougars.
"Sometimes it would have been, (like) back in 2010, they had us ranked (near the bottom) and we ended up finishing third and then winning the tournament two years in a row," said Huskisson.
"The way we summed last year was that it was an anomaly, it's not who we've been, and it's not what we've always done. It was a transition year with new players and changing everything we do. We've moved on, and we're anxious to get back to where we're supposed to be. That's what we're looking to do."