Feb. 13, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – After winning its first Conference USA Tournament title and making the 20-year program’s first NCAA Regionals appearance in 2013, Marshall’s softball team is turning quite green this season.
Or, perhaps it’s turning to Greene.
After losing six seniors and five starters, including dominant pitching ace Andi Williamson and three-fourths of the infield, veteran Herd coach Shonda Stanton is counting on her youthful team’s only returning all-conference first team selection.
That’s sophomore Kaelynn Greene, a fleet Californian who is moving from left field to center (where speedy Ashley Gue graduated) and hopes to be an on-base nuisance for opponents from the Marshall leadoff spot.
Stanton said she wasn’t surprised a bit by the rookie performance of Greene, who was as much a high school track star as softball player in Eastvale, Calif. Greene batted .335 and stole 32 bases in 37 attempts. She ranked in the top 10 in C-USA in both categories.
Now, with a team picked to finish third in the reconfigured 13-team league by C-USA coaches, Stanton is expecting more from the sophomore.
So is Greene.
“It was weird,” Greene said when asked what she expected of herself as a Division I newcomer in 2013 on a team that finished 36-22 and set a tone for the future of the program. “When I heard all of my numbers and the stats I was kind of like, ‘Wow, I could have done a lot better.’
“And then when I learned I was first team all-conference (and) All-Freshman, stuff like that, it was strange. I said to myself, ‘Oh, wow, I guess I did better than I thought I did.’ I guess I really didn’t know what it would be like.”
Now, she does. So, when the Herd opens the 2014 season Friday for a five-game, weekend stint in the Tiger Invitational at Auburn, Ala., Stanton wants the sophomore to continue to play above her collegiate experience.
“She’s moving to center, and she’s our playmaker and needs to be a difference-maker,” said Stanton, starting her 15th season at Marshall. “For us to be successful, we need for Kaelynn to be on top of her ability, that kind of performance.
“It’s going to be hard to keep her off base, and 0-for-4 is just something that’s not going to happen very often. With her speed, she’s going to get on base a couple of times a game. She’ll bat left all the time now. We switched her around some last year, but we’ll keep her on the left side this season.
“She’s one of our best combinations of power and speed. The difficult thing will be where to play (against) her defensively. You play deep, she’ll beat the throw (to first). You come in, she can drive it down your throat. She has some of the top speed in the country.”
Stanton said when coaches talk about “2.5 speed (home-to-first),” Greene is one of those players. The Herd staff times a player from contact to first touch of the bag, while other schools simply time a flat run. Greene has done a 2.7 in a game in the Herd’s manner of clocking.
“That’s SEC speed,” Stanton said.
Greene, 20, has an older brother, Davonte Anderson, who was an All-Big South Conference defensive back at Stony Brook (N.Y.). The Herd outfielder scored seven touchdowns in her last season of middle school football – yes, against boys. She gave up the sport at her parents’ urging.
Softball, Greene said, “was my first love,” and won out over track and field, too. “I’ve played softball since I could walk,” she said. “I didn’t start track until I was in high school.”
In the leadoff spot, Greene plans to be more than a table-setter for the Herd. She combines power with speed, and no one among the Herd would be surprised if Greene started games with a leadoff home run. She had her first inside-the-park homer in “fall ball.”
Greene said she wants to hit .400. How possible is that?
“Very possible,” she said. “I want to improve my stats. I want to steal 40-plus bases. I can do that, and it will help the team. The thing I was most proud of last year was probably my steals, but I want to get more. I want to be better.
“The one thing I want to change … I’ve been working on cutting down on swinging at the first pitch. I’m aggressive, but I need to get on base more (after a .369 on-base percentage; 34 strikeouts and only eight walks). I always go after the first pitch. I’ve been working on hard slapping (pitches), and I’m more comfortable with that now.”
Stanton said the Herd “will pitch by committee,” perhaps using as many as four starters early in the season. The day-to-day lineup, with many new faces, will be in flux … except in center field.
“Kaelynn was no surprise, not at all,” Stanton said. “She’s one of those kids who thinks she should get on base every time. When she doesn’t, she’s not happy about it. She has a drive. And speed kills, and she’s got it.
“She’s one of those special players you don’t get every day, and we were fortunate to recruit her. We saw her at one of the national tournaments we always go to and then tracked her, followed her and called her and stayed with it.”
Stanton said Greene’s ability to help lead the Herd will be rooted in her game more than her voice.
“Kaelynn will do that, but she’s kind of quiet,” Stanton said. “But the force of her performance speaks so loud, that encourages others. We’ll let her grow into leadership.
“One adjustment I want here to make it to take ownership of that outfield in center. She has to do that, with new people in left (freshman Morgan Zerkle) and right (junior Kristina Braxton). I want Kaelynn to play gap-to-gap, and with her speed, she can do that.”
On a club with only two seniors (and one of those, Savanah Webster, is out with a shoulder injury). Greene said she is ready to provide leadership as well as havoc for opponents.
“It will definitely be different out there on the field and off field without those (2013) seniors,” Greene said. “They were huge leaders, on and off. It’s going to be different getting used to playing with new people, getting used to hearing different people – or not hearing the same voices – but I’m excited to see what we have, what we can be.
“I think we can come together faster than we did last season. We started 2-7 last season and look where ended up. Once we get rolling, we’ll be fine. I’m really interested to see what we can do, see where we can go. We know what it takes to get there after last season.”