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By Michael Marzzacco
In late June last summer, Radford athletic director Robert Lineburg announced the hire of new softball head coach Aileen Morales. Morales is the eighth head coach for the Highlanders softball program and comes to Radford after spending the last two seasons at Young Harris College in Georgia.
While coaching Young Harris, Morales led the NCAA Division II program to 51 wins, including a program-record 31 wins last year. She also has a collegiate softball background as an All-American shortstop at Georgia Tech. She then spent five years as an assistant coach for the Yellow Jackets. Morales also competed and coached internationally as part of the Puerto Rican National Team.
“I want to create a culture of hard work and instill certain standards and expectations in the players beyond wins and losses. I want to help them understand what it takes to be a great ballplayer and become a great individual on and off the field,” said Morales.
Softball enters this season coming off of a rough 12-37 record last year that included a 7-15 mark in Big South Conference play. They fell to Gardner-Webb in the first round of the Big South tournament 8-6. Part of the problem was some injuries to some key players, including junior pitcher Abby Morrow.
Morrow had a phenomenal freshmen year as she posted a 2.91 ERA and was ranked among the top 10 freshmen in the NCAA in allowing the fewest walks. A stress fracture in her pitching arm last year caused her to miss the final 40 games.
“It was hard because you want to be able to contribute to the team on the field but I had to learn to be able to contribute off the field by keeping positive for the team, I helped keep stats and pitching records,” said Morrow. “It was hard but I matured from it because I had to learn how I could contribute off the field. I started throwing again in the summer but it didn’t take me until after winter break to get my throwing back to normal and be comfortable again.”
The team features four seniors looking to end their careers on a high note: Casey Burns, Becky Mantel, Whitney Davis, and Nia Chiles.
“I am definitely confident in the direction the program is going,” said Burns. “The field and the new hitting facility is wonderful and it’s going to help take our program to the next level but our new coaching staff definitely has our backs for everything. They’re dedicated to the team and will help take us to the next level. [Coach Morales] style gives us a fresh new look.”
Coming from a division two school to division one Radford, Morales is very impressed with the environment and feel of a small school.
“The smaller division one universities are great because the student athlete actually is able to be a student and an athlete,” added Morales. “What’s nice about that is that the professors know who they are when they go to class and they know who their classmates are. When you go to those bigger schools, that’s not necessarily the case.”
Radford softball opened their season with an impressive showing in the Dolphin Invitational in Jacksonville, Florida last weekend. After dropping the first game 8-0 to Penn State, the Highlanders helped get Coach Morales her first NCAA Division I coaching win with a 5-0 win over Jacksonville on Saturday. Also on Saturday, they beat Georgetown 10-6 while on Sunday a Burns walk-off single gave Radford the 4-3 victory over Pittsburgh.
Radford will travel to Charleston, South Carolina to compete in the Cougar Classic this weekend with game one on Friday evening vs. UMass Lowell. First pitch is at 5:30 p.m.