Auburn Softball Preview: No. 24 Tigers Open 2007 Season Thursday In Hawaii
AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM Senior Sara Ghezzi
AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM
Senior Sara Ghezzi
AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM

Auburn Game Notes
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Feb. 5, 2007

AUBURN - The 24th-ranked Auburn softball team opens its 2007 campaign by traveling to Honolulu for the Oceanic Time Warner Cable Hawaii Paradise Classic beginning Thursday. The Tigers will open with DePaul (2 p.m. CT) and No. 15 Nebraska (6 p.m. CT) Thursday before taking on Portland State (4 p.m. CT) and host Hawaii (8 p.m. CT) Friday.

After the round robin format, the four-day tournament breaks into championship round play with the final game scheduled for 4 p.m. CT Sunday.

"The tournament will be a good start to the season," Auburn head coach Tina Deese said. "Every team at the tournament has the capability to be a postseason club this season."

Auburn has played in Hawaii once, going 4-3 at the Chevron Paradise Classic in 2001. The tournament will also mark the fourth time in five years the Tigers will open the season away from home.

"It will be a nice way to open the season," Deese said of playing in Hawaii. "But we have to remember to remain focused on the tournament. This opening weekend will be key for us as we play a tough early schedule this season."

The 2007 Tigers return 12 players from last season's club that finished 36-22 overall. Auburn advanced to its first NCAA Regional Championship game last season, losing to eventual national champion Arizona, 4-2.

Of the 12 players to return from last season, five are starters, including right fielder and senior Sara Ghezzi, who was named to the All-SEC second team last year. That honor gave her the distinction of becoming the first Tiger in team history to earn regular season awards from the SEC her first three seasons. In 2004, she earned All-Freshman status and in 2005, was named to the first team.

Ghezzi will be joined by senior pitcher Holly Currie, who, in 2005, was named as a second team All-American. In 2006, Currie, a Pisgah, Ala., native, went 19-14 with 286 strikeouts from the circle. She set the school's single-season record with five no-hitters, her last coming in a 14-0 win over Marist at the NCAA Regional in Tucson, Ariz.

Currie's battery-mate from last season, Tatiana Fernandez, returns for her sophomore year after batting .311. She set the single-season freshman record with eight home runs and 41 RBI, pacing her to All-Freshman status. Fernandez is expected to get a majority of time behind the plate, but can also serve as the team's designated player, much like Ghezzi and Currie.

Other returning starters include senior outfielder Lauren Walton, who makes the shift to center from left, and sophomore Ashley Arcuri, who has the ability to play either middle infield position. Entering the season, Walton has started 158 games for the Tigers. Last season, she started 33, batting .311 with a team-leading nine stolen bases.

Arcuri, meanwhile, started 36 games for the Tigers at second base last season, finishing with one home run and four RBI.

"We have talented returners this year and seniors who are primed to be leaders," Deese said. "Holly, Sara and Lauren are hard workers and are great examples for our younger players."

The Tigers welcome six newcomers this season, including two transfers from Central Alabama Community College, junior Jessica Martin and sophomore Lindsey Harrelson. Freshmen Anna Thompson (Huntsville, Ala.), Whitney Wyatt (Dublin, Ala.), Alicia Hunolt (Tucson, Ariz.) and Krista Klein (Garden Grove, Calif.) join the club and are expected to make impacts this season.

Thompson, for one, comes to Auburn with impressive credentials. The pitcher struck out 2,322 while at Grissom High School to set a new national high school career record. Wyatt, meanwhile, batted .703 her senior season at South Montgomery County Academy, while Hunolt was First-Team All-Southern Arizona last season and Klein was second-team All-League her senior year.

"There's always adjustment periods for newcomers in the SEC, which is why getting off to a strong start in Hawaii will be important," Deese said. "This team has had a month to prepare and get ready for a strong start to the season."

The tournament opens a busy opening month for the Tigers, who are slated to play at least 18 games in the month of February. Auburn plays its home opener Feb. 14 at 5 p.m. CT against Georgia State, then hosts the Tiger Invitational at Jane B. Moore Field from Feb. 16-18. Slated to appear at the Tiger Invitational are Tennessee Tech, Virginia Tech, UAB, Notre Dame and Tulsa.

The Tigers then play in the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Ga., from Feb. 23-25, taking on four postseason clubs from a year in pool play - Michigan, North Carolina, Hofstra and Southern Illinois.

The Tigers finish the month Feb. 27 at Jacksonville State. That game caps off the first month of a season that has one of the toughest schedules in team history. Eight opponents on the schedule opened in the top 25 in either the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25 or USA Today/NFCA Top 25 preseason polls.

Quoting The Tigers

Senior Holly Currie

On being a senior ...
"The time has flown by. I'm kind of sad, but I'm excited."

On being a leader ...
"It definitely means more because I'm a senior. The younger players look up to you. They say, `Well, she's a senior and she's doing it that way so maybe I should, too.' You just have to set a standard for the program."

On the team this season ...
"There's a little bit of adversity we've been faced with, but I think we've come together well as a team. We're taking our strides."

On the Southeastern Conference ...
"It's strong as always. That's about all you can say about it. It's going to be tough."

On hosting the SEC Tournament ...
"It's awesome. Especially with it being my senior year, you get to play on your home turf one last time."

Junior Brittany Day

On being a junior ...
"Being a junior means a lot to me. I've been here for three years and worked extremely hard since I've been here. Now it's just time for me to step up and do what I need to do. I experienced the SEC last year. I just have to continue to work hard, be focused and be there for my teammates."

On her role this season ...
"Since I've been here, I've been taking everything in, watching and seeing what our upperclassmen have done. My role is to be there for my teammates, to continue to work hard and be an example and a leader."

On what she sees for the team ...
"We have a lot of heart and team chemistry. That's just going to carry out on the field. We've been working together in the fall and then with individuals, so we're just ready to play and are eager to get on the field."

On playing a tough schedule ...
"We know who we have to face and we'll just have to continue to work hard. We're not really worried who we're playing against and are going to take it one game at a time and work hard on the field as a team."

Freshman Anna Thompson

On getting ready for her first game ...
"I'm very excited about it. I can't wait. I think there's just something about putting on that uniform and having it say `Auburn Tigers' across the front. I know all the other freshmen are really excited about it, too."

On having some nerves before her first game ...
"I would be lying if I said I wasn't. But I know we've put in a lot of time. We've been out here since the first day we got back from Winter Break. I really feel like we're going to be ready."

On playing at Auburn with senior Holly Currie and following in her footsteps ...
"It's an amazing feeling. She's an amazing leader and an amazing pitcher. I'm just honored to be on the same team with her. I broke a couple records of hers while in high school, but others are going to break my records. I hope that I can play on the same team as them, too."

On breaking the national high school strikeout record while at Grissom High School ...
"It meant a lot. It was kind of one of those pinnacle things for me. But it's a team sport. And the pitcher is just one of the players on the team. Breaking the record was just one of those kinds of things that show I was doing my part for the team."