Nov. 22, 2004
Cullowhee, N.C. -
With the ground breaking and construction of the new stadium in its infancy, first-year head coach Megan Smith announced the signing of eight players as the new softball program at Western Carolina begins to take shape. Stephanie Beatty (Midland, N.C.), Mollie Fowler (King, N.C.), Beth Hauser (Mount Airy, N.C.), Jenny Jackson (Fremont, N.C.), Samm Keppel (Hendersonville, N.C.), Lauren Ross (Hope Mills, N.C.), Sam Stepp (Hendersonvile, N.C.), and Jordan Stogner (Lexington, N.C.) have all signed National Letters of Intent to play for the Catamounts in 2006.
"I could not be more excited about this inaugural signing class, not only because of their talent on the field, but because of the type of people and players they are," said Smith. "These players will combine to form a strong foundation for a successful Catamount softball program."
Beatty (Central Cabarrus HS), a 5-4 utility player helped lead her high school team to a 32-1 overall record en route to an MECA 8 Conference, region, and North Carolina State Championships last year for head coach Monte Sherrill. For the season, Beatty hit .454, scoring 42 runs and driving in 32. She also tied a state record for RBI in a game, knocking in eight runs in a single game. She was named All-conference, All-state, and third team All-America last season as a junior. In addition to her prowess on the diamond, Beatty also plays high school basketball, earning the "most hustle" award in 2003 and the team defensive award on the junior varsity squad.
"I have watched Stephanie play for several years and I have always been impressed with her intensity on the field. She has played for one of the top high school and travel teams in the state and she has accomplished national honors. She knows how to win and this experience will help her lead our team to success," commented Smith.
Fowler (West Stokes HS), a 5-10 shortstop has played varsity ball each of her first three years in high school, earning All-Central Carolina Conference honors each season. Last year, she broke the state record for career and single-season homeruns while earning the conference Player-of-the-Year. Also, Fowler began playing club fast-pitch softball at the age of 13 for head coach Ray Chandler. She has competed in four national tournaments with the Carolina Cardinals. In June of 2004, as a member of the North Carolina All-star team, Fowler tallied the team's only hit off of the United States Olympic Softball team's Lisa Fernandez. In the Athens, Greece games, Team USA went on to win gold only surrendering one run on 18 hits through the nine-game tournament. Fowler is also an All-conference performer on the hardwood, playing varsity all three years thus far in high school.
"When I took this job, I made a wish list of recruits and Mollie was on the top of that list," Smith said. "She was one of the top recruits in the state and I am very excited that she has chosen to become a Catamount. She has been a dominant shortstop and hitter for her high school and travel team and she will step in and make a huge impact, not only on our program, but on the Southern Conference as well."
Hauser (North Surry HS), a 5-9 infielder hit .460 last season, driving in 28 runs while scoring 29. She was named All-Mountain Valley Conference for her junior season, her second selection in three years. Her sophomore year, Hauser finished with a .477 batting average with seven doubles and a home run, tallying 14 RBI. She is a member of the National Academic Honor Society and was also named an All-academic athlete. During the off-season from high school play, Hauser continues her MVP play with her club team. In 2003, she was a part of the team that won the 2003 North Carolina State Championship, was well as the Little League of America Senior World Series in Louisville, Ky. Last season, she led her traveling squad with a .390 batting average, including a team-high eight home runs. She has earned team MVP honors each of the past three seasons for her traveling team.
"Beth is well known for her offensive power and consistency. I feel that she will make a huge offensive contribution to our program," stated Smith on Hauser.
Jackson (Charles Aycock HS), a 5-7 pitcher has compiled a 43-6 overall record as a starter with 460 career strikeouts and an ERA of 0.30 entering her senior season. She has tossed seven no hitters and three perfect games through her junior season. Jackson is a three-time All-Eastern Carolina Conference selection, having led her team to back-to-back conference championships with a three-year record of 63-16. At one point in her career, Jackson pitched 87-consecutive innings with out surrendering an earned run. In addition to her pitching success, Jackson also excels at the plate. She hit .481 last season and has driven in 42 career RBI, with 12 doubles, seven triples, and six homeruns. Jackson has also earned all-conference accolades as the team captain of the volleyball team.
"I am pleased that Jenny will be wearing purple and gold for the next four seasons. She is a dominant and highly decorated high school pitcher who will come in and immediately make an impact," said Smith. "Her power and savvy as a pitcher will lead us in our first seasons. Jenny is also an accomplished hitter who will contribute up at the plate for us."
Keppel (West Henderson HS), a 5-9 middle infielder hit .439 during her junior campaign. She is a three-time All-Western Highlands Conference selection who was also named to the ihigh.com All-State team. As the leadoff hitter for her high school squad, Keppel swiped 31 stolen bases. In the interior of the Lady Falcons' defense, she recorded 32 putouts, 29 assists, with four double-plays.
"Samm is a solid defensive player with unmatched range and smooth mechanics. She is an offensive threat because of her versatility from the left side of the plate," said Smith.
Ross (Southview HS), a 5-10 pitcher/first base has a combined 43-9 overall pitching record and has struck out 252 batters with a .082 ERA. Conversely, Ross has hit .383 for her career with six homeruns, five of which came during her junior season. She has helped lead her team to three-consecutive Two Rivers Conference Championships with a combined 54-13 record for head coach Eddie Dees, earning All-conference accolades each of the past two years which includes the Player of the Year last season. Ross is also a member of the All-state chorus, as well as a three-year All-conference performer in volleyball.
"I love watching Lauren play because she is such a fierce competitor who is focused on every pitch," said Smith. "As a pitcher, she has great command on her pitches and she keeps batters off balance. She is also a powerful offensive threat and a sold position player."
Stepp (East Henderson HS), is a 5-1 outfielder with incredible speed both in the field and out of the batter's box. She has been timed at 2.65 seconds from home plate to first base. During her high school career, in addition to playing outfield, Stepp also toed the rubber for Lady Eagles. She has earned All-Mountain Athletic Conference for three years and All-Western North Carolina honors the past two seasons.
Said Smith about Stepp, "During my recruiting this summer, Sam was one of the fastest players I saw. Her quickness in the outfield and on the base paths will wreak havoc on opposing teams."
Stogner (Central Davidson HS), a 5-7 middle infielder has a career batting average of .467, including 102 hits and 48 RBI. She has earned All-Central Carolina Conference honors each of her first three seasons, tallying All-State selections her sophomore and junior years. In 2003, Stogner came one triple shy of a North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) record, finishing with 11 three-baggers in the season. Away from the diamond, Stogner also runs cross country and plays basketball for Central Davidson.
"Jordan is a solid player in all facets of the game. She is a consistent hitter and fielder with a great work ethic. She will lead our team by example on the field and in the classroom," concluded Smith.
Next spring will mark the return of softball to Cullowhee for the first time since the mid-80s. Western Carolina sponsored a slow-pitch softball program from 1978-1985 and was an AIAW Division II school for four of those years and transitioned to an NCAA Division I school during the 1981-82 school year. Betty Peele commissioned the Catamount softball squad all eight years and compiled a record of 190-103 for a .648 winning percentage during that span. Also during the eight-year span, WCU played in three regional tournaments and three AIAW National Tournaments, finishing fifth in both national tournament appearances. The Cats additionally won two North Carolina State Invitational Championships in 1982 and `84.
In 1985, the NCAA required its Division I members to sponsor eight men's sports and six women's sports. Therefore, effective as of the 1985-96 season, WCU realigned its athletic program and rifle, men's soccer and softball were dropped to make way for women's tennis and track and field.