Experience and veteran leadership are key to any team’s success, and the 2020 Georgia softball team has both.
This 2020 roster is filled with seniors — seven, to be exact. It’s more than the Bulldogs have had in the previous two seasons combined and gives them the largest senior class in the SEC.
The seven seniors are also backed by eight juniors. Six members of the junior class have spent their entire college career under the leadership of head coach Lu Harris-Champer, so the Bulldogs have no shortage of experience going into the 2020 campaign.
“It’s exciting,” Harris-Champer said. “They know what it’s like to go through the SEC.”
The Bulldogs have experience at every position. Half of Georgia’s pitching staff is comprised of seniors, including Mary Wilson Avant, who posted a 2.37 ERA in 2019.
Ciara Bryan, who received second team All-SEC honors last season, provides leadership in the outfield and at the plate. Justice Milz and Jordan Doggett head the infield corps, and both posted batting averages over .300 last season.
While veteran leadership is beneficial anywhere on the diamond, it is perhaps nowhere more apparent than behind the plate. Senior Mahlena O’Neal leads the Bulldogs from the catcher’s box, and in 2019 she did so in all 61 games the team played. Leading by example is one of O’Neal’s biggest strengths, Harris-Champer said. Former roommate and teammate Wilson Avant agreed.
“She’s always going to be loving and caring,” Avant said. “But she’ll tell you when you need to fix something, whether that be the spin on a pitch or something that maybe she sees but you don’t see.”
With Georgia’s first game against North Alabama on Feb. 6 quickly approaching, O’Neal and the rest of the seniors are gearing up for their final season at Georgia. Avant said the fact that 2020 is her class’ last adds to the motivation.
“Every day we’re coming out here and we’re giving 110%,” Avant said. “We’re going to give it everything we have.”