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Brenau softball raising the bar
Brenau Univeristy outfielder Jana Bryant tosses the ball to teammate Taylor Kelly during team practice at Lanier Point softball complex Monday afternoon.

Brenau softball

SSAC tournament

Who: Brenau vs. Brewton Parker

When: 4 p.m. today

Where: South Commons Complex, Columbus

Brenau freshman third baseman Tiffany Schandera has some big shoes to fill — shoes that are a size 2009.

She and the rest of the Golden Tigers have worked all season long to fill the spaces left by former third baseman Tori Fobb and the thirteen others that departed from Brenau after last year’s Southern States Atlantic Conference championship and trip to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics National Championship tournament.

Losing more than half of last year’s team, however, did not prevent the few that were left from continuing their success.

Many did not believe that the Golden Tigers could come back with a consecutive successful season after going 42-12 last year.

“People in my hometown really focused on last year’s team,” said Schandera, a Columbus native.

The team was written off by most, and they started the season ranked No. 29 in NAIA.

“No one gave us any respect because of the losses at the beginning,” Thomas said. “It was difficult this year. Last year I was just loaded with seniors and experience, but the freshmen have come in strong.”

Now, Brenau is ranked No. 11 in NAIA and is in third place in its conference behind Shorter College and Lee University, the No. 2 team in NAIA.

The Tigers are ranked second in the nation in fielding, and multiple players are individually ranked. Pitcher Anna Maness is eighth overall in wins with 21, and catcher Morgan Smith is in the top 20 in total home runs with 12.

Most would embrace having these kinds of numbers associated with them, but the players do not like to hear their statistics.

“Last year’s team wanted to know, but this time they just play for the team,” Thomas said.

“You want to do just as good as the last team or be better than them because this actually means something,” Schandera said in comparing college softball to her high school experience. “It makes you feel more confident, though, just to know that you’re on a good team.”

With a good team, however, often comes a rocky past. In 2004, the first year of the program, the Golden Tigers went 2-37. In their third year, something changed, and the team went 37-15.

Each year since, Brenau has won at least 30 games.

“It’s a tough national schedule, and when you do so good, you have a target on your back,” Thomas said.

The regular season is now complete for this year’s team, and the good that was previously displayed in record form is erased and replaced with zeros as all slates are wiped clean for the postseason.

“I’m nervous, but I’m also excited,” Schandera said of her first college conference tournament appearance. “I feel like our team is very compatible, and I’m confident. I think that if everyone is just as confident that we can win it.”

“We’re going to approach it just like every other: one game at a time, one team at a time,” Thomas said.

Thomas is also looking even further into the future at the even larger shoes that upcoming recruiting classes will have to fill.

“It went from getting an e-mail a month to averaging four to five per day,” Thomas said.

He feels that next year’s class will fill any shoe left empty, but he knows that for right now, the size 2010 cleats that his team laces up every day fit just fine.

The Golden Tigers are scheduled to play Brewton Parker in the first round of SSAC tournament at 4 p.m. today at the South Commons Complex in Columbus.

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