The Briarwood Academy Lady Buccaneer softball team has many new faces on its 2006 roster, and perhaps the most recognizable is the head coach.
Coach Christian Tiller has taken over the guidance of the Lady Bucs from longtime and legendary coach Robert Waller. Coach Waller has retired from coaching but is still a "concrete pillar" in the teaching and classroom scene at Briarwood Academy.
Coach Tiller is a 1994 graduate of Evans High School. While there, he played varsity basketball and lettered two years in track. He earned a scholarship to Aiken Technical College to play basketball.
After two years at Aiken Tech, he transferred to Baker University in Baldwin City, Kan., where he finished his playing career and began his coaching career.
Coach Tiller graduated from Baker University in 2000 with a bachelor of science degree in physical education and then went to Hordin-Simmons University in Abilene, Tex., to work on his masters degree.
While at Hordin-Simmons, he was a graduate assistant to the women's basketball team where the team went to two national tournament Sweet 16 appearances. Coach Tiller earned his masters degree in education in 2004.
The 2006 Lady Buccaneer roster is comprised of 19 members that include four seniors, four juniors, two sophomores, six freshmen and three eighth graders.
The team's seniors are Ali Dyson, Liz Grant, Angela Kirkland and Olivia Lyons.
Juniors for the squad are Whitney Caroni, Samantha Jenkins, Cassie Pickrell and Caitlin Rodgers.
The duo of sophomores are Sarah Nutial and Jamie Russell.
The large group of freshmen include Gerry Hall, Lizzie Keen, Sherrer Long, Brittini Phelps, Erin Phelps and Taylor Stitcher.
The trio of eighth graders that have earned a spot on the Lady Buc roster are Emily Henderson, Maria Johnson and Hannah Wilson.
"Our strengths this year will definitely be our returning two starting pitchers and our catcher," Coach Tiller said. "On the mound, Caitlin Rodgers and Sarah Nutial will guide us, along with Liz Grant as catcher behind the plate. Caitlin and Sarah started every game last year for the Lady Bucs, and they will definitely be our stronghold this year. Liz is a two-year starter at catcher, and she is looking to have a great senior season. Her leadership has really come out."
The positions around the infield for the Lady Bucs will be manned as: First base - either Rodgers or Nutial, whichever is not pitching, second base - Ali Dyson, and shortstop - Samantha Jenkins.
"At second, Ali is feeling real comfortable with her play. This has helped her confidence tremendously," Coach Tiller said. "At short, Samantha stepped in and played last year when Katie Reese got injured. She has earned the position as a junior."
Cassie Pickrell will start at third base.
"At third base, we are very fortunate to have probably the best female athlete at Briarwood," he said. "Cassie played outfield last year for us, and we moved her to the infield this season so we could utilize her great athletic ability. She was voted on by the players to be team captain."
The coach's pick for team captain was Caitlin Rodgers.
"As captains, Cassie and Caitlin will serve as leaders for this team and will guide this squad throughout the season," Coach Tiller said.
The Lady Buc outfield will be manned by Lizzie Keen - left field, Gerry Hall - right field and Whitney Caroni - centerfield. For now though, Keen - who is out recuperating from a medical emergency - will be replaced by Jamie Russell.
"These players are part of a real good crop of young players that we have here at Briarwood," he said. "Lizzie and Gerry are seeing action right away. Sherrer Long and Taylor Stitcher will be seeing action at pitching and fielding. Brittini Phelps can be like Cassie Pickrell one day for she is very athletic. As backup catcher, Erin Phelps has one of the strongest arms on the team.
"Our three eighth graders are as talented as anyone on the team. These players are the future for Briarwood softball," Coach Tiller said.
Two other players that Tiller has on his roster who will make a tremendous statement this season will be Angela Kirkland and Olivia Lyons. Kirkland injured her knee in basketball camp this summer and will not be able to play at second base. However, she will be utilized as the team's "third assistant coach." Lyons did not play last year but is making progress every day on her softball ability and techniques.
"Communication will be something that we will be working on every day," Coach Tiller said. "This will be a major point for our team this season. Also, we are working on handling one pitch at a time. This will definitely limit our mistakes. If we foot the ball around, let's give up only one run, and let it be only one run."
Coach Tiller has a two-fold coaching philosophy for his athletes at Briarwood.
"In a game situation, we must concentrate on one pitch at a time and one moment at a time," he said. "It's hard to keep moving forward if you're looking back."
Region 1-AA will be very tough for the Lady Buccaneers this year. Other teams that comprise this region are Brentwood, Piedmont, Monroe, Windsor and Gatewood.
"The region championship will probably be won by one of four teams - Briarwood, Brentwood, Piedmont or Gatewood," Coach Tiller said. "Brentwood and Gatewood are always big rivalries for us, and they are always very tough and strong opponents."