EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – The 2017 season came to a close for the SIUE softball program with its runner-up finish at the Ohio Valley Conference Championship in Oxford, Alabama.
As the most consistent program in the OVC, the Cougars advanced to the title game of the OVC Tournament for the fourth consecutive season while completing the year with a 41-13 record. Head Coach Sandy Montgomery answered some questions for siuecougars.com on the record-breaking season.
Q. What did you feel like the highlight of this season was?
A. I'm really proud of this group. They battled from day one of practice during the fall season to the final out of the OVC Tournament. Team culture is very important to this program. Our seniors Haley Chambers-Book, Amy Hunt, Allison Smiley, Page Clinton, Sarah Lopesilvero and Whitney Lanphier exemplify the term student-athlete. They worked just as hard in the classroom as on the field. They represented our program with integrity and class, and that's something that is extremely important. Not every program has that obviously, but our team does.
Q. You passed the 1,000 win mark this season. What was the most memorable part of that experience?
A. It took the efforts of many hours and practice and preparation from my players over the last 29 seasons to get to that point. It was an exciting day when it finally happened, but I would be remiss if I didn't thank all of the players and people behind the scenes who stepped up every day to help this program. This institution has provided the resources for us to be a successful program regardless of the level.
Q. Haley Chambers-Book broke the school record for strikeouts with 979 and was the first player from this program to be drafted professionally. How has she changed the outlook for this program?
A. Haley is certainly a special person. She could have walked away with a solid career but made the decision to come back this season, and I think it was her best season. She put in all of the work in the preseason and during the season to finish with a career-best 27 wins. Having her named OVC Pitcher of the Year was very special because I know how hard she worked for it. Haley certainly can do anything she wants when she puts her mind to it. The Texas Charge will certainly have an outstanding young lady playing for them.
Q. The Cougars missed an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Can you reflect on your disappointment of getting so close?
A. We believed we had a good opportunity to be the second OVC team ever to get an at-large bid and feel like we were deserving of that selection based on the rigorous schedule that we played and the quality of talent we faced. We knew we had to play well at the OVC Tournament to make the NCAA field but just came up short.
Q. Was there an opportunity to play in this year's National Invitational Softball Championship?
A. We fully support and are excited about additional postseason opportunities for the sport of softball. This is a tremendous opportunity for additional exposure for not only our program but other programs around the country. Unfortunately, this year prior to the details being finalized for the NISC, we made the decision that as a national-level program we wanted to focus on enhancing our nonconference schedule by putting our resources into playing the best in the country, which included a tremendous amount of travel. We focused a lot of our energy on enhancing our RPI, which finished in the low 40s. While we unfortunately had to decline an invitation to the NISC to participate this season, we look forward to the future and the possibility of participating in years in which we are not in the NCAA Tournament.
Q. You lost six seniors from this year's team. Give us an early preview of next season.
A. We're really proud of this year's class of seniors but know we have players ready to step in next season. As always, next year's players will have to earn their spot in the lineup in practice. We are very excited about next year's class but we know we had several players who were role players this season who will make an impact going forward. This program will only continue to get better as we will continue to recruit high-quality student-athletes who will get after it on the field and in the classroom. We're excited for the future. We also want to thank our fans and those individuals who have supported us all season. Our culture and tradition of success are second to none and are a direct reflection SIUE Athletics.