The Southern Miss Golden Eagle softball team is ready for conference play. Co-head coaches Malgradi and Voak set a very tough non-conference schedule to cast a vision to the players of where this program is headed.
It also served the purpose of mentally preparing the players for a tough conference season.
Sitting at 10-14 and with victories over top programs from around the country, the Eagles are in a great place heading into conference.
A big reason for the success has been the emergence of junior MacKenzie Sher. The infielder has been playing well and has been supplying the power in the middle of the Eagle's line-up this season.
"I think our coaches were very smart in putting us through a tough non conference schedule," Sher said in an interview with GoldenEaglePride.com after practice Thursday.
"We have a young team, and many of our players were wide eyed when we saw who we'd be playing at the beginning of the year. We had Florida State, Baylor, Fresno, Fullerton, and other top programs.
"We took a few wins against those programs so its a huge confidence booster for us."
Sher is hitting .239 starting in all 24 games this season. In 71 at-bats she is leading the team with 6 HR's and 20 RBI's, and she also has 17 hits on the season.
She also provided a dramatic walk-off grand slam in home opening weekend in which she quickly credited her teamamtes for the opportunity.
"I give credit to the players who got on before me," she said. "My team putting pressure on the other team is what made it happen. All in all it was a great team effort, and credit is due to everyone. It was sure fun, though, and it was a moment I'll never forget."
She is also quick to credit her coaches for the turn around she's experienced this season.
"This is my second year to have these coaches, and I'm so glad they are here," she said. "My freshman year was rough. The coaches have worked with me really hard, and I'm the type person where I'll stay after it until I get it.
"They keep me sharp, work with me everyday, and they do a great job of keeping me on my plan. Don't get me wrong, its tough. I don't think there will ever be a point in time where I arrive, but they are keeping me strong and have motivated me to be the best I can be."
Sher pointed out that team chemistry has been really strong in this group, and that her team needs to continue to play with passion to have a chance to win the conference this season.
"A big thing for us is our tempo," she said. "When we are playing up-tempo, screaming, annoying the other team, that's when we are playing our best.
"We just feed off of each other. This team has a new energy and if we can play our game, there is no one we can't compete with this season."
The Coaches have looked to Sher to lead on and off the field, a role she's embraced.
"I'm not really a loud character so to speak, I'm much more of a lead by example type player," she said. "I try and work hard and the team has really responded. Even right now as we talk there is about 6 players staying after practice and working.
"The older girls have done a good job of portraying what it takes to be successful to the younger players we have."
As the Eagles prepare for the weekend series with Houston, Sher has a little extra motivation.
"I'm really excited for Houston because I am from there and I know some players on their team," she said. "We have a lot of younger players, so we just have to stay calm and just play even though it is a conference game.
"Houston is going to be good, and if we can come out like we played against teams like Baylor, we'll be in good shape."
For Sher, being a Golden Eagle is something she'll carry with pride long after her playing career is over.
"It is a family away from family," she said. "I know in 10, 20 years, if I come back to south Mississippi I'll always be welcome with open arms. Everyone is great, from support staff, to coaches, to media, everyone is so supportive.
"The community is great, and I'm thankful to have the opportunity to just be a small part of what is going on here."
The Golden Eagles prepare to take on the Houston Cougars at home for games at 1:00 and 3:00 on Saturday, and then back at 1:00 Sunday for the final game in the series.