WILMINGTON, North Carolina – The UNCW softball team opens the 2014 season this weekend as it faces Charleston Southern, Elon and Maryland-Eastern Shore in the Charleston Southern Softball Tournament at Buccaneer Field.

The Seahawks are scheduled to open the event Friday with games against Maryland-Eastern Shore (1 p.m.) and host Charleston Southern (3 p.m.) before wrapping up their tournament appearance Saturday with a 1 p.m. contest against future Colonial Athletic Association foe Elon (9 a.m.)  

UNCW, under the guidance of second-year Head Coach Kristy Norton, welcomes back 14 letterwinners and seven starters from its 2013 squad that nearly doubled the program’s win total from the 2012 season.

Offensively, the senior duo of Morgan Ayers and Casey Shue will be counted on to power the Seahawks attack. Both in their first seasons with the program in 2013, Ayers and Shue posted batting averages of .306 and .282, respectively, while Shue led the squad with 32 RBI and Ayers drove in 20. Ayers also paced the team with 33 runs scored and finished tied for the team lead with nine stolen bases while Shue recorded 10 extra-base hits, including team-high totals of four home runs and two triples.  

Junior left-hander Casey Rowland is back to anchor the Seahawks pitching staff after a solid 2013 season  that saw her post a 3.06 earned run average in 158.0 innings pitched with 114 strikeouts. Sophomore Kayla Pine will be counted on to provide depth to the rotation as she fashioned a 4.68 ERA in 64.1 innings pitched during the 2013 season.

In addition to the 14 letterwinners, UNCW welcomes six newcomers into the fold as junior Jessica Sanabria (Randolph College) and freshmen Nella Chamblee, Peyton Jordan, Lauren Moore, Claudia Spinelli and Merritt Wilkinson will make their Seahawk debut this weekend.

Host Charleston Southern features a veteran-laden lineup as eight seniors are back from last season’s squad that posted a 15-40 overall record. Senior Marci Christian returns to the Bucs lineup after slugging her way into the school record books with a .341 batting average, a .665 slugging percentage, 15 home runs and 109 total bases last season. In the circle, junior Jennifer Giles remains the heart of the CSU rotation after a sophomore campaign that saw pitch 251.0 innings and post 27 complete games.

The Phoenix, meanwhile, head into their final season of competition in the Southern Conference tabbed fifth in the league’s preseason coaches poll. First-Team All-SoCon selection senior Carleigh Nester looks to build off a solid 2013 campaign that saw her hit .370 with 11 home runs, 34 runs batted in, 14 doubles and 14 stolen bases. Sophomore pitcher Kayla Caruso will attempt to build off a solid freshman campaign that saw her post a 10-12 record with a 3.44 earned run average in 134.1 innings in the circle in 2013.

UMES begins the 2014 campaign looking to build off a 2013 campaign that saw the Hawks post a 14-35 overall mark and a 5-13 record in MEAC action. Sophomore Vanessa Gomez returns to the lineup after finishing her 2013 campaign team-high totals in hits (51), walks (24), and stolen bases (31) to go along with a .301 batting average. Freshman Kaitlyn Hitch and Abria Tinsley will take over a majority of the team’s pitching duties after the graduation of senior hurlers Belen Benitez and Jasmine James.

UNCW returns to action next weekend as it hosts Liberty, UMBC and Norfolk State in the Seahawk Invitational at Boseman Field.