College 2024 Preview: Avila University Hoping to Continue Trend of Success in 2024
By Jeff Strange
2023 Overall Record: 35-21
Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference Record: 16-8
Cinco de Mayo 2023 was a day of celebration for the Avila University softball program, as the Eagles brought home their first KCAC title in school history, defeating Oklahoma Wesleyan University in Great Bend, KS.
The conference victory helped secure Avila’s berth to the NAIA National Softball Championship, their first trip since 2019. The Eagles opening round of softball was held in Chickasha, OK as the number 4 seed in a pool that included University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, Mobile University (AL), and Cottey College.
Avila pulled out a win against a tough Cottey College squad, but fell to top seeded Science and Arts, setting up an elimination matchup between the Eagles and the number 13 ranked team in the NAIA, the Mobile University Rams.
Mobile got off to an early lead, but Avila kept battling all the way to the end before ultimately succumbing to a 6-2 loss, ending another successful season for the Eagles program.
For a program that was sometimes turning in single-digit win seasons 10-15 years ago, Avila’s softball program has turned itself into a force to be reckoned with in recent seasons, finding themselves consistently competing for conference and tournament titles while sprinkling in some postseason appearances along the way. Coach Charlie Kennedy is entering his 3rd season at the helm at Avila and his 23rd season as a collegiate softball head coach. Kennedy has amassed a career record 618-434-3 in his coaching career, which includes stints at Division 1 Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, Division II UMSL, Division III Maryville and NAIA Lindenwood-Belleville.
Moving into 2024, there is a sense of excitement for Head Coach Charlie Kennedy, his coaching staff and his group of athletes. Top Gun Events Media caught up with Coach Kennedy to get his perspective on several key elements for the Avila University Softball Program:
Your program had a successful season in 2023; can you detail your thoughts on the season as a whole?
“We brought back seven kids from our previous season and 19 new athletes last fall. The program received an infusion of talent – I had 12 freshmen come in and seven transfers, along with good talent returning. Our depth was a key. We had strong pitching and a strong catcher behind the plate; it just took us awhile to come together with that many new faces. I can tell you that at one point of the season, I didn’t see us pulling off a conference tournament championship. I felt that we could compete in it and that we had the talent to do it, but early on we just weren’t all on the same page.
However, it came together very quickly towards the end of the season. The last conference doubleheader on the road, we were handed two losses against a team that was two spots ahead of us in our conference and it just didn’t taste good. A few days later, we took a trip to St. Louis and split with Missouri Baptist, who had just won their conference and it gave us a jolt going into the KCAC tournament, where we went undefeated. Through all of the ups-and-downs of the season, we just continued to work hard and grind out game after game and practice after practice. It was a great honor to watch the ladies come together at the end of the season and make a run into the postseason.”
Can you give some background information on your coaching staff?
“Aldyn Wildey is my pitching coach – she pitched a few years at Johnson County and was recruited to pitch at the University of Kansas but unfortunately blew out her ACL and didn’t get to throw her junior and senior years. Aldyn is very knowledgable and was instrumental last year to our pitching staff.
Mike MacFarlane, who played with the Kansas City Royals, Boston Red Sox and Oakland A’s – he was a 12 year major league baseball catcher; he’s our catching and hitting coach. Very sound fundamentals in hitting.
Mimi Maggard was player of the year in the Sun Coast Conference in Florida at Webber International University. She’s in her second year here and plays a huge role for us.”
Can you give some analysis/perspective on your team for 2024?
“We return 18 girls from last year’s team. We lost our top pitcher who had 20 of our 35 wins (Payton Walter) and our top catcher (Talley Cole), but I think what we have brought in over the past few years will help fill those roles very well. What we our right now is a team that has great depth, good pitching and great speed – we were number two in the country in stolen bases last season, led by OF Chelsea Kurtz, who swiped 72 bases in 2023 which was second overall in the NAIA last year. We added more speed to the lineup as well with incoming athletes. We’re a team that won’t be taken lightly this year; we were picked to take third in the conference with the preseason rankings. We were two wins away from the next round of the NAIA World Series last season and I think that our seniors are hungry to get back this season.
I feel that we are going to execute in situations. We bunt very well, we run the bases well, we play outstanding defense, and we can hit. We start out our season in Texas playing Texas A&M – San Antonio and Our Lady of the Lake (NAIA #7 preseason ranked team) right out of the gate. A month later, we are in California with Hope International (NAIA #19 preseason ranked team), Vanguard, Menlo and Westcliff. I feel that going to play these teams right at the start of the season will help build some mental toughness for our pitchers, offense and defense that will help us grow.”
What are your short-term goals for the program?
“It is a goal to break the top 25 rankings in the NAIA and challenge ourselves early on in the season so that we are battle tested when we start conference play and move into the KCAC tournament. If we can win our conference outright and/or win our conference tournament, that will secure us another automatic bid to the NAIA Championship Tournament. It’s an exciting time for us right now. We’ve started up spring practices and we’re a month away from playing our opener in Texas.”
What are your long-term goals for the program?
“If you have the consistency in the coaching staff and the ability to put talent on the field every year, then long-term is having Avila University as a recognized name as a tough team to beat. We want to be a perennial name as a tough opponent. We’ll continue to play a tough schedule and prepare our athletes to be strong opponent on game day.”
Lastly, do you have any information to share for prospective athletes in regards to camp information for 2024?
We will be running a camp on February 25th. The link for the camp is:
*The Avila University Eagles will open their season on February 9th at the Our Lady of the Lake University Saints Classic in San Antonio, TX squaring off against Texas A&M University – San Antonio and Our Lady of the Lake University that Friday afternoon.*