In 2014, his first season as head coach, Mike Smith turned the team around from a 22-31 record in 2013 to 30-25 in 2014. His first Ole Miss team set school records in wins and set or tied every. single. school. record. on offense. Every one. The only one they tied was doubles, too. It was a resounding success. His team was already littered with his own recruits, namely freshman left fielder Elantra Cox, who led the team with a .378 average. But would Smith be able to keep things going in year two?
Um ... yes.
The team has already shattered the wins record they set last year, earning 37 wins with a three-game series and the postseason remaining. They're not actually on pace to break any of last season's offensive records, other than steals (which ranks fifth in the NCAA). The biggest step up this season has been in pitching. The Rebels ended 2014 with a team ERA of 4.30, and Ole Miss' current ERA is 3.17. That drop of over a run per game obviously makes a huge difference.
What is a Yoot?
The youth on this softball team has to be exciting for fans. Three of the top six batters are freshmen. Among the top ten batters, one is a senior -- Natalie Martinez, who is not a primary starter and ranks ninth in average. The starting pitcher with the second-lowest ERA, Madi Osias, is the only player who will leave the rotation.
Freshman shortstop Hailey Lunderman leads the team in hitting. The aforementioned Elantra Cox is second. In fact, four of the top six hitters are freshmen or sophomores. The team has built a foundation that will continue to be successful.
Lunderman can also do things like this ...
DAT CATCH, THO! Rebel Hailey Lunderman's diving back-to-back catches, here's No. 2 #HottyToddy #SCTop10https://t.co/aQHZDTDHf0— Ole Miss Softball (@OleMissSoftball) April 10, 2016
And fellow freshman Kylan Becker does things like this from right field ...
B4 | Single from Masters into right, runner tries to score but @KylanBecker says no with this rope of a throw! https://t.co/NHomoppW2e— Ole Miss Softball (@OleMissSoftball) April 17, 2016
And the team's going to get better
At the beginning of November's early signing period, the incoming recruiting class was ranked No. 20 by FloSoftball.com. Since then, the Rebels have added outfielder Dominique Salinas, who has earned numerous statewide honors on offense and defense. The group is well-rounded with a heavy emphasis on California and Texas. I can't give a current class ranking because I don't subscribe to the site, but they are in a good position.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that Smith is building a dynasty. The teams will have to be more successful in a difficult SEC before we start heaping praise. His teams have gotten off to a great start during his first two years, though, and even better times appear to be on the horizon.