TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Because of COVID, spring 2020 student athletes were granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA. This has caused thousands of athletes to make the choice whether or not they will use that extra year of eligibility, go professional, go to grad school or enter the real world and look for a job.
For many student athletes, it's a difficult decision. Not for Alabama softball first basemen Kaylee Tow though.
"I just told them the other day, I would take a sixth and seventh and eighth year," Tow said. "There was just no question in my mind, so I'm grateful that they have me back because I'm ready for the ride of a lifetime. This has been the best experience.”
Tow said that last year during COVID, she had to decide if she would do the one-year or two-year grad school program. She chose the two-year program, taking a gamble that head coach Patrick Murphy would have her back for her fifth year, and he did.
Last season, Tow started every game and hit .362. She was second on the team behind Bailey Hemphill in home runs (eight) and RBIs (51) including a three-run home run in the Women's College World Series against UCLA during Montana Fouts' perfect game.
Outside of Tow, the only other seniors on the roster for the upcoming season were outfielder Kayla Davis and pitcher Montana Fouts. Murphy wanted more upperclassmen with leadership experience, so he turned to the transfer portal and got Ally Shipman from Tennessee and Ashley Prange from Ohio State.
"With really only one true senior and Kaylee, I thought we needed a little bit help in that leadership department and just the experience because they both were Power Five softball players and had the experience of playing really good teams," Murphy said on the decision to add Shipman and Prange. "I think both of them are just gonna really help us.”
According to Murphy, Shipman and Prange help the blend of old and new players on the Alabama roster with nine new players and 12 returners. He first got in contact with Shipman in late June.
Shipman is a talented catcher with SEC experience both behind and in front of the plate. She's a career .331 hitter with 13 home runs and 75 RBIs while at Tennessee.
For Shipman, once she entered the portal, it was important to find the place with the right culture. And that's what she found at Alabama.
"I was really looking for that family atmosphere, that culture," Shipman said. "I was looking for a place that I really felt like I could be myself at, and right away on my visit, I think within the first 45 minutes, I could feel that here. And so that was really the underlying factor. You know take out softball, take out you know money, whatever. It was really about culture and fitting in and being happy."
With the additions of Shipman and Prange, plus the return of Tow combined with a talented freshman class and a deep pitching staff, Murphy is having the type of problem coaches love to have: too many good players for too few spots.
"I'm telling you, it's a puzzle that's going to be hard to fill in because there's so many good kids on this roster right now," Murphy said. "We have speed, we have power, we have lefties, we have righties, we have four I think really good pitchers. Our depth everywhere is really really good.”
The Crimson Tide had two fall ball games over the weekend in Nashville against Lipscomb. This weekend, they will host Louisiana-Monroe, Memphis and West Alabama at Rhoads Stadium for fall ball games which Murphy called "glorified scrimmages."
While a score is kept, it's really just an opportunity for the team to play together in real game scenarios and give fans a look at the team before the real games start in February.
"This is year 26 for me at Alabama, and I’m telling you the truth, I’m very, very excited for this year’s team," Murphy said.