Tigers in New Dens

Tigers in New Dens

December 31st, 2010 by Mark Jones in Local Regional News

The renovated baseball park features a state-of-the-art press box

Jasmain Carey drives the baseline

For a few seconds, pressure mounts. Then the pitcher rocks into her windup and hurls the small yellow ball at blinding speed toward the hitter 43 feet away. In an instant, the batter is called out on strikes, and softball coach Beth Keylon-Randolph pencils a comment on her lineup card.

"That's not pressure," quips Randolph, a former pitching standout and coach at Chattanooga State Community College who remembers her first meeting with the school's president, Dr. Jim Catanzaro, ten years ago. "When I came aboard, Chattanooga State already had a tremendous program. Dr. Catanzaro walked up to introduce himself and said, 'You know, we've never lost. We need to win the championship.' That's pressure."

The Lady Tigers, who frequently square off against top-ranked four-year colleges including Auburn, South Carolina and Alabama, earned the right to appear in the national softball tournament for junior colleges 16 of the past 17 years. Chattanooga State competes in baseball, men's and women's basketball, and women's fast pitch softball at the Division I level in the National Junior College Athletic Association.

Keylon-Randolph, who recruits top athletes with the promise of expert coaching and Chattanooga State's strong academic menu, is currently touting the school's new athletic facilities. This month, its nationally recognized softball and baseball teams will move into a new state-of-the-art field house and training facility-complete with locker rooms, a fully equipped weight room and conference rooms.

Keylon-Randolph says the upgrades will give the Lady Tigers another edge. "Our new facility is going to be amazing," she says. "When you play someplace nice, you feel good. When you come in from out of town and see something like this, you're in awe thinking, 'Wow, what a great program!' Having a facility like this makes you walk a little bit taller."

In addition to an overhaul of the basketball arena last year, a refurbished baseball stadium will open next month, enabling the Tigers to play their first game at home since 2008. "I think our facility right now is better than many Division I schools," says athletic director Steve Jaecks. "This building project is exciting for Chattanooga State and presents a great image as people come onto our campus."

Shane Hunt, project architect and associate with TWH Architects, says the new 7,500-square-foot field house along with the new baseball stadium complement the master plan and new campus buildings like the Omniplex, Center for Business and the Allied Health facilities. "We are trying to maintain a unified look throughout the campus with colors, materials and style," says Hunt, noting the field house serves as a central hub for both baseball and softball games, with a new plaza and concrete sidewalks providing easy access between both fields.

The extensive improvements are the first major capital investments in the athletic program since the softball field was built about 15 years ago, according to Tammy Swenson, executive vice president of business and finance at Chattanooga State. "It's been a long time coming," she says. "We have nationally ranked teams here and we needed to upgrade the facilities to match the quality of our programs on the field. We want to create more of an intercollegiate feel to the whole athletic program."

At the baseball diamond, fans will be more comfortable with upgraded stadium seating. Players will enjoy new dugouts that reflect the character of the field house, says Hunt. A new state-of-the-art fully integrated press box towers over the new stadium, giving it a sleek, professional character. "It's going to be an enormous boost for us," says Tigers baseball coach Greg Dennis. "This entire facility is really first class."

Baseball at Home

"A big difference"

Even without playing a single baseball game on a field they could call their own, the Tigers last year finished 39-15 and won both the conference and East Central District championships to advance to the JUCO World Series for first time in Chattanooga State's history.

Nationally ranked four out of the past five years, the Tigers are expected to get off to a great start this spring playing in front of larger crowds. "The new stadium will be a big difference for these guys," says Greg Dennis, head coach. "They are excited about spring and being able to play at home. We're really looking forward to welcoming the community out here."

The new stadium will help tremendously in recruiting, adds Dennis, who believes his Tigers are poised for another run for the World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado."I think we have a very strong bunch of players with a good mix of freshmen and sophomores," he says. "Heading into spring, I feel like we're right where we want to be."

A Fast Break for Women's Basketball

The Lady Tigers start the New Year, 10-1

Under Jay Price, who coaches both men's and women's basketball, the Lady Tigers are off to their best start in three years, bringing a ten-game winning streak into the New Year. The addition of three exceptional freshmen, each high school players of the year, has the women poised to return to national prominence after finishing the conference in 6th place last season.

"I don't expect any letdown from this group because they are really focused," says Price. "We're getting good production from our freshmen and I expect this team to get stronger as the season progresses." In 2007-2008 the Lady Tigers were ranked 15 nationally when the team compiled a 21-8 record.

Price's men's team finished the conference in third place last year. Although the Tigers have struggled early, Price believes they will make their move up the conference standings this month.

"I expect the second half of the year to be much better," he says. "We have a lot of new faces and they are adjusting to playing together. I like the makeup of this team, and I like the way things are going.

Price says the winning tradition at Chattanooga State attracts top-quality athletes who expect to win, and who will work hard to keep the program among the nation's elite. "Chattanooga State expects their programs to be in the top three every year and that attitude is reflected in our players, in our facilities and in the way we work," adds Price. "At the end of the season we want to reflect all the hard work we've put in."

Beth's Softball Dynasty

"We expect to be at the national tournament every year"

Chattanooga State softball coach Beth Keylon-Randolph will field only three starters from last year's team that went 53-14 and finished seventh in the JUCO national tournament. She'll take 18 newcomers

to Las Vegas later this month for 11 games against the nation's best softball teams, including three former national champions. Undaunted, Keylon-Randolph only sees an opportunity to prove her teams can compete with anyone.

Beth Keylon-Randolph

"We expect to be at the national tournament every year," says Keylon-Randolph, who conducts year-round training for many of the region's premier softball players at her own fastpitch academy. "Anything less than that will be disappointing. We always try to recruit the top kids in the country and there's a whole heap of talent right here. I've got some kids in the program that I've worked with since they were 8 or 9 years old."

Starting her own career at roughly the same age, Keylon-Randolph says her 10-year-old son recently informed her he was retiring from baseball. "He's a lefty with a great arm," she laughs. "He said he's finished. He wants to take up calf roping. Go figure."

During her tenure at Chattanooga State, Keylon-Randolph has coached 11 NJCAA All-Americans and two Distinguished Academic All-Americans while developing many other standouts. Last season the Lady Tigers won their regional tournament with eight players who earned All Conference academic honors and four who earned All Academic NFCA Scholar awards.

Keylon-Randolph expects to keep the winning tradition alive and well this year. "This team is working really, really hard," she says. "We've got a really good mix of kids and they have all bonded really well."