CONWAY, S.C. (WBTW) — This year’s Coastal Carolina softball team is embracing many new changes.

One of the biggest being the addition of assistant coach Michelle Gardner to the coaching staff. Already, she’s been leaving her mark in a positive manner on the program.

Having Coach Gardner this year has been a huge change for our team in the best way possible,” Riley Zana said, a junior infielder. “Her energy, her excitement, just the leadership she has. I know our pitchers absolutely adore her. Everything she brings to practice, she brings it every single day, and it’s a change we didn’t know we needed.”

Another change they are facing is the addition of four new teams in the Sun Belt, James Madison, Marshall, and Southern Mississippi.

Two years ago, James Madison made a run to the championship game of the world series where they gave softball powerhouse, Oklahoma, a run for their money.

Adding JMU and Marshall too, who had a pretty good year, I mean that just makes it tougher,” Head Coach Kelley Green said. “I mean, in the Sun Belt, we’re really a power 5 conference when you look at both sides east and west. They’re a quality programs and we expect them to certainly be tough opponents.”

The Chanticleers only has two local players on their roster, sophomore Jay Wrightsman a Socastee High School graduate and sophomore Kennedy Ellis an Aynor High School graduate.

“It really is a dream,” Ellis said. “It’s still surreal to me to be able to be here and still be so close to home, to my family and friends. It’s kind of the place that brought me to softball and to stay in it.”

The team has been focusing on situational defense in practice to give the newcomers as much game-like experience as possible. Even though they work hard, they aren’t afraid to also have some fun.

“I think this group is just going to be a really fun group to watch,” Green said. “They get along really well, they bring a lot of energy every single game. It’s exciting for fans, it’s exciting to be a part of.”

The Chants team goal this year is to win the Sun Belt East Division.

In a preseason coach’s poll, they were picked to finish 10th in the Sun Belt.

CCU will host the Kickin’ Chicken Classic on February 9th and open their season against UMass Lowell.