There's a bug going around, and Alabama softball's Patrick Murphy couldn't make the first press conference of the season, which we carried live on Tide 100.9 and 1230 WTBC.

In stepped new assistant and former SEC Network commentator Kayla Braud. She was joined by outfielder Jenna Johnson and pitcher Jaala Torrence.

Braud explained how she took a job on Murphy's staff.

Retired assistant Aly Habetz had asked Braud if she was interested in coaching, and Braud said the only coaching job she “would want you have.” That set the wheels in motion for Braud to return to the Capstone.

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Asked about the 2024 team's personnel, Braud gushed: "They have been phenomenal, all fall and in preseason in the few weeks we’ve had in January.

“We have a lot of speed, a lot of athleticism. I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people this year. All-in-all, I think Coach Murphy would say it, these young women are going to get after it, they come prepared to play, they work really, really hard, and we’ve got a lot of depth.”

Alabama returns 15 starters, but the legendary Montana Fouts is gone. Her presence in the circle will be missed.

Alabama is ranked 11th in the nation preseason. Other ranked SEC teams include No. 3 Tennessee, No. 6 Georgia, Numbers 17-20  LSU, Arkansas, Auburn, and Florida, No. 22 South Carolina, and No. 25 Texas A&M. The SEC’s nine ranked teams is tops in the land.

In addition to Torrence, the deep pitching staff will consist of junior Alex Salter (7-4, 3.11 ERA), senior lefty Lauren Esman, freshman right-hander Jocelyn Briski and sophomore Alea Johnson of Fairhope, who played last year at LSU. The new "ace" could be grad transfer righty Kayla Beaver from Central Arkansas, who has been known to light up a radar gun.

Esman can also play first base if Murphy chooses.

Murphy, Braud and staff will count on hitters like All-SEC infielder Bailey Dowling  All-SEC outfielder Johnson, utility player Emma Broadfoot, junior infielder Kali Heivilin outfielder Kristen White, shortstop Kenleigh Cahalan, outfielder Larissa Preuitt), infielder Abby Duchscherer, senior outfielder Kat Grill, and senior outfielder M’Kay Gidley, who is primarily a pinch runner.

New faces not in the pitching circle are sophomore catcher Riley Valentine of  Texas A&M, sophomore outfielder Kenley Pate of Northport via Samford, junior utility player Kendal Clark of Humboldt, Iowa, and freshman outfielder Lauren Johnson, sister of veteran Jenna.

Jenna Johnson said having Braud around to coach her has been pretty cool, as both patrolled left field at the Rhoads House. "She’s been able to teach us so much out there having that player perspective," Johnson noted. "And she’s a [2012] national champion. So getting to learn from her has changed everything, and it’s been a great addition.”

Alabama will open the season in the Buzz Classic in Atlanta Feb. 8-10 with Villanova, Longwood, and host Georgia Tech. The Tide's first home weekend at Rhoads Stadium will be the Bama Bash Feb. 16-18 with St. Thomas, Virginia, and Southern Indiana.

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