Starting from scratch
Hartselle's Carden was a big part of Calhoun's early success
Justin Schuver, Hartselle Enquirer
When Calhoun softball coach Dr. Nancy Keenum was given the go-ahead to restart the school's varsity softball program in May of 2005, she didn't have to look far to find a catcher.
Rachael Carden made her name as Hartselle's catcher during the Lady Tigers' back-to-back Class 5A championships in 2002 in 2003. She graduated in 2004 and went to Calhoun intending to attend the school as a student and believing that her softball playing career was over.
Keenum knew about Carden through a friend, and gave the former Hartselle standout a call to join the first Calhoun varsity softball team since the school had disbanded its athletic program in 2001.
"When we started our program, I was told that I needed to seek out Rachael, so I talked with her and told her I'd like for her to join our team," Keenum said. "She was working at the time, but was willing to quit her job so she could start playing for us."
Keenum had her catcher, and was able to fill out the rest of the Calhoun roster through a series of three tryouts in the spring of 2005. She found plenty of talent not far from Calhoun's Decatur campus, and 15 of the 16 players on the Lady Warhawks' roster were from Morgan, Madison or Lawrence counties. Jenia Stephenson of Jasper was the lone exception to the rule.
Carden found familiarity among her new Calhoun teammates, since most of the girls competed against or played with each other at the high school level. She said that level of familiarity and trust led to strong team chemistry right away.
"This team has all gotten along really well from the very beginning," Carden said. "We started working out together in August and began playing in the fall. We weren't very good at first, but we've improved since then."
Calhoun split its first six games of the regular season, then rattled off a nine-game winning streak. Despite competing against schools that could offer scholarships and had years to build programs, the upstart Lady Warhawks finished in second place in the Alabama Community College Conference's Northern Division. Calhoun's record was 31-14 in the regular season, and 12-5 in division play.
Carden was a big part of that regular season success, hitting .250 and scoring 13 runs while collecting 18 RBIs while playing in a team-high 43 games.
"Rachael has been a really solid foundation for us at catcher," Keenum said. "She hasn't led us in any particular offensive category, but she's done a good job of being a solid field commander for us.
"Several times during the year she's come up with big hits in big situations."
The postseason was a disappointment to Calhoun, as the Lady Warhawks went 1-2 at the state tournament to end their season. But the foundation laid by this initial group of Calhoun players has set the bar high for future teams.
Carden has earned an academic scholarship to the University of Alabama and will enroll there in the fall of 2006. She will work toward a degree in Spanish and said she does not plan to walk on to the softball team, so this is it for her playing career.
"I've had a good time being here, getting my basics out of the way and getting a chance to play ball again," Carden said. "When I graduated from high school, I was a little sad because I thought I'd never be able to play softball again, so this opportunity has been great for me.
"I think it's a good way to end my playing career on a positive note."