Former star Kayla Braud, now an ESPN analyst, says Alabama softball will 'go as far as Montana Fouts will take them'
Kayla Braud might be on the SEC Now broadcast and an ESPN expert these days, but she will never forget the years she spent at Rhoads Stadium in Tuscaloosa.
Braud was a major player on the 2012 Crimson Tide softball team that won the program's first and – so far –only national championship. She was a three-time All-American, the 2010 SEC freshman of the year and holds the top two single-season batting averages in program history (.505 in 2010 and .471 in 2013).
The decorated outfielder also ranks second in career batting average, hits and stolen bases in program history.
She was at the SEC Tournament at last week, the first sporting event Braud has covered in over a year, so it was only right she got to spend it back at the Rhoads House.
The Tuscaloosa News asked her five questions about No. 3 Alabama softballand the upcoming NCAA Tournament:
Q: How does it feel to be back at Rhoads Stadium for the first time in a couple of years?:
Braud: "First of all, it's just incredible to be back here after a pretty hectic last year-and-a-half and for my first live sporting event since then to be the SEC Tournament at Rhoads Stadium was kind of like a pinch-me moment. I walked up and got chills instantly when Alabama stepped on the field just because the atmosphere and environment at Rhoads.
"For me, to be able to see myself and everything from a different perspective and remind myself of how amazing this place is and be reminded of that is very cool."
Q: Does this Alabama team have what it takes to compete with the Oklahomas and UCLAs in the NCAA Tournament?"
Braud: "Yeah, I think this team, in particular, is very special in terms of their resiliency with all the curveballs that have been thrown their way. They've dealt with two big injuries and other health complications all year, and what they have been able to do after losing Bailey Dowling and Claire Jenkins has been amazing. Savannah Woodard and Taylor Clark have stepped up and filled in the workload and they've done an incredible job of taking advantage of the opportunities despite the fact they probably weren't supposed to play that much this year.
"As far as the talent on this team, they'll go as far as Montana Fouts will take them. That's not to say the rest of the team is not talented, but I know from experience when you have an ace pitcher that can beat any team in the country on any given day and you add the ability to score runs, you can compete with any one in the country."
Q: As we get into the NCAA Tournament, who are some teams you can see making some noise?
Braud: "In the SEC, I actually really like Missouri. I think their offense is very good and they've earned themselves a top-16 seed. If I am a top-eight seed, they're not a team I want to face in the super regional round. Obviously, you have Tennessee and (pitcher) Ashley Rogers, who has the ability to go beat anyone in the country.
"As far as around the country, JMU (James Madison) scares teams because they're on a tear right now, but they have not really gone out of conference. The Big Ten is just a mystery all around. I think it will be a very interesting postseason with a lot of parity, and you know this year we haven't seen an equal schedule between conferences, so you don't really know what you have during regionals."
Q: Coach Patrick Murphy has had historically had great outfielders throughout his tenure: Kelly Kretschman, Brittany Rogers, yourself, Haylie McCleney and others. Is there a little competition between one another of who thinks they were the best? Do you guys talk? Do you ever hear from the younger players?
Braud: "The biggest key when you say that is that the 'outties' are a very tight-knit group. You know you spend so much time together out there and coach Aly (Habetz) creates such a close group of players. It's not necessarily about competition between us, but instead among other teams to show that Alabama has the best outfield in the entire country. I think that's what has been really cool to see here, is that pride at that position.
"You know, these girls are not out there because they can hit and not play anywhere else. These are really, really good outfielders that can also hit."
Q: Is there anything you want to add on the Alabama softball team and the NCAA postseason?:
Braud: "When you come to tournaments like these, soak it up because it's an incredible environment and makes you not take it for granted because it is a special thing to go compete for a championship."