Before the 2009 season, Coast Guard head coach Donna Koczajowski wasn't quite sure who was going to start inside the circle. Entering the 2012 campaign, there is no question.

All-American Hayley Feindel, a right-handed senior from River Ridge, La., is set to embark on her final campaign for Koczajowski and the Bears, who open the season against Methodist and No. 6 Cortland State on Sunday.

In 2008, Coast Guard compiled a 14-24 record. During Feindel's freshman season in 2009, the Bears went 39-7-1. During the next two years, the program went a combined 72-14.

And to say Feindel has been the leader is an understatement.

"[Hayley] is the poster child for what we are looking for at the Coast Guard Academy," Koczajowski said. "She is the total package, a great team leader. And she is the first to deflect attention away from herself.

"But without question, she has changed the way people look at our program."

The Bears enter the season ranked 13th this week after a 38-4 season in 2011. The program has won three consecutive New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) championships and earned three consecutive berths in the Division III tournament.

"The goal this year is to make it to the [national finals]," Feindel said. "All the other stuff, that's great, but I want to take the Academy to the [championship] series for the first time in school history."

I felt like I wanted to do something for my country, for my family. There is no way I would be where I am in softball without everything else that goes with the [Coast Guard] Academy.
-- Coast Guard senior Hayley Feindel

All that 'other stuff' the 23-year-old speaks of is next to astounding.

Feindel already owns the Division III record for career strikeouts. The 1,206 batters she's fanned since taking the circle in 2009 is 41 more than second-place Jennifer Martinez of St. Joseph's (L.I.). Feindel's 26 shutouts last year are also a DIII record.

Entering 2012, she has pitched in 129 career games -- the record is 151 by DePauw's Megan Soultz, who also has the career record for starts at 148. Through three seasons, Feindel has started 125 games. Soultz's 898 innings pitched also lead Division III -- for now. Feindel will take the circle with 819 innings tossed.

The last three seasons Feindel has led Division III in strikeouts and her 0.56 earned run average also topped the list of DIII pitchers.

"Right now I'm not really thinking about that stuff," Feindel said. "I'm just going to take it game-by-game. [Coast Guard SID] Jason [Southard] always reminds me about all the records, which is nice, but I haven't done all that by myself."

What is the Louisiana native thinking about then?

On March 1, Coast Guard soon-to-be graduates find out their first duty assignment. A five-year commitment is expected after four years at the Academy.

Feindel admits softball has been a means to an end.

"My goal wasn't necessarily to play softball, but I knew it could help me reach some of my goals," Feindel said. "When I was going through the application process, I knew this was something bigger. I felt like I wanted to do something for my country, for my family. There is no way I would be where I am in softball without everything else that goes with the Academy."

The road to the top of Division III's record books has been anything but easy.

The first semester of her junior year in high school in River Ridge, a suburb of New Orleans, things quickly changed. Hurricane Katrina ripped up and destroyed many people's lives in and around New Orleans that August.

Feindel's immediate family watched the storm on television in Baker, La. It was obvious they would not be headed home after another "normal" passing storm. The next few months Feindel was in Atlanta with relatives before returning home.

The family home sat along the levees of the Mississippi River. Every day, there was the Coast Guard, working. And during and after the massive hurricane there was the Coast Guard again, doing whatever it could to help those in need.

And so the process of joining the Coast Guard began.

The first step was a year in New Mexico at a preparatory academy, where softball was not part of the regimen. A demanding physical schedule was.

"It wasn't easy," Feindel said. "But it made the transition [to the Academy] a lot easier."

Before freshmen classes in New London, Conn., recruits participate in Swab Summer. Again, little time for softball.

Division III Career Strikeouts
*Hayley Feindel, Coast Guard 1,206
Jennifer Martinez, St. Joseph's (L.I.) 1,165
Laura Heise, St. Scholastica 1,125
* -- entering 2012 season
Division III Career Victories
Erica Hoyt, Muskingum 120
Jennifer Segner, Muskingum 117
Kelly Schade, Simpson 113
Megan Soultz, DePauw 112
Lacey Lister, Salisbury 108
Kim Sears, Wheaton (Mass.) 105
*Hayley Feindel, Coast Guard 103
* -- entering 2012 season

"I got a call from a retired Coast Guard officer [in Louisiana] letting me know that there was a pitcher I needed to take a look at," Koczajowski said. "And after a year off, we really didn't know what we had."

"Coach kept putting me out there," Feindel said. "And I don't think there was any way I could have pitched so much, had the endurance, if I hadn't gone through the prep school and Swab Summer."

There will be more change for Feindel this season.

The Bears must replace All-American catcher Amanda Fredrick, a .369 hitter and team leader. Set to step into her shoes is a freshman from Washington, Jesse Richardson.

"The first time I threw to her I felt like I was going to show this hot-shot freshman something; show her what the big-time was," Feindel joked. "I threw her my fastball and she caught it like it was nothing. I was very impressed and it's going to be a pleasure to work with her."

Like Feindel, who was Richardson's company commander during her Swab Summer last June, the young catcher knows softball is a means to an end.

"My grandpa and dad were both in the Coast Guard," Richardson said. "I was looking for something a little more, something for after college. And when I found out I was coming, I did some research about the team. I'm excited to get going, to work with Hayley. We've already developed some chemistry.

"We have so much going on, softball is a nice release for us."

It's often said the light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long. In regards to collegiate softball, during the last three seasons, Feindel has burned as bright as humanly possible. But the records she leaves in her wake will keep her name burning for a long time to come.

• Complete Division III Softball Record Book
Feindel leads returning pitchers in season preview