- Excitement is in the air for the Indiana softball season. A new coach combined with two of the top starters in the Big Ten, and 11 returning letterwinners, off a team that broke the IU team home run record, has the Hoosiers thinking big in 2005.
"We are talented and strong enough to finish in the top half of the Big Ten," said first-year head coach Stacey Phillips. "We have the pitching and hitting, and I believe we will be a much improved defensive team this season. I know as a coaching staff we are all excited about the year."
Phillips knows about success and winning. Just this past year she was the number one pick in the National Pro Fastpitch League by the San Antonio Armadillos. Prior to that, Phillips was four-time All-Big Ten performer for Michigan State. During her tenor, MSU went to two NCAA Tournaments. She also earned third-team All-American honors as a sophomore shortstop and was an all-region selection her sophomore and senior years.
"The team gets excited when they hear me talk about the experiences I had with the NCAA's," said Phillips. "They hear that and they want to get there so they can be a part of it."
The roster is a combination of youth and experience with 13 underclassmen on the 19-member squad. Sophomore catcher Tory Yamaguchi broke the freshman home run record with 10 long balls last season, while junior pitchers Megan Roark and Mariangee Bogado combined for 356 strikeouts, second most in IU history. Here is how the rest of the team looks.
After an injury forced her to miss her freshman season, Yamaguchi bounced back with one of the best freshman campaigns in school history. Besides breaking the freshman home run record, the Woodhills, Calif., native led the team in hitting (.340), RBI (22), hits (64), total bases (102), on- base percentage (.377), slugging percentage (.543) and multi-hit games (17). Her defensive efforts matched her offensive performance as she posted a .995 fielding percentage, committing just two errors and allowing just three passed balls.
"She is really all you can ask for in a catcher," said Phillips. "Her offense speaks for itself, and she has worked hard in the offseason on her defense, specifically on holding and throwing runners out. She shows a lot of leadership behind the plate, and she is great at communicating with the pitchers."
The competition is on for first base with a number of players vying for playing time. Freshmen Anna Olson and Janetta Deaven are the leading contenders for the job. Both possess a strong bat and glove, with Deaven holding the stronger arm.
Ashley Griffiths will return as the leader of the infield. One of two seniors on the team, Griffiths rebounded from a hard-luck sophomore year, batting .261 with three home runs, 19 RBI and 23 runs scored a year ago. She was tied for first on the squad in walks (14) and second on the team with 49 hits and 11 doubles.
"She is definitely the nucleus of the infield," said Phillips. "She is very vocal on the field. It is like having another coach out there which is great."
Shortstop will be another position that the Hoosiers will fill with a young player. Freshmen Jennilee Huddleston and Jessica Vargo will be the two primary options heading into the year. Both players are known for their athleticism, their ability to react quickly, and their calmness in the field.
"We have had a couple of different players at short the past few years," said Phillips. "We want to stabilize our up-the-middle defense, and I think those two players will do that for us."
Sophomore Rachel Terry will return to anchor the load at the hot corner. Terry is known for her defense and her smart play, and this season coach Phillips believes her offense will be much improved.
"Rachel has a knack for fielding bunts and moving to stop slapped balls. She had some shoulder surgery in the offseason which will help her even more in the field. Offensively, Rachel is a doubles-type hitter, and she knows the importance of playing time and hitting."
Freshman Kari Bettenbrock will provide some depth at third base. Bettenbrock adds a great deal of speed to the team and a glove that can make plays.
Coach Phillips believes that the play of the outfield will be greatly improved this year with the addition of athleticism and speed.
"We will be able to run down more balls for outs, as well as cutting them off before they get into the gap," said Phillips. "Just by that alone, our outfield defense will be a lot better."
Freshman Rachel Carlson and junior Abby Page will draw the bulk of assignments in left field. Both have very similar games in that they have good speed and arm strength, as well as an aggressive yet selective approach to hitting. Page showcased her speed last season with numerous pinch-running opportunities that allowed her to finish third on the team with 19 runs and first on the squad with 12 steals.
Center field will be patrolled by sophomore Kim Richards. Richards move to the outfield midway through last season and it proved to be a success. She was one of the most consistent players at the plate for IU last season, finishing at.283 with three home runs, 20 RBI and 20 runs scored. She was also second on the team in runs scored and stolen bases (9-of-13).
"Richards will be our leader in the outfield," said Phillips. "She has a great arm that will keep a lot of runners at bay rather then take a chance advancing a base."
Left field will be another position that may be handled by a few Hoosiers. Sophomore Heather Hohs is a speedster who can cover a lot of territory, especially the right-center gap being left-handed. Junior Lauren Hines will also see some work in right field when she is not a designated hitter. Hines will once again be one of the main offensive threats on the team. The Auburn, Ind., native posted a .267 average with six home runs, 25 RBI and 18 runs scored in her rookie year. She tied for the team lead with 12 doubles and 14 walks, as well as finishing third with a .351 on-base percentage. Her seven multi-RBI games were also first on the squad. She proved to be a team player and not afraid to take one for the team, finishing with a team-high eight hit batsmen.
"Hohs has really worked hard on her weaknesses to improve her game and it has worked," said Phillips. "Lauren will once again be counted on for offense. She really dedicated herself in the offseason, and I think she will have a great year."
The return of three veteran pitchers to the squad will be one of the keys to the team's success this season. In Bogado and Roark, IU will feature two pitchers that could be dominant on any given day. Bogado enjoyed a tremendous first season with the Hoosiers, leading the team with a 16-15 record and a 1.65 ERA. She also led the team in innings pitched (198 2/3), strikeouts (207), complete games (14) and complete game shutouts (4). The Mariara, Venezuela, native can also do it with the bat, finishing with a .262 batting average, three home runs and 19 RBI.
"We will look for Mariangee to be very strong on the mound for us," said Phillips. "When she is on, she can just dominate the game."
The fabled story of a walk-on turned star is alive when Roark takes the mound. The Pleasant Hill, Calif., product is coming off her first full-fledged season as a starter. Roark was 10-11 with a 1.95 ERA with a team-high 45 appearances. In 172 innings of work, she recorded 149 strikeouts, allowing just 149 hits.
"Roark has worked so hard in her three years here to get where she is," said Phillips. "She has a great work ethic and this year she will be even better than last season."
Senior Katie Witham and sophomore Christy Wahl will round out the staff. Witham will serve as the primary closer in her final season in Bloomington, while Wahl will look to demonstrate her improvements she had made in the offseason.
"I think we have some good depth at pitching and that is going to keep us close in every game," said Phillips. "We are very fortunate to have a great blend of youth and experience working together on the mound."
To be the best you have to play the best and that is the approach the Cream and Crimson took in building the 2005 schedule. The schedule will feature 14 teams that competed in the NCAA Tournament, including six from the Big Ten alone. Traditional powerhouses Florida, Oklahoma, Long Beach State, Cal-State Northridge and LSU will also have the Hoosiers playing one of the toughest out of conference scheduled in the Big Ten, as IU readies themselves for conference play.
"We want to be the best team we can be as we head into conference play and the Big Ten Tournament," said Phillips. "This schedule will allow us to play some of the top teams in the country in some of the top venues in the country, and whatever the result, we will be a better team due to that."