Season Preview - 2009 Indiana Softball
Jan. 16, 2009
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - While many fans of collegiate athletics are focused on the conference portion of basketball season, for the 25 or so players, coaches and staff of the Indiana softball team the return to school for the Spring semester means the start of practice followed closely by the start of the regular season. But before the regular season gets here, first year head coach Michelle Gardner will put the Hoosiers through countless hitting and fielding drills to get them prepared for the highly competitive 2009 schedule.
The following is a preview, by position, of what fans can look for from the 2009 Indiana softball team.
The Indiana softball program will be under new guidance when the 2009 season gets started on Feb. 6 in California, as first year head coach Michelle Gardner takes the reigns of the program after six years as the head coach at the University of Nevada. In those six seasons, Gardner started the softball program from scratch after the university reinstated the program at the start of the 2003 season. In those six seasons, Gardner led the Wolf Pack to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances and had the WAC Player of the Year last year. The native of Petersburgh, Mich., does have ties to the Big Ten, as she was the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year in 1988 at the University of Michigan.
Also joining Gardner on the coaching staff this season will be assistant coach Amanda Rivera, an All-America standout at University of Illinois-Chicago, and assistant coach Christy Hebert, a two-time All-America selection at the University of Iowa. Both assistant coaches bring experience to the program and have tremendous knowledge of the game and how it's played at the highest levels.
Rivera set countless batting records at UIC while being named All-American as a freshman and senior, and then moved on to the coaching ranks as a volunteer assistant coach at Northwestern University. From there, she was named an assistant coach at North Carolina State University for the 2008 season before joining the Hoosiers for the 2009 season.
Hebert was an outstanding infielder for hall of fame head coach Gayle Blevins at the University of Iowa, earning All-America status on two occasions and was First Team All-Big Ten three times. Before coming to Bloomington, Hebert was the head coach at the University of Northern Iowa for five seasons.
And rounding out the coaching staff is volunteer assistant coach Tory Yamaguchi, a four-year letterwinner and the career home run leader at Indiana. She just finished her career with the Hoosiers in 2008 and is working towards her Master's degree while also helping out with the softball team. Over the summer of 2008, Yamaguchi played in the NPF as a member of the Philadelphia Force after being drafted in the second round.
The Indiana outfield will feature a handful of players with the speed to take away hits and take the extra base on offense for the Hoosiers this season. The top returning outfielder for the Hoosiers will be junior Jennifer Glueckert, who played in 47 games in right field last year. Junior Kelli Ritchison also saw significant time in left field and will be looked upon for more solid play in the outfield in 2009. Senior Julie DiNallo, who has been used as a middle infielder for most of her career, has moved to the outfield and will compete for time at the corner positions as well as freshman Jaimee Works.
Also joining the fray in the outfield will be freshman Heather Nelson and sophomore Kelsey Stander, a transfer from the University of Tennessee. Nelson comes to Indiana with the reputation of taking away "sure hits" in center field and is exceptional with the bat. Stander, who joined the team after freshman Casey Jamerson left the team to pursue another career opportunity and showed tremendous promise in the outfield during the fall, will look to use her outstanding speed in the outfield, as she was a perfect 11-for-11 in stolen base attempts last year for the Volunteers. During the fall season, Nelson showed an uncanny ability to get on base and adjust to collegiate pitching at the leadoff spot in the batting order.
"Heather Nelson is going to be phenomenal in center field," Gardner said. "She is going to rob hits from people, I mean they are going to think they have hits and she is going to take them away. Kelsey Stander is coming in from the University of Tennessee and she is going to be a very good outfielder for us. Jennifer Glueckert will probably be in a starting position but we could also have Kelli Ritchison out there just as easily. We could also have King out there as well as Julie DiNallo so we have some options out there and some depth."
On the infield, Indiana will feature a mixture of returning players and new players at different positions. First, the returning players are led by senior shortstop Emily Bergeson. The native of Cleveland, Ill., was the team's leading batter in 2008 with a .308 average and also hit a team-leading eight home runs and drove in 27 runs. Junior Kristin King, who can play any number of positions on the infield or even in the outfield, will be the top backup to Bergeson at shortstop.
At third base, freshman Samantha Berenter appears to be the top candidate to take over at third base for Jennilee Huddleston, who graduated last year and held down the position for four seasons. Berenter demonstrated an outstanding glove at the hot corner during the fall and was also very effective at the plate.
"I think defensively, we have made some changes that could really benefit us as things go along," Gardner said. "Emily Bergeson can be a cornerstone for this infield because she is very verbal and can lead the team on the field as long as she is able to stay healthy.
"We are going to have Samantha Berenter, a freshman, at third base and she has never played there before but she has proved to me that she is going to do anything it takes to be successful on the infield and to win a game."
Across the diamond at first base, sophomore Sara Olson has shown the ability to effectively occupy first base Gardner will put her at first base when she is not pitching to keep her powerful bat in the lineup. When Olson is not at first base, Gardner has the option of playing senior Stephanie Pellerito, junior Stephanie Turner or freshman Molly Anderson. Pellerito was the primary first baseman in 2008 after playing shortstop at the beginning of her career.
"We have Sara Olson playing first base when she is not pitching because she is just flat out athletic," said Gardner of the sophomore from Orland Park, Ill. "And I think she gets it and really wants to be very good there. Having said that, Stephanie Pellertio could come in there at any time so I think we have some depth there too."
The second base position is a spot where sophomore Brittany Devitt is looking to make her mark. As a freshman, Devitt was predominantly used as an outfielder but did see some spot duty at third base towards the end of the year. The Seabeck, Wash., native started the 2008 season on fire at the plate and finished with five home runs and 14 runs scored. Also vying for playing time at second base is senior Sarah Padove, who was putting together a solid 2008 campaign before an injury slowed her down in the middle of the year. She still hit .254 and did not commit an error in the time she did spend at second base.
"Brittany Devitt is making a huge move across the field from third base to second base," said Gardner. "It is tough to play because you have so many responsibilities. She played the outfield and a little at third base last year, but I think she is a kid will work hard to make the adjustment and I felt like she did that in the fall. We'll probably see Sarah Padove and some other rotating in there from time to time but I feel like we need to have some measure of consistency on the infield. Because I think it takes some pressure off the pitchers if you can play clean defense."
Behind the plate the Hoosiers will be young, as sophomore Brittany Stein takes full control of the spot after sharing time last year with current volunteer assistant coach Tory Yamaguchi. Stein worked with all three returning pitchers on a regular basis last year and will use that experience to keep a comfort level with the pitching staff this season to provide a seamless transition behind the plate. Adding depth behind the plate will be freshman Molly Anderson, who is also an option at first base, and freshman Bridget Langan.
"Brittany Stein is very good behind the plate, and Molly Anderson could see some time behind the plate, Gardner said. "It's just going to be who is rested and ready to go because I haven't met a catcher that can catch 60 games and be healthy for all of them so you have to have some options there. And I feel very confident with what each one of them can do."
The pitching staff is perhaps the one position where the Hoosiers have the most experience returning in 2009, as all but 45.0 innings pitched are returning this year in the form of Monica Wright, Sara Olson and Alyssa Maiese. Joining those three will be Ashley Hobbs, who transferred to IU for her senior year from University of Evansville and brings plenty of experience.
Wright led the team in wins, ERA, complete games and innings pitched last year and will be looked upon to carry a large portion of the workload for the staff yet again this season. With another solid season in the Cream and Crimson, Wright will move into the top ten in a number of pitching records at Indiana. Olson showed dramatic improvement as the season went along and was pitching at her best at the end of the year, which also coincided with her being extremely productive at the plate as well. She finished the year with three home runs and 16 RBI on just 13 hits. Maiese also came up with some key hits at the plate while also getting stronger in the circle as she made the adjustment to the college game from high school and will look to provide depth to the staff and be able to come in and get outs when asked.
Further proof of Hobbs experience can be seen in the fact that she pitched over 400 innings in 90 appearances in three seasons for the Aces. She also had a 2.22 ERA as a freshman and had 154 strikeouts in 167.1 innings and will be looked to for key outs and to use her big-game experience to her advantage in the same situations this season.
"One of our strengths this year is going to be our pitching, I truly believe that," Gardner said. "We have a good mix of older and younger pitchers. With Ashley Hobbs coming in for her senior year, she has thrown in a lot of big games at Evansville and brings that mentality which is great. Obviously Monica Wright has been the cornerstone for this staff for a couple years now and working with her through the fall, I think she has gotten stronger as a pitcher. And then to balance this experience we have a pair of sophomores in Sara Olson and Alyssa Maiese that will also get their share of chances in the circle to show their tremendous talents and abilities. So I really like the mix that we have on the pitching staff and look forward to what they will be able to do for us this year."
"The biggest thing for me with our pitching staff is to be able to use their strengths. Pitchers are not made out of a cookie-cutter, they are not all the same, and that's the one thing I have been able to understand is that they each have their own way of being effective and being able to use those in game situations. And they have shown me that their work ethic and growth have been enormous and that is a very big strength of this team."
The Hoosiers will open the season in Westwood, Calif., on the campus of UCLA, against San Diego State on Feb. 6 at 12 p.m. Eastern time.
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