2001 Season Outlook
Jan. 23, 2001
The 2001 addition of the Stanford softball team expects is success. Headcoach John Rittman, in his fifth year at the helm, has led his team to threeconsecutive postseason appearances. The Cardinal now have their eyes on theultimate prize - a national championship.
The road to Oklahoma City has gotten tougher with the growing parity amongteams across the nation, but Stanford has gotten a taste of the promisedland and is ready for the fight to reach the pinnacle of collegiatesoftball. They are poised to take their place among the upper echelon of thetop teams from around the country.
'The expectation level of this program has risen over the past few years,'said Rittman. 'We have a whole new nucleus of players who have experiencecompeting against the very best.
'We expect to succeed and have a winning program,' he continued. 'We expectto go postseason, go to the College World Series and put ourselves in aposition to win a championship.'
Last year Stanford set a single-season school record with 45 wins and earneda number one seed heading into postseason. But the Cardinal would lose twohard fought battles, including a 13 inning contest to Central Michigan. It'sa lesson Stanford will not forget.
'I think it is only going to make us stronger this year,' said Rittman.'Everyone is a year older and a year wiser. I think it was a great learningexperience for our young team. It's a tough one to take, especially going inas a number one seed, but you get into those battles and take something awayfrom them that you can use later on.'
The lessons learned are showing up in the work ethic of the players thisseason.
'I think we want it more,' Rittman said. ' I see it in our work ethic. I seea higher level of commitment because we know it's getting tougher to getwhere we want to be. To win a national championship you're going to have todo more and put more into it than in year's past.'
The Cardinal will start with a tough pre-conference schedule, including theSpeedline Tournament in Flordia, the Campbell/Cartier Classic in PowayCalifornia, the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Georgia, and the Utah Invitational,before heading into league play.
'We need to take care of business during the season,' said Rittman. 'Playingin the Pac-10 and playing the schedule that we play - we are preparingourselves for the postseason. We have to take care of business out ofconference and hold our own in conference. In this conference-it's a day-in,day-out battle. In our minds, we use that to prepare us for our ultimategoal - winning a regional championship and advancing to the College WorldSeries.'
Stanford has a relatively young team with only two seniors (Jenni Shidelerand Ramona Shelburne) but a strong group of juniors, including All-AmericansJessica Mendoza and Sarah Beeson, will help lead the Cardinal towards theirgoals.
The Cardinal will have some quality depth in its pitching staff with fourvery capable pitchers, including second-team All-American, Dana Sorensen.
'We are very fortunate to have four outstanding pitchers,' said Rittman.'They all bring something different to the table and complement each othervery well with their pitching styles. They have all worked extremely hard toget better. We're looking for a lot of great things from our pitchingstaff.'
Sorensen will lead the staff after posting a 22-9 record in 2000. Her 1.06ERA last year set a school single-season record, topping Becky Blevins 1.24ERA in 1998. Sorensen's 164 strikeouts ranked second all-time in schoolhistory for a single season.
Sophomore Maureen LeCocq should bolster the Stanford staff and see some quality innings this season. She had a 9-6 record in 2000 with four saves.Sophomore Jamie Forman-Lau looks to return to form after battling with afinger injury last season. She posted an 8-0 record in 53.1 innings of workin 2000 with a 1.71 ERA in the circle. Rounding out the pitching staff issophomore Tori Nyberg. Nyberg led the staff with five saves last year andhas a year of experience under her belt. She had a 6-3 record in 67.2innings of work.
With the graduation of catcher Kellie Wiginton, the Cardinal will look toits two freshmen catchers to fill the void. Both come in with impressivecredentials and worked extremely hard in the Fall to prepare for theupcoming season. Stanford will use both freshmen, Jessica Allister andMichelle Thiry, during the year.
'They are great team players with good arm strength and the ability to hitfor average and power,' said Rittman. 'We will be in a good position to havetwo quality catchers for the long season.'
Sarah Beeson will return for her third season as Stanford's first baseman.Beeson, a second-team All-American, led the team last year with 53 RBI. 'Weare looking for great things out of Sarah,' said Rittman. 'She's an RBIproducer for us out of the number four spot in the lineup. She hits foraverage and has steadily matured her game.' Sophomore Cassi Brangham, theCardinal's starting leftfielder, can also be used at first base.
Junior Kira Ching will resume her position at second base for Stanford in2000. Ching was hampered by a knee injury (torn ACL) last season, playing inonly 34 games. Ching was hitting at a .303 clip last season before theinjury.
'It was a big loss for our team when Kira went down,' said Rittman. 'She hasworked very hard to get healthy for this season and will add experience forus at that position. Sophomore Maureen LeCocq can also play second base forthe Cardinal when she is not pitching.
Junior Robin Walker holds down the shortstop position. A consistent playerfor Stanford throughout her career, Walker was an all-region andall-conference pick in 2000.
'She can hit for average and is an outstanding player,' said Rittman. 'Lookfor her experience to help lead this squad.'
Kira Ching can also play shortstop if called upon.
Senior Jenni Shideler returns for her second season as the starting thirdbaseman for the Cardinal. Shideler started in all 63 games last season,hitting .220 on the year with 23 RBI and three homeruns.
'She has improved her defensive game tremendously,' Rittman said. 'Her rangeat third base is outstanding.'
All three outfielders return for the 2001 season in addition to transferJessica Draemel who could also figure into the mix. Sophomore Cassi Branghamshould start in leftfield, junior Jessica Mendoza in centerfield and seniorRamona Shelburne in rightfield.
Mendoza, 2000 Pac-10 Player of the Year, led the team with a .475 battingaverage with 94 hits and 13 homeruns. Her 20 stolen bases was also tops onthe squad. She owns career school records in homeruns, RBI, runs scored,stolen bases and batting average.
'She is an outstanding talent,' said Rittman. 'She has worked very hard tomake herself the player she is. She hasn't reached her limit yet.'
Shelburne has had experience at all three outfield positions and big gamesituations. She started all 63 games for Stanford last season while hittingat a .232 clip with 41 hits.
'We are going to look for her to be a leader out there,' said Rittman.
'Offensively, she's very versatile for us with her ability to hit from bothsides of the plates. She gives us options.'
Brangham, a converted first baseman, will be a consistent player for theCardinal in the field. She started in 62 games with 27 hits and 15 RBI.
'She's not flashy but she makes the plays,' Rittman continued. 'We're veryconfident with her in the field. Offensively, we've worked on some thingswith her and think she can be a contributor for us this year.'
Junior Jessica Draemel will also vie for a position in the outfield, aftertransferring from Nebraska. Freshman outfielder Lindsey Stice is coming offa knee injury her senior year in high school and is questionable for theseason.