2001 Oregon Softball Outlook
Jan. 29, 2001
As Oregon head coach Rick Gamez enters his fifth year at Oregon he will be coaching a team that is comprised solely of his own recruits. When Gamez took over the program in 1997 he began the rebuilding process and has led the team to the NCAA Tournament three times -- 1998, 1999 and 2000. This season Gamez has raised the level of expectation for a team of players that include nine returning letterwinners and nine newcomers.
'It's the first year with our recruits and our level of expectation continues to rise with bringing in our own talent,' Gamez said. 'We've gone to the post season the past three seasons, but we want to go to the College World Series. That's our expectation.'
Gamez, who is 140-124-1 at Oregon, will turn the focus to defense and becoming a line-drive team. The Ducks have averaged close to 50 home runs per season under Gamez, but this season he wants Oregon to shorten up its swing, hit more singles and doubles and use the Ducks' speed to get around the bases. And with a stronger defense, Gamez feels Oregon can win the close games. Last season in games decided by one run, Oregon was 6-8.
'With the addtion of several players we've brought some speed,' Gamez said. 'We're going to focus on stealing bases, and defensively we want to improve key players so we can win those 2-1 games.'
There will be no better test for Oregon in close games than its preseason schedule. The Ducks play in six preseason tournaments and will face a host of NCAA qualifiers such as Nebraska, Long Beach, Massachusettes and Utah. Once Oregon begins conference play, the challenges will continue. Washington, UCLA and Arizona are top teams in the country and give the Ducks a gauge for the postseason.
'We're not going to see any tougher competition than what we see in the conference,' Gamez said. 'It prepares you when you play tough teams day in and day out. All in all it's the best thing for us.'
The Pitching Staff
Junior Connie McMurren and sophomore Andrea Vidlund both return this season after sharing duty last season. McMurren finished the 2000 season 16-19 with a 1.70 earned run average and had 153 strike outs. Vidlund was 17-8 with a 2.59 era and 96 strike outs in her first season of Division I softball. For the 2001 season, Gamez has added three players that may find themselves in the rotation with McMurren and Vidlund. Freshmen Salena Zuniga and Anissa Meashintubby along with sophomore transfer Lisa Wangler will add depth to Oregon's bullpen. Both McMurren and Vidlund have postseason experience behind them and have gone through the learning curve of the Pac-10, which Gamez thinks will make a difference in 2001. Zuniga was a first-team all-league and all-state as well as the 3A all-Oregon player of the year in 2000. She helped lead Marist High School to a state championship that year and was a three-time league player of the year (1998-2000).
'Our pitching staff is better prepared mentally,' Gamez said. 'And with our additions, we feel we can win the close games this season. Connie and Andrea will be our go-to people on the mound.'
If there's a position that Oregon has depth and experience, it's behind the plate. The Ducks return junior Missy Coe and senior Kelly Planche this season along with incoming freshman Samantha Shutes. Coe finished the 2000 season third on the team with a .303 batting average and was second with 10 home runs. Coe was a second-team all-Pac-10 selection and started every game last season. She split time between catcher and designated hitter and his expected to be an impact player in 2001. Planche started 36 games for Oregon a year ago and threw out nine runners attempting to steal. She hit two home runs, three doubles and had 14 runs batted in. One of only two seniors on the team, Planche will be a leader for Oregon on and off the field.
'Kelly is the backbone of the program,' Gamez said. 'She was one of our first recruits and has gone to the postseason all three years. Missy has also had two great years and there won't be any change. She's swinging better than she ever has and we expect her to have another great year.'
Senior Triawn Custer has proved that she can play at the Division I level day in and day out, according to Gamez, and this season she returns at first base. She lead the team last season with a .331 batting average and had 14 doubles, eight home runs and 31 runs batted in. Custer has started in 150 games at Oregon and that experience will be relied on this season.
Gamez has a couple of options at second base -- either sophomore Alyssa Laux or sophomore Rachel Tommasini. Laux started 30 games at short stop for Oregon in 2000 and was a strong defensive player for the Ducks, committing just nine errors in 35 games played.
Although the Ducks used Holly Ray and Laux at shortstop last seaon, freshman Kate Peterson has made a strong impression on Gamez heading into the season. Again, Gamez has options and may in fact use Laux at shortstop again this season. Either way, Gamez feels that Oregon has strong defensive players who can play a variety of positions in the infield and all will help Oregon in close games.
Ray will likely make the transition to third base this season. Ray started 61 games for Oregon last season, switching from shortstop to third base April 12. She hit .213 as a sophomore and had seven home runs, including a grand slam.
In all, Oregon has three experienced players returning to the infield. The Ducks also added sophomore transfer Lynsey Haij, who played at Texas-Tech in 1999-2000. Haij was third on the team with a .268 batting average and lead the team with 45 hits. She was second on the team with 12 stolen bases.
'We're in a good predicament because we've got a lot of infielders that can play a number of positions,' Gamez said. Lynsey is extremely versatile and will have to be in the line-up.'
With four-year starters Lindsey Welch and Jill Robinson graduated, Oregon will rely on sophomores Amber Hutchison, Janell Bergstrom and Andrea Vidlund. Joining the three will be sophomore transfer Lisa Wangler and junior transfer Kristi Hall. Wangler led Mesa Community College with a .526 batting average and was a first team all-ACCAC selection. Wangler may also see time on the mound for Oregon. Vidlund will also split time pitching and playing in the outfield as she did last season. Vidlund mostly played left field and hit .230 with 29 hits, 11 runs batted in and one home run. Hutchison started 36 games for Oregon last season and finished with a .247 batting average.