2003 Stanford Softball Preview
Jan. 23, 2003
Stanford, Calif. -
Despite not reaching the College World Series in 2002, the Stanford softball team still had plenty to be proud of and has everything to gain in 2003. The Cardinal concluded last season with a 44-20 overall record, recording their fifth consecutive 40-win season, and advanced to the postseason for the fifth straight year.
'We had a great year last year if you look at the entire season,' said John Rittman, who enters his seventh year at the helm of the Cardinal softball program. 'The year did not end how we would have liked, but it was a year that we learned a lot about ourselves. The program made great strides and there were things that took place that will benefit us in 2003.'
The 2002 squad remained among the nation's top-10 throughout the season and peaked as high as No. 2 - the highest ranking in program history. Stanford won 16 games in a row at one point, and opened the season by winning its first 11 contests. The Cardinal finished with a 1-2 mark at the NCAA Regionals in Fresno State, which featured five teams ranked in the nation's top-20.
This year's club returns 11 performers from last season's team, three of which were 2002 All-Pac-10 selections. Stanford did loose four players to graduation in Sarah Beeson, Jessica Draemel, Jessica Mendoza and Robin Walker.
'Loosing players of that caliber is always difficult,' said Rittman. 'However, if you look at our returners and the talent of the freshman class, I think we have the ability to be very good.'
Stanford will look to seniors Kira Ching, Tori Nyberg, Cassi Brangham and Maureen LeCocq to lead them back to the World Series. The Cardinal also welcome four highly-touted freshmen and a sophomore that will reload the team in 2003.
'We have a great group of senior leaders that have been through the battles of the Pac-10 Conference, NCAA Regionals and World Series. The work ethic, energy and enthusiasm has been relayed and is contagious to our underclassmen.'
Stanford will open the season with its usual tough pre-conference schedule, which includes appearances in the ASU Fiesta Bowl Tournament, NFCA Leadoff Classic and the Speedline Invitational. The Cardinal will also host two tournaments at the Boyd & Jill Smith Family Stadium in February, both featuring a solid field of teams. The Pac-10 will remain the toughest conference in the country and each team will provide a challenge for the Cardinal softball program.
'One of our key objectives is to position ourselves during the tournament schedule so we are ranked with the possibility to be one of the top seeds in the country for the NCAA Tournament,' said Rittman. 'We want to win a Pac-10 Championship, but more importantly show well in the conference and use it as a building stone for making a run at the national championship. There is no better preparation for the World Series than our conference.'
The following is a position-by-position look at the Cardinal in 2003:
Senior Tori Nyberg returns after her most successful season in a Cardinal and White uniform, earning Second Team All-Pac-10 accolades. Nyberg finished with a 26-11 record, a 1.51 ERA and a career-high 203 strikeouts after spending her freshman and sophomore years as a role pitcher.
'Tori stepped up and did an outstanding job for us last year,' said Rittman. 'She met the challenge head on last season and we are expecting big things from her senior year.'
Two-time All-American Dana Sorensen missed last season due to an ACL injury. After working extremely hard in the offseason rehabbing her ACL, Rittman and his staff are looking for Sorensen to be more of a complete pitcher in her junior year.
'We are looking for Dana and Tori to lead this team in the circle. Dana has the athletic ability to do great things and look for her to mature both mentally and physically.'
Nyberg and Sorensen will also be joined on the pitching staff by senior Maureen LeCocq and freshman Laura Severson. LeCocq appeared in 25 games for Stanford last season, winning 16 contests in 158 innings of work. Severson joins the Cardinal staff as the 2002 Illinois Gatorade High School Player of the Year and was named to the All-Tournament team at last year's AFA Nationals.
'Maureen has put up some great numbers for our program and we are looking for her to continue to add that security. Laura works extremely hard and will come in and give us some solid innings this season.'
Rittman also praises associate head coach Lonni Alameda for her outstanding work with the pitching staff. 'Coach Alameda has a great ability to work and develop pitchers, which is a key role to the success of our program.'
The field general behind the plate will be one position that will not lack depth for the Cardinal in 2003. Junior Jessica Allister returns after a phenomenal year last season, starting all 64 games for Stanford at catcher. The Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 member finished fifth on the team with a .272 batting average, hit six homeruns and knocked in 41 RBI. She also recorded the highest fielding percentage (.997) on the Cardinal squad, committing just one error.
'Jessica is really understanding the position and what it entails. She is a huge asset to our program and we are looking to her for leadership and as a stabilizer for the underclassmen in our program. We believe that she has the ability to be an outstanding player.'
Sophomore Leah Nelson, who spent most of last season at third base, will also see some time behind the plate. 'Leah has developed into a very solid defensive catcher and we are looking for her to give us some options behind the plate.'
Redshirt sophomore Michelle Thiry is returning from an injury last season. Thiry split time with Allister behind the plate as a freshman, so experience will not be a problem just how she bounces back from her injury is the only question.
One of the things that Rittman and his staff stresses in recruiting is versatility. 'We recruit kids that can play a variety of positions,' said Rittman. 'Right now it is a huge bonus for us because we have the ability to move people around and go with whoever is hot.'
First base is the position that is up for grabs. Stanford will have to replace All-American Sarah Beeson, who was also the team's leading hitter in 2002. Maureen LeCocq has been making great strides at first base and will see some time. Sophomore Elizabeth Bendig, who appeared in 47 games last season, has some experience at the position. Leah Nelson, Laura Severson and Michelle Thiry are also all in the mix and will see some time.
'Right now the position is up for grabs. A lot depends on who is producing offensively, which will be a key to who will be on the field for us.'
Senior three-year starter Kira Ching returns for her final season on The Farm and has been a very reliable athlete for the Cardinal. The NFCA First Team Pacific All-Region and Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 member, started 61 games last season at second base. Ching led the team with 46 RBI and smacked 10 homeruns. Her .326 batting average was third best in 2002, and the speedy infielder also stole 13 bases.
'Kira is just an outstanding player and is sometimes overlooked,' said Rittman. 'She has been an inspirational-type leader for us, battling through injuries. Kira has contributed tremendously in three years and we are looking for her to solidify our infield and be a leader on the field.'
Stanford will be without Robin Walker due to graduation, but they have a highly-touted freshman in Lauren Lappin ready to step in. Lappin will be utilized at shortstop this year, but is an outstanding athlete that can play anywhere on the field. She was named the 2002 Orange County Female Athlete of the Year and holds her school record with 31 consecutive games with a hit.
'Lauren has great range, hands and a great arm,' said Rittman. 'She has all the tools necessary to be an outstanding player at this level, now it is just a matter of settling in and playing some games.'
'We have versatility, which is nice,' said Rittman.
Third base is similar to first base as far as positioning goes. Stanford is blessed with corner people that are able to play both spots. Elizabeth Bendig and sophomore Leah Nelson played a lot of third base for the Cardinal last season. Nelson appeared in 56 games, starting in 49 contests while Bendig played in 47 games and hit a .217 clip.
Freshmen Laura Severson and Megan Bordelon have also done well at third, and will compete for the position. 'Right now it depends on who produces offensively. Hopefully somebody will step up and take the position.'
There are two open positions in the outfield this season, as the Cardinal lost four-time All-American Jessica Mendoza and Jessica Draemel to graduation. Rittman knows Mendoza will be hard to replace, but he is confident that people will step up and do the job. One of those people is senior Cassi Brangham. Brangham, a three-year starter, is penciled in at left field after starting all 64 games for the Cardinal and hitting .241 on the season. She also finished with 19 RBI and hit two home runs.
'Cassi is the stabilizing force of our outfield and we are looking for her to communicate and be a leader. She has improved offensively, so we are looking for big things from her,' said Rittman.
Freshman Catalina Morris is looking to play center field for the Cardinal this season. Morris, an All-State performer from Arizona, was also a member of the 2001 ASA U-18 'A' National Championship team. 'Catalina has improved drastically in the outfield defensively,' commented Rittman.
Sophomores Meghan Sickler and Heather Shook also are returners in the outfield. Sickler appeared in 49 games, while Shook saw action in 47 contests. 'Meghan and Heather have improved their arm strength and range in the outfield. They have gotten quicker and will have an opportunity to challenge for a starting spot.'
Rittman and his staff also have a surprise in sophomore Katherine Hoffman, who joins the softball program after participating in cross country for Stanford. 'She has been a fantastic surprise for us and will give us a different look offensively, being a slapper,' said Rittman. 'Katherine has done an outstanding job this fall and we are looking for big things from her in the outfield.'