A New Dacade Of Stanford Softball

Feb. 4, 2010

The Stanford softball team begins the 2010 season with high expectations featuring a strong combination of experience and young talent. Among a core group of veterans, the Cardinal return two All-Americans, and four All-Pac-10 Conference team members. Together the upperclassmen joined by seven highly touted freshmen will face one of the nation's top schedules as they compete for a Pac-10 title, and strive to return to the Women's College World Series.

After posting the best winning percentage in school history (.814) last season and advancing to its fourth NCAA Super Regional in five years, the Cardinal look to battle for its first NCAA title in 2010.

'This year's team has a nice blend of talent,' said Stanford head coach John Rittman. 'We have a solid nucleus of veterans with a great deal of talent, experience and leadership mixed with a very talented freshman class.'

With seven upperclassmen on its roster of 20, the Cardinal is still a fairly young team. However, the team's veterans look to continue their production and success at several key positions. Seniors Alissa Haber, Shannon Koplitz, and Rosey Neill have been starters since their first year on The Farm and with their sights set on Oklahoma City, enter their senior season with experience and leadership. Along with juniors Autumn Albers, Ashley Chinn, Melisa Koutz, and Brittany Minder, these veterans look to improve upon their two straight NCAA Super Regional appearances with a trip to the Women's College World Series and a finish at the top.

Together the juniors and seniors have combined to produce 360 runs, 583 hits and 72 homeruns. Along with Haber's three All-America nods, this group of veterans has garnered seven All-Pac 10 awards, five all-region honors and various team awards.

Stanford's veterans are joined by 13 underclassmen, lead by sophomore All-American, Ashley Hansen. Hansen earned last season's Pac-10 Freshman of the Year award and was the only freshman represented on the All-Pac-10 First Team. Hansen had one of the best rookie seasons in program history. She became one of only three Cardinal players, joining her teammate Haber and four-time, first-team All-American Jessica Mendoza, to record a .400 batting average for the season.

'I think one of the keys to our success will be to get contributions from our younger players and to get improvement from our veterans,' said Rittman.

Coach Rittman is one of the most respected and accomplished coaches in collegiate softball. As a member of the U.S. Olympic coaching staff from 2001 to 2008, he helped Team USA to a gold medal in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games and a silver medal in Beijing in 2008. With Rittman at the helm for 13 seasons, Stanford has posted 13 consecutive winning seasons, made 12 straight NCAA postseason appearances, tallied 11 40-win seasons and compiled a .685 winning percentage.

Rittman is confident that the Cardinal will pick up where it left off last season and expects big things in 2010.

'Although we had a lot of success last year we want to build on that success and improve this season. We have a talented group of veterans with postseason experience combined with a group of talented freshmen that will compete for playing time. We have the tools necessary to compete for a championship,'' said Rittman.

Following is a look at the 2010 Stanford Cardinal by position:

Pitchers
Stanford enters the season with a strong mix in the circle despite graduating two-time All-American Missy Penna in 2009. Penna is the Cardinal's most decorated pitcher in program history, holding the career and single season record for wins, strikeouts, shutouts and innings pitched. However, she is back on The Farm as a volunteer assistant coach for the 2010 season to assist the team in accomplishing its many goals.

Helping lead the Cardinal pitching staff is junior Ashley Chinn, who won 13 games last season. She has already broken into Stanford's career top 10 in several categories including shutouts, strikeouts (193) and complete games (26). With several postseason appearances and two no-hitters already under her belt, Chinn enters her third season with the prospect of building on her success as a strong force in the circle for the Cardinal.

Also representing Stanford in the circle this season is a pair of talented freshmen. Newcomers Teagan Gerhart and Jenna Rich will both have the opportunity to contribute significantly for the Cardinal this season.

Gerhart is a two-time county player of the year who garnered All-state and All-CIF honors as a pitcher for Norco High School in Southern California. As a state champion, Gerhart holds Norco's single season wins record.

Rich will add another level of depth in the circle for the Cardinal this season. Also a talented middle infielder, she will help to strengthen Stanford's pitching staff. An El Segundo, Calif., native, Rich is an accomplished athlete who earned several All-America, All-state and All-league honors at El Segundo High School.

Catchers
Two-time Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year Rosey Neill returns to the catching position for the Cardinal in her senior season. As one of the nation's top catchers and power hitters, she has started all 181 games in Stanford's last three seasons behind the plate. Neill is a two-time All-Pac-10 team member, and ranks among Stanford's career leaders in several categories, including slugging percentage, runs batted in, and homeruns. Leading the team last season in homeruns with nine, Neill brought her career total to 35, placing her third on the list for most homeruns in school history.

Competing with Neill for time behind the plate in 2010 is junior Brittany Minder, sophomore Maya Burns, and freshman Kelsey Gerhart. The Cardinal will look to use the versatility of its catchers behind the plate as well as in other areas.As a very capable catcher, Burns spent most of her freshman campaign playing right field, adding 39 hits and 19 RBI to the Stanford offense.

Minder has contributed in many ways for the Cardinal beyond her catching role. Last season she had 44 at bats, hitting her second career homerun, while driving in six runs.

Newcomer Gerhart adds to the depth behind the plate as well. A good receiver, Gerhart may also see action in the outfield this season.

Infield
Stanford's defensive experience certainly does not stop short at the infield positions. As a unit there is a great deal of talent and depth. Sophomore All-American Ashley Hansen will be joined by three-year veteran Shannon Koplitz and returning starters Jenna Becerra, and Melisa Koutz.

Hansen, a member of the 2009 and 2010 U.S. National Teams, had a stellar rookie season a year ago at shortstop. In 2009 she became the second Stanford player to earn the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honor, and led the team with 55 RBI and five triples. She finished second behind Alissa Haber in batting average (.400), hits (84), doubles (24), runs (46) and slugging percentage (.619). Hansen was the only freshman on the All-Pac-10 Conference First Team and became the only freshman on the 2009 USA Softball's National Player of the Year top-25 watch list.

With Hansen's ability to play either shortstop or second base, the Cardinal will have consistency up the middle. Joining Hansen in the middle infield will be freshman Jenna Rich. She will contribute her versatility at either middle infield position and will also be a serious power threat at the plate for the Cardinal.

Also with middle infield capability is utility player, Jenna Becerra. Becerra is a jack-of-all-trades that can play all four infield positions. She contributed 22 hits, 20 RBI, and a .300 slugging percentage in her 56 games last season. Primarily as a designated player in 2009, Becerra can be looked to for several infield positions if needed.

Koplitz, a senior leader, will be a solid defender at the third base position for the second straight season. She is a versatile athlete who has played several positions for the Cardinal during her career. The New Orleans, La., native earned her second All-Pac-10 nod in 2009 and has provided defensive stability and offensive improvement in each of her three seasons.

Koutz is another returning starter in the Stanford infield. The junior contributed 41 hits and 24 RBI as a sophomore and is currently fourth in career fielding percentage in program history. Now an upperclassman, Koutz will be relied upon for her consistent defense and continued offensive growth.

Sophomores Christina Goswiller and Mary Kate Smith help add to the Cardinal depth in the infield, working toward more opportunities this season at the plate and on the field. Coming to The Farm from Bellevue, Wash., freshman Alix Van Zandt rounds out this very talented group with potential at third base.

Outfield
In left field, Stanford returns three-time All-American Alissa Haber, who has led the Cardinal in almost all offensive categories since her rookie season. Also representing the 2009 and 2010 U.S. National teams, Haber hit an impressive .443 last season and was the Division I leader in doubles with 26. For her Stanford career, she is at the top of nearly every offensive category. Haber's career batting average ranks second only to two-time Olympian Jessica Mendoza. As a senior and one of the nation's best players, Haber will provide leadership in the outfield, looking to finish her Stanford career with a Women's College World Series appearance and a 2010 National Championship.

Joining Haber in the outfield are returning starters Sarah Hassman and Maya Burns. With phenomenal speed and range in center field, Hassman is one of the best defensive outfielders in the nation. As a rookie she led the team with 19 stolen bases and scored 28 runs on 39 hits. Burns saw most of her time in right field last season in a successful transition from catching to the outfield. She supplied 39 hits and 19 RBI in her first season on The Farm. Additionally, the pair was named to the All-Pac-10 Freshmen Team.

Other Stanford outfielders working to establish critical roles in 2010 are junior Autumn Albers and freshmen Caitlin Breen, Jaquilyn Edwards, and Kelsey Gerhart. Albers has been a consistent leader for the Cardinal improving her speed, defensive and offensive skills. A reliable base runner and hard worker, Albers along with the freshmen will strengthen the outfield core. The newcomers are developing well and will provide versatility for the Cardinal offense.

Schedule
Traditionally, Stanford plays a very challenging preseason schedule as it prepares for the rigors of the Pac-10 Conference grind. This season is no different. Coach Rittman believes the 2010 schedule may be the Cardinal's toughest one yet. Stanford will play 29 games against teams who made appearances in the 2009 postseason, a preseason bout with the 2009 NCAA runner-up, Florida, in early March and three conference games with reigning National Champion, Washington in Seattle. Stanford is scheduled to play 21 games against preseason top-25 teams in 2010, beginning with No. 25/24 Fresno State at home on February 21.

'We have always had a tough schedule, but I think this year's schedule may be even more difficult with the teams we are matched up against in tournaments. We always try to play a difficult schedule and are very excited about playing tough teams to prepare us for our Pac-10 schedule,' explained Rittman.

Stanford opens the season at the Paradise Softball Classic in Honolulu, Hawai'i. There, the Cardinal will take on Texas A&M Corpus Christi on Feb. 11, in its season opener and continues play against McNeese State and Hawai'i over the weekend.

The team returns to The Farm to host the Stanford Nike Invitational Feb. 26-28 and will face 2009 NCAA Tournament participants Illinois, Nevada and Fresno State. Sacramento State and UC Riverside round out the challenging schedule for the weekend.

After hosting its first of three home tournaments, Stanford will hit the road for two consecutive weekends. The first stop will be Palm Springs, Calif., for the Cathedral City Classic, where seven of the eight Pac-10 teams will be in action. The Cardinal then heads to Fullerton, Calif., for the DeMarini Invitational. In these two tournaments, nine of 11 Stanford opponents competed in the 2009 NCAA tournament, including Tennessee, Northwestern, North Carolina, and Texas A&M.

The Cardinal hosts back-to-back home tournaments in March before entering the competitive Pac-10 season. Among the opponents in Stanford's 10-game pre-conference home stand are 2009 NCAA postseason teams Cal Poly and BYU. Stanford will match up against St. Mary's, Pacific, Santa Clara, Princeton, UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Bakersfield twice during this stretch as well. Stanford will also play home games against UC Davis, Apr. 6, and Bay Area rival San Jose State, Apr. 21.

The Pac-10 will again present a difficult challenge, as six of the eight conference teams return from NCAA Super Regional appearances. Three are back this season from the 2009 Women's College World Series, while five conference teams along with Stanford open the 2010 season ranked in the NFCA top-25 poll.

'The Pac-10 Conference is the best softball conference in the country from top to bottom,' said Rittman. 'This conference brings out the best in our team and prepares us for our ultimate goal - to win a National Championship.'

Highlighting the 2010 Stanford home season are three Pac-10 contests with California, Apr. 1-3, at Smith Family Stadium and three games with UCLA, the reigning Pac-10 Champion, Apr. 23-25. The Cardinal also has a three-game series against 2008 NCAA Champion Arizona State at home Apr. 30 through May 2. Stanford will play its final home series against Oregon, May 13-15.

The road to the 2010 Women's College World Series, June 3-9, begins with NCAA regional opening round action May 21.

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