Eight Schools In Eight Days: Oregon State Softball Season Preview
Feb. 6, 2006
After a record breaking 2005 season, the Beavers are prepared to compete and build on their success. With 13 returning players, head coach Kirk Walker is confident that Oregon State is ready to go to the next level.
'Our ultimate goal is to be in the final game of the Women's College World Series,' Walker said. 'It comes down to us competing and practicing every day with that mentality.'
The 2005 team set the bar for future Oregon State teams by winning a share of the Pacific-10 Conference championship and earning the Pac-10's automatic berth into NCAA Regional Tournament - The Beavers' seventh straight postseason appearance. OSU set new marks in several individual and team record book categories during the memorable season and came just innings short of its first NCAA Super Regional appearance.
The Beavers lost two seniors, Kelly Petersen and Alana Mendoza, who played major roles in last season's success. Petersen competed at second base and broke the career record in runs scored. Mendoza, a utility player, came up big in many clutch situations throughout the year with her bat and her glove. Four freshmen join the 2006 team to fill the shoes of Petersen and Mendoza.
'As a team we are feeling very confident in our returning group,' Walker said. 'Our four freshmen coming in bring a lot, adding into a team that's had one of the best performances we have ever had. We return all of our outfielders and pitchers and have added in some great talent. I think we have put a mix together that will be very exciting and dynamic to watch.'
Walker enters his 12th season, continuing his reign as Oregon State's all-time winningest coach with a record of 378-308-3. Fourth year assistant coach Crissy Buck will be working primarily with the infield players, and first year Oregon State assistant coach Shawna Feldt - a three-time Pac-10 performer for the Beavers - will be working with the outfield. Heather Smith moves into the roll of Director of Operations, while her husband Mikiah Smith will continue to serve as a volunteer assistant coach.
The 2006 pitching staff returns all three pitchers from last season. Junior All-American Brianne McGowan will lead the way after a break out year. She became the single season record holder in complete games, wins, strikeouts, and innings pitched.
'Bree really exceeded the expectations of a lot of people, I think even including her self,' Walker said. 'I think it will be a good challenge for her to keep progressing and moving forward while everyone is gunning for her.'
Also adding depth and experience to the mix will be junior Ta'Tyana McElroy and senior Amy Klever.
'Ty is throwing the ball about as well as she has ever thrown. She is really focused and committed to being a starter,' Walker said. 'Amy returns for her fourth year, and we are looking for her to be a great reliever for us. It will be a great combination with Bree and Ty.' 'I feel great about our pitching staff. It is probably the best pitching staff we have ever had in terms of experience, potential, heart and focus.'
Returning with two full years of catching experience under her belt, senior Lisa Allen will take on most of the catching responsibility in 2006. She will also continue to be one of the team's power hitters after leading last year's team with 34 RBI's and hitting 12 home runs. Also competing for shared time behind the plate will be freshman Stefanie Ewing.
'Behind the plate, the senior leadership of Lisa Allen is something that we are expecting great things from,' Walker said. 'She has really stepped up in many ways this year so we are looking for her to be a great leader and quarterback from behind home plate.'
'Stefanie is very talented, a great hitter, and is learning a lot in practice. She will be getting some playing time behind the plate so she can step in and take on that role a little bit more full time next year. We are looking for her to compliment Lisa and also to definitely be able to be in the lineup contributing offensively her first year.'
All Pacific Region Honoree, senior Vanessa Iapala, will also add depth behind the plate. According to Walker, 'Vanessa is an All-American level athlete who will be playing in three different positions for us.'
The first base position will see more of a rotation this year between Iapala and freshman DeAnn Young.
'Vanessa returns after playing a number of years at the first base position,' Walker said. 'She is very intelligent and plays and thinks the game very well.'
Iapala reached All-American status her sophomore season and led the Pac-10 with 16 doubles last year.
Young, a freshman from Camarillo, CA will contribute both with her bat and her versatility on defense.
'DeAnn is a very athletic young lady,' Walker said. 'She will be competing with Vanessa for the first base position. She is finding her way into the lineup because of the way she swings the bat and plays the game.'
Both Young and Iapala will be in a rotation between first base and right field.
Second base is the only starting position that the team graduated last season. Filling in the second base hole will be freshman Paige Lowe of Tustin, CA. 'We feel very strongly that Paige has a great opportunity to be that starter for us,' Walker said. 'She has competed at a very high level for a number of years and should be able to come into the Pac-10 and hold her own.'
Sophomore speedster Mia Longfellow returns to shortstop after earning the starting position last season. Longfellow started all 59 games and led the team in at bats and hits. She also ranked second in doubles with 11 and broke the single season and career stolen base record.
'I'm excited for her to go into this season with the confidence that she is a Pac-10 level shortstop,' Walker said. 'We know that she is going to come up with big plays, and be a stabilizing force.'
Competing with Longfellow for the shortstop position will be senior Adrienne Alo. Stepping into the infield for the first time in her Oregon State career, Alo will demonstrate her versatility and athleticism by working at shortstop as well as in the outfield.
'She has shown some great senior savvy in stepping into the infield and will be competing with and pushing Mia,' said Walker.
Third base will be mainly occupied by junior Sherina Galvan. After two successful seasons in the hot-corner, she is expected to continue her dominance and consistency. Last season she started all 59 games at third base.
'Sherina has always been a very solid force for us defensively,' Walker said. 'We have certainly seen a huge improvement in her offense, and that will be great for keeping her in the lineup.'
Adding to the team's depth at third will be sophomore All Pacific Region Honoree Cambria Miranda. Seeing time on defense as well as in the designated player position, Miranda has been working on many aspects of her game.
'Back to full strength after shoulder surgery, Cambria will be seeing some time in the infield as well as the outfield,' Walker said. 'Offensively she swings the bat as well as anybody in the country so if we can keep her focused and swinging a hot bat, she is going to hit a lot of runs in for us.'
Nine different players will be competing for playing time in the outfield this season. Alo, an All Pacific Region Honoree last year, will be competing with junior Natalie Johnson for the center field spot.
'Adrienne has been a stabilizing force for us much of the time in the outfield,' Walker said. 'Her bat is something that has really come on strong and has been very consistent. She is explosive, powerful and very dynamic on the offensive side.'
Johnson, a defensive specialist, played in 52 games last season, mostly in center.
'It's always fun to watch Natalie play on defense because you never know when she will make that great play or make a throw that no one expected,' Walker said. 'Offensively we've seen a lot of growth in her this last year, expanding her game to include the short game, using her speed to be able to slap as well as drag bunt to get herself on base.'
Right field looks to be occupied by either Iapala or Young, with freshman Kellie Roberts of Stayton, OR and senior Ingrid Lochelt vying for a spot in left or right. Lochelt, who held a perfect fielding percentage and played in 39 games last season, gives the outfield additional depth and leadership.
'I can't say enough about Ingrid as a senior and her abilities as a leader,' Walker said. 'We are seeing consistency out of her now both offensively and defensively.'
The left field position looks to be filled by senior Maggie DeWall, Roberts, or Lochelt. DeWall enters her second year at Oregon State after a two year stint at Portland State University.
'I think Maggie sees the game differently now and is practicing differently, which is leading to great potential for her to be a starter for us,' said Walker.
Roberts, a shortstop at Regis High School, will most likely see action in the outfield.
'Kellie is getting reps in the infield as well as the outfield during practice and is certainly learning a lot,' Walker said. 'She is constantly adapting to the Pac-10 level of play.'
Hitting will definitely be the deciding factor for who will see time on the grass and on the dirt.
'Whoever is performing and getting it done will be in the starting lineup, and those who are not in the starting lineup will be ready to pick it up when someone is not getting it done,' Walker said. 'I think we are as deep as we have ever been in every position.'
One bat that will continue to add to the lineup will be that of sophomore Lisa Hill. Her biggest highlight from last season came in the form of a grand slam in the NCAA Regional Championship game.
'By bringing Lisa into our offensive mix, we will have an explosive lineup that should put up some great numbers in the home run and RBI categories,' Walker said.
Equipped with all the tools necessary to win a national title, Walker is confident in the 2006 squad.
'We return such a talented group that has been through so much. Our senior class has established this program at a whole new level, a tier above where we had been, and there would be no better way to send them off having been the first Oregon State team to ever be in the College World Series and win a national title along the way.'