Eight Schools In Eight Days: Oregon Softball Season Preview
Feb. 7, 2006
As the University of Oregon softball team embarks on the 2006 season, the Ducks will be looking to make history and continue the success they've experienced under fourth-year Head Coach Kathy Arendsen.
Arendsen, who has led the Ducks to 27 conference wins in her first three seasons -- which tripled Oregon's conference victory total (nine) in the three seasons prior to her arrival -- has also guided the team to three consecutive postseason appearances. The program has been to the postseason three consecutive years other one other time (1998, 1999, 2000) and a trip in 2006 would be an unprecedented fourth-straight appearance.
'I'm proud of where the program is headed,' Arendsen says. 'But we're not there just yet. Our expectations have definitely grown and right now we're looking to be a consistent national contender.'
Oregon returns 13 letterwinners, including seven starters for the 2006 season. The Ducks' senior class is on of the most experienced in recent history as the four have a combined 529 starts between them. And the group of four juniors has started 335 games, proving that this years team will be led by a strong core of upperclassmen.
'We have all the tools -- talent, depth and the ability to be successful. We have proven leaders, but we have to put it together consistently and create an identity for this team. But these players know what it's going to take to accomplish things and we have a very experienced group.'
Four newcomers will be added to mix and although Jenn Salling will likely redshirt, the other three are expected to make contributions throughout the season.
Oregon loses just one infielder from a year ago and returns senior shortstop Breanne Sabol, junior third baseman Kristi Jorgensen, senior Beth Boskovich and junior Kristi Leiter as well as sophomore Joanna Gail. Junior Suzie Barnes will move in from center field to take over second base for the departed Erin Goodell.
Barnes, a 113 game starter in the outfield during her first two seasons, spent her high school career playing both shortstop and second base so she brings knowledge to the position. Sabol has started all but one game during her career (178) at Oregon and has played in all 179 games at shortstop since arriving to the program. Offensively, Sabol's role has become a valuable part to the Ducks' success as she holds the single-season sacrifice hits record (29) while also finishing second on the team in RBI (22) a year ago. Her speed is also an asset as she ranks ninth all-time on the Oregon career list with 27 stolen bases, including 20 in 2005.
The Ducks boast tremendous depth at the corner positions in 2006. Heading into the season, junior Kristi Jorgensen will be the starter at third base, but both Boskovich and Gail have played the position. At first base, Arendsen has three viable options in Boskovich, Leiter and Gail. After missing most of the 2005 season with a shoulder injury, Gail is the least experienced of the trio, but has worked her way back into the rotation during the offseason. Boskovich and Leiter split time at first base in 2005 and are both capable candidates. Leiter is a proven left-handed hitter and Boskovich is a strong defender who ranks ninth all-time at Oregon in career home runs (19).
'I know I said this last year, but our defense is stronger than ever,' Arendsen said. 'We gain experience on our corners and we have four players who can play either position so we have a lot of depth. Breanne [Sabol] returns and is a golden-glove type athlete and we add Suzie Barnes, who is by far one of our proven leaders this season.'
It will be somewhat of a different story behind the plate this season as Oregon will look to either freshman Courtney Shlee or sophomore Amie Morris to carry the load. With the graduation of senior Ashley Richards and the loss of T.J. Eadus, Shlee and Morris will be counted on to carry the load in 2006. Also in the mix is junior Ann Marie Topps, who moves to the catcher position after spending her first two seasons as an outfielder.
'Courtney is a very verbal player who has a powerful arm, Arendsen says. 'And Amie has been around for two full seasons so she is a consistent player who works very well with our pitchers. Ann Marie has just been a very pleasant addition. She is the ultimate team player and willing to learn. She is one of our leaders on this team and that, along with understanding her role in the defense, is very important to our team.'
Oregon's outfield can boast as much experience as the infield with senior Dani Baird, junior Kayleen Hudson and sophomore Lovena Chaput all returning in 2006. Baird and Hudson split time starting in right field last season, but with Barnes moving to the infield, it's likely that Baird will be the starter in right with Hudson moving to left field and Chaput taking over in center field. Chaput, who started 58 games in left field for the Ducks last season, earned second-team All Pac-10 honors and is Oregon's top offensive returner. She finished last season with a .310 average and led the team in hits (57), runs (34), doubles (10), triples (3) and extra base hits (18). Hudson and Baird were nearly perfect defensively in 2005 with Baird committing just one error all season and Hudson adding just two.
Freshman Sari-Jane Jenkins is a candidate to back up all three outfield positions and will likely contribute during the season, according to Arendsen.
'This is the best outfield we've had since I've been here,' Arendsen said. 'Lovena Chaput has really developed into an outstanding defensive player. She has great presence and will be an ideal center fielder. Kayleen gets better and better and has become much more of an offensive presence for us. And Dani is our most consistent player. You can always count on Dani to be there and make plays.'
Senior Amy Harris returns for her senior season and will carry a bulk of the load for the Ducks this season. Harris, who owns the single-season strikeout record is also the programs all-time strikeout leader with 487 career strikeouts. She earned second-team All Pac-10 honors in 2005. Harris is currently in the top 10 in seven pitching categories and with another fine season will likely move into the top 5 on all of those lists.
'Amy is definitely our number one pitcher this season,' Arendsen said. 'She followed an excellent 2005 season with a great fall.'
Entering the season, the Ducks will be without sophomore Alicia Cook, who did not qualify academically following the fall term. Cook remained enrolled at Oregon and could return in the spring.
'Good teams adjust to things,' Arendsen said. 'We believe she will return and she could be a contributor or she could redshirt. We'll just have to see where we're at in the spring.'
Harris will be joined by two freshman -- Elise Orange and Melissa Rice, who will both be counted on to provide innings.
'Both freshmen are talented and hard working,' Arendsen said. 'They are developing and will have to make the transition from high school to college.'
Not only does Oregon play in the most difficult conference in the nation -- six of the eight teams in the Pac-10 are ranked in the preseason ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25 poll -- the Ducks will take on some nationally ranked opponents in the preseason. The season opens at the Wilson-Demarini Invitational in Houston, Tex., where Oregon will face No. 23 Florida as well as host Houston and Texas A&M Corpus Chirsti. The following week, Oregon will play five games in a three-day tournament in Las Vegas and for just the second time in school history will face Tennessee, ranked No. 3 in the preseason poll.
But perhaps the toughest preseason challenge comes the following week at the Palm Springs Tournament where Oregon will play No. 13 Oklahoma on Thursday and then take on No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 10 Baylor in back to back games.
Other preseason ranked opponents include No. 17 Fresno State (San Diego State Tournament), No. 25 Brigham Young (Howe Field, Mar. 24) and No. 16 DePaul (Howe Field, Mar. 25).