Softball team relying on senior experience, freshmen youth
February 27, 2006 —
SVSU softball coach Sabrina Lane says she is not surprised that her team has been picked to finish eighth in the GLIAC preseason coaches poll. But she has her own realistic goals for the upcoming season.
"Our goal, realistically, is to finish in the top 3 (of the conference)," Lane says. "And we want to make regionals."
The goals, while not unachievable, could be tough for the Lady Cardinals. The team will rely on five seniors and three juniors, but also has seven freshmen that Lane will be looking for contributions from.
"We're hoping for senior leadership," Lane says. "We need everyone to fill their role and we will be right where we want to be."
The senior class will be counted on to replace last year's senior leadership of Denise Betts and Katie Albert, who was First Team All-GLIAC last year.
The class is led by captain Jamie Seaman, who will be catching and playing the role of a utility player. Lane says her catchers do not catch both games in a doubleheader, so Seaman should only be behind the plate for about half of the Lady Cardinals' games. Seaman was second on the team a year ago with both a .286 average and .417 slugging percentage.
Lane is also looking for leadership from first baseman Tabitha Greenwood and pitcher Karen Ray, who have both started for SVSU since their freshmen year. Greenwood batted .265 and lead the team with four home runs and a .434 slugging percentage last year.
Ray, meanwhile, received Second Team All-Region honors last year while anchoring a pitching staff that last year was the best in the GLIAC. She went 10-11 for the Lady Cardinals with a 1.39 ERA, striking out 154 batters in 135.2 innings. Lane gushes about Ray, who threw 12 complete games and three shutouts, "as a workhorse who wants the ball every game."
Also returning to the pitching staff will be junior Lorelea Rice, who went 9-7 last year with a 1.66 ERA and three shutouts, and sophomore Lindsay Noren, who pitched in 13 games and had a 1.48 ERA.
Center fielder Monica Sims and right fielder Lindsay Ferrari will provide senior leadership in the outfield. Lane labels Ferarri as the team's best outfielder, while Sims, the team's leadoff hitter, will use her speed in center.
"Monica does the little things needed to win," Lane says. Sims batted just .238 last season, but scored 16 runs, tied for second on the team, and stole 15 bases in 18 opportunities. Ferrari, meanwhile, played in 18 games last year and batted .143.
Last year's squad went 20-20 overall, including 10-8 in the GLIAC. With the best pitching staff in the league, hitting prevented the Lady Cardinals from making a bigger impact in the conference.
"We haven't hit well the last couple of years," says Lane, who is in her third season as coach.
Rice led the team with a .298 average a year ago, and was voted Second Team All-GLIAC as a utility player. The team had four players with a .285 average or higher, but two of those four were Albert and Betts. As a team, SVSU hit .248 for the season, seventh in the GLIAC, and scored just 114 runs, ninth in the league.
Lane says that although the Lady Cardinals are hitting better at this point this year than they were last year, the team will still need to play some small ball - bunting, moving runners over, hitting sacrifice flies - to manufacture runs.
Of the seven freshmen on the team, Lane says she is looking for four to be starting right away. Stacy Kraatz will be spending time as a first baseman and as an outfielder while she isn't pitching, Jessica Anhel will be splitting time with Seaman at catcher, and Marsha Beaubien will share third base responsibilities with junior Courtney Gonyea. Nicole Fick will be the starting shortstop.
Last year's starting shortstop was Sara Seronko, and the junior will be moving to second base to replace Albert. Seronko batted .191 last season but had a .325 on base percentage.
Several different players will be playing in left field, starting with Rice. While she is pitching, Kraatz and Greenwood will rotate between first base and left field.
Despite the reliance on the freshmen, Lane is not worried.
"I'm not as concerned as much as I probably should be," she says. "The freshmen get along really well with the upperclassmen, who have really helped them get comfortable with the team."
Lane adds that this is her first complete recruiting class, and is excited to see what it can produce.
The Lady Cardinals begin their season in Fort Myers, Florida in the Florida Gulf Coast Tourney from March 3 to 5. The team will stay in Florida until March 11, as it also will begin the Gene Cusis Classic in Fort Myers on March 6.
A majority of the competition will provide the Lady Cardinals with a tough challenge, something Lane says is intentional. The strength of schedule will not only help when teams are selected to play in the NCAA Regionals, but will provide valuable experience for the freshmen.
"The strength of schedule will help the future of our program greatly," says Lane, who adds that she hopes the freshmen will be slightly naive in regards to how tough the opponents truly are.
She does think, though, that the freshmen will be able to draw upon the tough schedule throughout the season and into next season.
"The freshmen will have to learn from it," she says. "It will be huge in the future when they can help next year's freshman class, which already looks to be large."
The Lady Cardinals do not play at home until April 1, when they host Grand Valley State. Including that contest, SVSU plays at home in five out of six contests before going on a five-game road swing. One of those home contests is against Ferris State, which won the GLIAC Tournament last year.
Lane says the conference did not have a dominant team last year - regular season winner Northwood finished 14-6 in conference play - and points to the fact that Ashland, a traditionally strong program, did not make the postseason last year.
Lane also points out that SVSU beat Ferris State and Northwood last year and also defeated Wayne State, which was voted third in the preseason poll.
Lane and assistant coach Bill Graham conclude that while if the Lady Cardinals "play to their potential," they could win the GLIAC, they emphasize that a top-three finish can be in the cards.
"To get where we want to go, we have to have contributions from everyone," Lane says. "I don't think people expect much out of us. But we'd rather be the underdog."