Feb. 13, 2010
Bearcats Have a New Look in 2010
It's not an easy task to replace an entire collegiate softball team in one year, but that's essentially what Northwest Missouri State has accomplished since playing its final game of a 2009 season that netted 13 wins. With four returning players one thing is for sure - the 2010 Bearcats will be tough to scout.
For fourth-year head coach Ryan Anderson, the changes were a necessity. There were countless games last season when he submitted a lineup card to an umpire which included 11 possible names - nine position players and two pitchers. His other five players were injured. Factor in the graduation of five seniors and Anderson didn't have a choice.
"We knew it was going to be a big transition year, but as time went on things started falling into place," said Anderson. "We added two pitchers and an outfielder early in the process, met a talented group of athletes out west and later added two solid players with collegiate experience."
Northwest begins its 2010 campaign with 16 players including eight freshmen and two junior-college transfers. The four returners include second baseman Erin Leslie, the team's lone senior, junior catcher Kristen Hessel, sophomore pitcher Nicole Ackelson and sophomore outfielder Lauren Peters. Freshman Hailee Hendricks and junior Kaila Ballard, who redshirted 2009 due to injury, are back and ready to go as well.
Leslie, Ballard and Kit Daugherty have been named team captains and are expected to encompass the right side of the defense. Leslie was a unanimous first-team all-conference second baseman in 2008 after hitting .338 and scored 49 runs. Ballard has a .286 average with six home runs in 91 collegiate starts. Daugherty spent the past two seasons at Iowa Central Community College where she hit .411 with 13 homers, scored 66 runs and drove in 68 more in 2008. She missed much of 2009 with an injury.
With the exception of Leslie at second base, the middle of Northwest's defense will likely include a trio of Californian freshmen . Lauren Chatigny, who hit .478 as a junior at Beaumont High School is the projected starter in center field. The record holder for the most stolen bases at Western Christian High School, Nicole Povero, will start at shortstop. Chatigny's teammate, Rachelle Casey, the all-time home run leader at Beaumont, is projected to be the starting catcher for a staff that includes two freshmen pitchers.
Peters started the first 20 games before being injured and lost for the rest of the 2009 season. She'll return to left field. Hendricks, a four-time all-state choice in high school, begins her collegiate career at third base. Rachael Schmitz, a freshman from nearby Conception Junction, could play a number of positions including third base, shortstop and the outfield.
"Defensively, we're going to go after the ball," said Anderson. "We don't have the upperclassmen to help the younger players feel comfortable so they're going to have to grow up fast. They've played softball for years and this is just another adjustment they'll have to make."
Expect a number of different lineups until Anderson has a chance to evaluate his new squad, but also expect his team to be more aggressive. Only five players attempted to steal a base last season. This season, his first five hitters could all be leadoffs.
The biggest change will be the leadoff spot where Leslie has shined the last three years. With 110 runs scored, she's 12 shy of the program record. Leslie will bat third for Northwest at the start of this season.
"We're trying to set up a lineup where Erin doesn't have to worry as much about getting on base," said Anderson. "We have other players who can get on for her so she can relax, get in the box and hit."
Two lefties, Povero and Peters are expected to bat 1-2. Another left-hander, Hendricks, will bat either fourth or fifth and Daughtery will take other spot.
Dacey Hassey, a junior from East Central Community College in Union, Mo., will fit somewhere in the order as the designated player. Hassey hit .457 with nine home runs for the Falcons last year. She was an all-conference catcher at East Central and may also see time at third base.
"We're going to have a young mentality at the plate and that might turn out to be a good thing," said Anderson. "They're going to go up there to hit. We have a little bit more speed that we have had in the past and we'll use that to our advantage."
Ackelson along with freshmen Jenna Creger and Morgan Brunmeier will be the trio in the circle for Northwest. Ackelson pitched nearly 90 innings for the team last season and made 31 apperances. She made 12 starts and tossed three complete games.
Creger was a first-team all-state star at Winterset High School where she compiled a career record of 108-24. She set school records with 73 career shutouts and finished with a 0.92 earned run average.
Brunmeier had a 0.93 ERA and was a second-team all-state selection last year at Shawnee Mission West High School. She led the Sunflower League in both ERA and strikeouts with 173.
"Jenna throws drops, curves, has a change up and is actually learning a screwball," said Anderson. "Morgan is more of a rise ball pitcher that can work in a curve and her change up is looking good as well. It's going to be a long season and we're going to have to rely on all three to be successful."
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