With only seven players returning from last year's 20-18 squad, the Mount Vernon Nazarene College fastpitch softball team will take the diamond with a lot of new faces when the 2002 schedule gets under way.
However, despite all of the newcomers, head coach Jeana Howald is optimistic about the team's outlook heading into the new year with some key returning veterans and a solid group of new players all working hard in preparation for the upcoming season.
"I am very pleased with the effort that the players have been putting in as we prepare for this season," said Howald, who has a 268-195 overall record entering her thirteenth season. "The new players are all eager to learn and get better. We also have several players who can play numerous positions, which will give us a lot of versatility with our lineups."
Leading the way for MVNC will be senior Amanda Triplett, a three-time National Christian College Athletic Association All-American and the Lady Cougars' career home run leader with 13 round-trippers. After playing third base or being the designated player last year, Triplett is slated to move to first base. Sophomore Becky Yost will serve as the back-up at that position.
Freshman Tiffany Simpson should start at second base after earning Honorable Mention All-Ohio status at Hillsdale High School. Sophomore Elisha Blair could also see action there.
Senior Shelly Claxon will anchor the infield defense at shortstop. After taking the 2001 season off, the former All-Conference performer returns to wrap up a solid career.
Angie Smith, a freshman, will start at third base following a standout career at West Liberty-Salem High School, where she was named to the All-Ohio Second Team.
The three outfield starting spots will be up for grabs and highly contested by five players. Juniors Jenni Davis and Debbie Dobson, sophomore Monica Riggle, and freshmen Tiffini Pinion and Jackie Shively will also see playing time. Davis will likely start after moving to the outfield from shortstop, while Dobson started all 38 games in the outfield last year. Shively was a Second Team All-Ohioan at Northmont High School, and Pinion was a three-time All-Conference selection at Colonel Crawford High School.
The pitching staff will feature three players who are each capable of logging a lot of innings. Senior Michelle Krone posted a 2-2 record in 2001 and has worked hard in the off-season. Sophomore Amber Prosser went 6-4 a year ago in 13 starts with one shutout. Freshman Shannon Rachel will figure heavily into the starting rotation after posting a 37-9 career record and earning First Team All-Ohio honors at Colonel Crawford High School.
Handling the pitching staff will be a pair of freshmen catchers, Brittany Stroop and Shara Dyer, who will split time behind the plate. Stroop was a two-time Honorable Mention All-Conference performer, while Dyer earned First Team All-Conference honors as a senior.
"We should be a strong defensive team which will keep us in games," said Howald. "However, with so many players who are inexperienced at the collegiate level, we will have to live with a few mental mistakes. Our overall success will also depend on how we do offensively."
The Lady Cougars will begin the season with a non-conference doubleheader at Kenyon College on March 19. Then, MVNC will travel to Kissimmee, Florida, for the team's annual spring trip where the Lady Cougars will play ten games against NAIA and NCAA Division II and III teams.
Upon returning north, MVNC will jump right into highly-competitive American Mideast Conference race with five home conference twinbills in an eight-day span. The Lady Cougars will then close out the regular season with seven of their final nine AMC doubleheaders on the road.
MVNC will also look to qualify for the NCCAA National Tournament at Indiana Wesleyan University on April 25-27 and the NAIA Region IX Tournament on May 9-11. The Lady Cougars finished fifth out of 10 teams at last year's NCCAA event in the program's seventh appearance.