Despite a roster that featured only six returning players from the previous season, the Mount Vernon Nazarene College women's fastpitch softball team posted its best season in seven years as the Lady Cougars finished with a 25-19 overall record in 2002.
The season started out well for MVNC as the Lady Cougars swept a non-conference doubleheader at county rival Kenyon College to kick off the campaign.
The team then headed south to Orlando, Florida, for its annual spring break trip to the Orlando Rebel Games. MVNC won five of its first seven games to improve to 7-2 on the season before dropping the final three games to finish the trip 5-5 for an overall record of 7-5.
Upon returning north to Ohio, the Lady Cougars jumped right into the thick of the highly-competitive American Mideast Conference schedule as MVNC hosted four doubleheaders against three of the top five teams in the final conference standings. The team won just one of the eight games as their overall record slipped to 8-12 with a 1-7 AMC mark.
However, the Lady Cougars righted themselves and reeled off six victories in their next eight games to improve to 14-14 overall and 7-9 in the conference. During that stretch, MVNC posted a doubleheader sweep at defending conference co-champion Shawnee State University.
After dropping a game to Malone College and a doubleheader at Walsh University, the Lady Cougars defeated Malone and swept the University of Rio Grande to improve to 17-17 overall and 10-12 in the AMC.
At that point, MVNC received a berth in the National Christian College Athletic Association National Tournament as the ninth seed in the 10-team event. The Lady Cougars opened tournament play by knocking off eighth-seeded Hillsdale Freewill Baptist (Okla.) College 10-5. Then, the team dropped a hard-fought 1-0 decision to top-seeded and eventual national champion Union (Tenn.) University as MVNC out-hit Union 6-4.
The Lady Cougars rebounded to eliminate seventh-seeded Cedarville University 1-0 before falling to fifth-seeded Indiana Wesleyan University, the tournament host, 10-2 to finish in a tie for fifth place.
With six AMC games remaining in the regular season, MVNC knew that it must win all six to have a shot at making the NAIA Region IX Tournament for the first time. The Lady Cougars won all six games with five shutouts as MVNC finished the season with a nine-game conference winning streak for a 16-12 record in the AMC - the most conference wins ever in school history. However, the team just missed making the playoffs by one game as the Lady Cougars finished seventh in the standings.
With a 25-19 overall record that included an 11-2 finish to the season, MVNC finished with its best record since the 1995 season and the sixth-highest win total in school history.
"I was very pleased with the way that we finished the season," said head coach Jeana Howald. "With such a young group, we did not know going into the season what to expect. This team played well together and got along as well. It was a very cohesive group with a great attitude as a whole. I am excited for the future with the nucleus of this team returning."
Individually, several players were recognized for their outstanding performances during the season. Senior first baseman Amanda Triplett led the Lady Cougars in nearly every offensive category as she batted .417 with 58 hits, 15 doubles, two triples, a school-record 11 home runs, 45 runs batted in, and 32 runs scored. She was named to the AMC First Team, the NCCAA East Region Team, and the NCCAA All-American First Team for her efforts. She also finished as the career home run leader with 24, and she ranks among the top five in school history in nine offensive categories.
Seniors Shelly Claxon and Michelle Krone also wrapped up their careers in fine fashion. Claxon, a shortstop, batted .315 with six doubles, 18 RBI, 30 runs scored, and a team-high 15 stolen bases as she was named to the AMC and NCCAA East Region Honorable Mention teams. Meanwhile, Krone, a pitcher, posted a 4-5 record on the mound with a 3.92 ERA. She also threw two shutouts in her final three games.
Jenni Davis, a junior outfielder, compiled a .398 batting average with 53 hits, five doubles, one triple, 13 RBI, and a team-high 36 runs scored. She was named to the AMC Honorable Mention Team, the NCCAA East Region Team, and the NCCAA All-American Second Team. She was also selected to the NAIA and NCCAA Academic All-American teams and the Verizon Academic All-District IV First Team.
Freshman pitcher Shannon Rachel posted an 18-5 record on the mound with one save and a 2.18 ERA. The right-hander tossed a team-high 154 innings and recorded four shutouts. She also had the win or the save in all but six of MVNC's victories this year and finished the year with 26 consecutive scoreless innings. For her efforts, Rachel was named to the AMC Second Team, the AMC All-Freshmen Team, and the NCCAA East Region Team.
Freshmen Jackie Shively and Tiffany Simpson also had good years for the Lady Cougars. Shively, an outfielder, batted .352 with one double, 14 RBI, 22 runs scored, and 11 stolen bases as she was named to the AMC First Team and the NCCAA East Region Honorable Mention Team. Simpson, a second baseman, was an NCCAA East Region Honorable Mention pick after batting .258 with seven doubles, two triples, one home run, 12 RBI, and 23 runs scored.
Freshman third baseman Angie Smith (.295 batting average with 30 RBI), junior outfielder Debbie Dobson (.270 batting average with 17 runs scored), and freshman catcher/designated player Brittany Stroop (.256 batting average with 22 RBI) also made significant contributions to the team. In addition, sophomore pitcher Amber Prosser posted a 3-9 record on the mound with a 3.70 ERA.
With a talented nucleus of players returning and the addition of several top recruits, the future for the MVNC women's fastpitch softball team looks very bright.