MVNU Softball Team Looks to
Build off 2002 Finish
MOUNT VERNON, Ohio - The Mount Vernon Nazarene University women's fastpitch softball team will look to build off the team's fine finish in 2002 as the Lady Cougars make final preparations for the 2003 season.
Head coach Jeana Howald and her MVNU squad won its final six games and eight of its last 10 contests in 2002 as the Lady Cougars finished with a 25-19 overall record - its most victories since the 1995 campaign.
Now, with seven starters returning from last year's team, MVNU enters the new season with a cautiously optimistic approach.
"I really think that we have the potential to have a good season," said Howald, who enters her fourteenth season with the Lady Cougars needing just seven more victories to reach the 300-win mark for her career. "The players have been working really hard in the off-season to get better, and we have a lot of versatility and depth. If everything comes together and everyone continues to work hard, this could be a special season."
Pitching will be one of the central keys for MVNU as the Lady Cougars feel they have a solid one-two combination on the mound in sophomore Shannon Rachel and freshman Heather Clark. Rachel is coming off an outstanding rookie season in which she led the American Mideast Conference with an 18-5 record to go with a 2.18 ERA. She finished the year with 26 consecutive scoreless innings and was named to the AMC Second Team, the AMC All-Freshmen Team, and the National Christian College Athletic Association East Region Team. She will be joined by Clark, who was a three-time All-Mid Miami League First Team pick after pitching every inning of every game at Talawanda High School the past four years. Freshman Stephanie Johnson can also be used if needed and provides more depth to the pitching staff.
The infield defense should be solid for MVNU with two starters returning and two highly-touted newcomers claiming the other two spots. Sophomore Angie Smith will take over at first base after starting at third base and hitting .295 with 30 RBI last year. Junior Tiffany Simpson returns at second base after earning NCCAA East Region Honorable Mention last year with a .258 batting average, seven doubles, two triples, one home run, 12 RBI, and 23 runs scored.
The left side of the infield will be manned by Johnson at shortstop and sophomore Sara Schwartz at third base. Johnson was an All-Ohio Second Team pick at Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy as a senior, while Schwartz, who played basketball at Ursuline College last year, was an All-Conference selection at East Knox High School. Freshmen Dani Taylor and Megan Kunkle will also provide depth in the infield.
In the outfield, all three starters return from a year ago with sophomore Jackie Shively in leftfield, senior Jenni Davis in centerfield, and senior Debbie Dobson in rightfield. Shively was named to the AMC First Team after batting .352 with 11 stolen bases, 14 RBI, and 22 runs scored. Davis posted a .398 batting average with 13 RBI and a team-high 36 runs scored as she was named to the NCCAA All-American Second Team. Dobson also posted a .270 batting average with 17 runs scored. Taylor, who was an All-Ohio Second Team selection at River View High School last year, and junior Monica Riggle will also provide depth in the outfield.
Handling the catching duties will be sophomores Brittany Stroop and Shara Dyer, who both saw plenty of action behind the plate last year. Stroop batted .256 with 22 RBI, while Dyer batted .145 and threw out eight baserunners. Freshman Ashley Reeves will also provide the team with another option.
"Our pitching staff and defense should be strong again this year," said Howald. "We also have a lot of team speed. During the off-season, we have put a lot of emphasis on our hitting, and I feel like we will see some improvement in that area this year. The players have all worked really hard and put in a lot of time to get better."
The Lady Cougars will begin the season with non-conference doubleheaders at the University of Rio Grande, at Cedarville University, and at home against Saint Vincent (Pa.) College. Then, the team will take its annual trip to Kissimmee, Florida, to participate in the Orlando Rebel Games against NAIA and NCAA Division II and III teams. Among the teams that MVNU will play in Florida will be a contest against Western Connecticut State University, who is ranked eighth in the NCAA Division III preseason poll.
Upon returning north, the Lady Cougars will jump right into the thick of the AMC Central Division race. MVNU will play home and away doubleheaders with Ursuline College, Notre Dame College, Malone College, Tiffin University, and Walsh University - the latter two having each received votes in the NAIA preseason poll. The team will also play non-conference doubleheaders against Kenyon College, Seton Hill (Pa.) College, and Ohio Dominican University, ranked 16th in the NAIA preseason poll.
In addition, the Lady Cougars will also look to qualify for the NCCAA National Tournament at Indiana Wesleyan University on April 24-26. MVNU, which has finished fifth at the past two tournaments, will host the NCCAA East Region Tournament on April 18-19. The team will also look to qualify for the AMC/NAIA Region IX Tournament, which begins on May 1.