NewsLady Cougars Set to Begin 2005 Softball Season
written by Dave Parsons, Sports Information Director
MOUNT VERNON, Ohio - The Mount Vernon Nazarene University women’s fastpitch softball team will look to build on the success of the past two years when the Lady Cougars take the field for the 2005 season.
After earning a berth in the American Mideast Conference Tournament each of the past two seasons and finishing fifth at the National Christian College Athletic Association National Tournament last year, MVNU returns 12 players from the squad that went 23-17 and won the NCCAA East Region title in 2004. The Lady Cougars finished the season by winning 11 of their final 13 games before being swept by AMC North Division champion, Tiffin University, in the playoffs.
Head coach Jeana Howald, who was named the NCCAA East Region Coach of the Year last season, has a solid nucleus of returning players, who should be able to help carry on the winning tradition.
"We have a good group of returning players and some key newcomers who will challenge right away for playing time,” said Howald, who has posted a 345-251 record entering her sixteenth season at her alma mater. "The chemistry on the team is great, and the players have been working hard to prepare for the season. We have a lot of versatility this year, which will enable us to change our lineups more than in some years. The competition for playing time will make us better in the long run.”
One key to the team’s success in 2005 will be the performance by the Lady Cougars’ pitching staff. Senior Shannon Rachel and junior Heather Clark have combined to become one of the most reliable duos in the AMC over the past two seasons. Rachel has posted a 40-23 career record with a 2.24 ERA, while Clark has gone 30-19 with a 1.84 ERA in her career. Both players have twice been selected to the All-Conference Second Team. Freshman Kristin Eyerman will add quality depth to the already solid pitching rotation. The two-time All-State selection at Buckeye Valley High School posted a 14-5 record as a senior with a 0.49 ERA and 134 strikeouts in 127.1 innings with just 13 walks.
Senior Shara Dyer returns to handle the catching duties after starting all 40 games a year ago and earning an AMC South Division Second Team selection. Dyer batted .248 and was second on the team with 10 doubles to go with 22 RBI, and she threw out 14 of the 41 runners who tried to steal on her. Senior Brittany Stroop and freshman Sandi Zarley will also compete for playing time behind the plate. Stroop batted .213 in 27 games last season as the designated player, while Zarley was a four-year varsity letterwinner and an All-District Second Team pick at Northridge High School.
Infield defense is one area in question for MVNU as the Lady Cougars lost graduating seniors at first base, second base, and third base. However, junior Stephanie Johnson returns to anchor the infield at the shortstop position after being named to the AMC South Division Second Team last year. The two-time NCCAA Honorable Mention All-American batted .359 in 2004 with a team-leading 14 doubles, five triples, two home runs, 29 runs scored, and 34 RBI.
Competition for the starting job at first base is between Stroop and sophomore Melody Blimline, who played in 26 games as a freshman and batted .180. Eyerman could also see time at first base when not on the mound.
Freshman Carol Montgomery is the leading candidate for the starting job at second base, while freshman Rachel Hamman will provide depth at the position. Montgomery was a two-time All-Conference and All-District selection at Worthington Christian High School, and Hamman was a two-time All-Conference Honorable Mention pick at South Central High School.
The battle for the starting job at third base will also be between Hamman, Stroop, and freshman Claudia Claxon with Rachel and junior Megan Kunkle also providing depth at the spot. Claxon earned All-Conference First Team and All-District Second Team honors at South Webster High School
The Lady Cougars return an experienced outfield led by senior Jackie Shively, who has played 133 career games in leftfield. Shively batted .264 last season and led the team with 12 stolen bases and 14 sacrifice bunts. She ranks third in school history with 31 stolen bases in 34 career attempts.
Joining Shively in the outfield will be sophomore Laura Kot, who will move to centerfield after starting in rightfield a year ago. As a freshman, Kot led MVNU with a .439 batting average to go with four triples and 25 runs scored despite playing through injuries all season. She was named the AMC South Division Freshman of the Year and selected to the NCCAA All-American First Team.
The competition for the starting spot in rightfield will be primarily between sophomore Enid Tidyman and Kunkle, while junior Ashley Reeves and sophomore Jennifer Meade will also compete for playing time in the outfield. Tidyman batted .294 last season with six starts in the outfield, while Kunkle saw action in 19 games with 10 starts in the infield. Reeves played in 24 games primarily as a pinch runner, and Meade batted .231 in 18 games with five starts.
"The key to our success this season will be the development of the younger players,” said Howald. "With new people competing for several key positions, it is important for someone to step up to the challenge and win the starting spot. The sooner that happens the more successful we will be.”
MVNU, which has already postponed its first two scheduled doubleheaders due to the weather, will take its annual spring trip to the Orlando Rebel Games in Kissimmee, Florida, for 10 games against highly regarded NCAA Division III teams. The Lady Cougars will open the season on March 18 with single games against the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse and Springfield (Mass.) College to start the trip.
Upon returning north, MVNU will play non-conference doubleheaders against Notre Dame College, Geneva (Pa.) College, Tiffin University, Seton Hill (Pa.) University, Saint Vincent (Pa.) College, Ohio State University-Newark, and Kenyon College.
The Lady Cougars will also compete for the AMC South Division title in what should prove to be a competitive race with Ohio Dominican University, ranked 21st in the NAIA preseason poll, and the University of Rio Grande, who received votes in the poll, being the preseason favorites. Walsh University, Shawnee State University, Cedarville University, Malone College, and Urbana University will also provide stiff competition in the race for the division title.
MVNU will also look to defend its NCCAA East Region title when the Lady Cougars take part in the NCCAA East Region Tournament on April 22-23 at Malone College with the winner receiving an automatic berth in the NCCAA National Tournament at Indiana Wesleyan University on April 28-30.