Softball season preview: Muskies look to return to prominence
Athletics - posted on 3/12/2009
The Lakeland College softball team ended its 2008 campaign in the conference tournament with a 17-20 overall record. Head coach Chad Buchmann understands that this year's squad, selected to finish fourth in the Northern Athletics Conference by the conference coaches, needs to
be prepared to last the entire season in order to climb back to the top of the conference standings.
The Muskies enter this season looking to replace Allison Lock, Kourtney Peters, Pam Valukas, Elisa Waltz and Jenny Zimmerman, a group that includes four four-year starters. The class of '08 won 44 games over the past two seasons and finished second in the NAC in 2007. Despite losing the years of experience, Buchmann feels this year's team will continue to build on the tradition.
"Obviously, the five seniors that left were definitely the backbone of actually getting us to where we were, but good programs have to deal with losing seniors" said Buchmann. "What we lose in experience we're going to gain in athleticism, in the sense that the game is going to change. Those five seniors were more power - they were doubles and home runs.
"We have to be a different team this season. Double plays shouldn't happen. This group is committed to hard work and continuing the tradition."
Lakeland returns four players with previous all-NAC accolades. Juniors KC Blahnik and Sara Roberts were named first team all-NAC and all-rookie players in 2007. Last spring, Blahnik and junior Chelsea Coenen were awarded second-team all-NAC honors, and sophomore Sam Shepeck was named to the all-rookie team.
Coenen, slated to open the season in center field, returns
as one of the team's top offensive threats. The junior batted .320 last season, scoring 27 runs and recording 21 RBIs. The team's lone hitter from the left side of the plate, she set a new team record with eight triples and finished second in the country with .24 triples per game.
The corner outfield positions are more of a question mark heading into the season. Freshman Leah Sheahan is currently slated to start in left field, while right field will be occupied by a mixture of junior Cassie Felton, sophomore Heather Brooks and freshmen Cori Zornacki, Nicole Geurts and Nikeshia Gardner.
"I'm looking at all my freshmen coming in, and every single one of them will play at some point during the year," said Buchmann. " There's not one of them that I would say lacks the talent to be able to play right away. Leah Sheahan has an outstanding arm, hustles and has a great bat. The rest are going to play by how consistently they perform."
Sam Shepeck will be holding down third base this season. Shepeck hit .342 in 29 games last season, starting 27 games, mostly in the outfield.
Backing up Shepeck at third will be freshman Christina Moore. Moore is a natural third baseman who may also see time behind the plate this season.
"Sam and Christina are exactly what we want at third base this season, they are both tough and fearless players," said Buchmann.
Newcomer Kelly Bolton will jump right in to starting duties, taking over shortstop in her first year as a Muskie and the first new shortstop for Lakeland in the last five years.
"The whole left side of the infield is going to be brand new," said Buchmann. "But like I told them, they've been playing softball their whole lives, so they have an idea of what's going on. They've played these positions their entire lives, they are competitors and want to win."
Second baseman KC Blahnik returns for her third season as
a starter. The team's best-returning hitter with an average of .348, she scored a team-high34 runs and also drove in 19. She was successful on 10-of-13 of her stolen base attempts, highest of any returning player. Zornacki is currently the leader to back up Blahnik at second.
Corine Demske is the leader entering the season to start at first base, along with pitchers Sara Roberts and Felton. Demske recorded an on-base percentage of .429 and scored seven times in limited action. Roberts and Felton will play at first on days they aren't pitching.
Lakeland's big question mark, according to Buchmann, is at catcher, where the team is looking for someone who can be defensively sound and make consistent contact. Lone senior Nicole Holland, sophomore Kayla VandeWetterning and Moore will all be vying for playing time behind the plate.
"Right now, we're depending on our returners," Buchmann said. "This season I have more options to play people at catcher and first base than I do at any other position right now and there is opportunity available for someone to step up and distinguish themselves."
Roberts will once again be heavily relied upon in the circle this year for Lakeland. The junior pitched 157 innings last season in 24 starts and 30 appearances. She compiled a 14-12 record with 109 strikeouts and was seventh in the NAC with a 3.21 ERA She also recorded 17 complete games and four shutouts.
Felton will also be an option for the Muskies, as she threw 46 innings in nine starts.
Buchmann is also excited at what freshman Alyssa Nelson can bring to the pitching staff.
"Alyssa Nelson could be the wild card in the mix, because she can play three different positions for us," Buchmann said. "If they can all make their ball move, each of our pitchers brings a different dynamic to our pitching rotation."
The Muskies will once again face a challenging pre-season slate, as they will meet the defending national champions and No. 2 ranked UW-Eau Claire in the third of 10 games at the Tucson Invitational Games in Tucson, Ariz. The Muskies will also see in-state rivals UW-Platteville and UW-La Crosse before returning home.
"In Arizona, our goal is to come back .500," Buchmann said. "Right now, I'd have to say Arizona's got to be one of the toughest places to go during spring break. When we play our first game against Central, they will have 10 games in already by the time we play them."
The Muskies' home conference schedule includes home doubleheaders against Concordia, Wis., Marian, Dominican, Concordia Chicago, MSOE, and Wisconsin Lutheran, and road games against Edgewood, Alverno, Rockford, Maranatha and back-to-back meetings with Aurora and Benedictine, No. 1 and 2 teams, respectively, in the preseason NAC coaches' poll to close out the season.
"We are set up to do very well," Buchmann said. "We have a 10-game stretch where we're at home. Five double headers at home, in a row, against teams that we feel we should do well against."
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