2010 Softball preview: Muskies looking for right mix of youth, experience
Athletics - posted on 3/12/2010
A season after setting 11 single-season individual records and winning 23 straight games, the Lakeland College softball team enters the 2010 season ready to build on its 2009 success and make a run at the Northern Athletics Conference title.
Lakeland returns 10 players that saw significant playing time last season that will be the core of this season's team. After going nearly five weeks in the middle of the season without recording a loss, the Muskies struggled down the stretch, dropping three of four at Aurora and Benedictine and falling out of the 2009 NAC Tournament with a 14-13 loss to fourth-seeded Dominican. The nucleus of the team has one more chance at a conference championship, and head coach Chad Buchmann said the senior class has been instrumental in pushing the squad's younger players this spring in practice.
"Senior KC Blahnik summed it up the best," Buchmann said. "How many understand what we're doing and what it takes versus going out there and expecting to win? When our sophomore class were freshmen last season, they just went out and won, they didn't necessarily understand how everything worked together. Now the returners are seeing what it takes. They have a good understanding of what we need from everyone in order to win instead of expecting it. They need the freshmen to perform well in order to be successful."
Senior Chelsea Coenen will stay in center field after a great performance in 2009. A first-team All-NAC honoree, she hit .449 in 40 starts while driving in a team-high 51 runs and scoring 46 times. She set single-season program records in runs batted in, doubles and triples and ranked third in the nation with .28 triples per game. She will likely slide down one spot in the batting order to third this season.
Sophomore Leah Sheahan will return in left field after a solid freshman campaign. The only other Muskie to play in all 40 contests, she hit .356 and was the only Lakeland player to not record an error in the field.
Right field is one of the few question marks entering the season for Buchmann. Senior Cassie Felton will likely start the season in right with sophomore Nicole Geurts and freshmen Heather Haeflinger and Jenny LaLuzerne all vying for playing time.
"We need to fit people in the lineup based on how they can do," Buchmann said. "Haeflinger is super fast, so is she going to end up as a base runner or will she end up playing in the field? What it comes down to is who can hit and give us some offense from the last outfield position."
One of the biggest questions entering the season comes at catcher. With sophomore Christina Moore slated to sit out the year due to injury, Buchmann will be relying on freshmen Jessie Eichner or McKenna Wenzel to make a push for the starting job.
"Not having Christina Moore is going to affect us at catcher, but can motivate one of our two freshmen to step up," Buchmann said. "Chelsea Coenen obviously is a staple in center, but if something does go down and we need stability at catcher, she could move in and catch."
Senior Corine Demske had a breakout year at first base in 2009. She hit a career-high .288 in 33 starts and will be backed up by senior Sara Roberts. Roberts made nine appearances at first base last season and will likely see time in games when she doesn't pitch. Freshman Jenni Klamm may see time at the position as well.
Blahnik, the 2009 NAC Player of the Year and NFCA First Team all-Region selection, returns at second base. She hit an eye-popping 524, fourth in the nation, and averaged 1.62 runs per game, most in the country. The Lakeland career leader in hits, walks, runs and home runs, she will pace the Muskie offense from the leadoff spot in the lineup. Backing her up is likely to be sophomore Alyssa Nelson, who has impressed Buchmann early in practice this season.
Shortstop and third base remain up in the air as the team opens the season. Junior Sam Shepeck, who played in 35 games last season at third base and hit .356, could slide over to fill the hole at short. Buchmann believes freshman April Schmitz could be ready to play at third depending on her hitting. Should Shepeck remain at third, sophomore Kelly Bolton and freshman Alyssa Schuttenhelm would both be candidates to see playing time. Bolton appeared in 34 games last season while Schuttenhelm missed the 2009 season with an injury.
Roberts enters the 2010 season having set four single-season and four career Lakeland records last season. One of the most dominant pitchers in the conference, she ended last season with a 21-7 record and an earned run average of 1.93 along with eight shutouts en route to being named all-NAC first team and NFCA all-region second team.
Felton will continue to see time in the circle for Lakeland after posting a career-best 3.74 earned run average while compiling a 7-2 mark in 15 appearances. Nelson will pitch in spot situations for the Muskies, and freshmen Erin Henk, Becca Johnson and Brittany Myszka are all options for Buchmann as the season progresses.
Lakeland returns to Arizona to open its 2010 season with 10 games at the Tucson Invitational Games on March 14-19. The Muskies will play three games against Augsburg with single contests against Dickinson, Minnesota-Morris, Mayville State, St. Scholastica, UW-La Crosse, Otterbein and North Central.
"For the most part we start out with teams that were just alright in their conference last season," Buchmann said. "They're not for-sure wins by any means, but they aren't the powerhouses we started off with last season. We're going to run into a challenge when we play our state schools and teams in our region. La Crosse, Otterbein, North Central - those three will be the ones that we need to play well against."
After returning from Tucson, the Muskies will entertain non-conference opponent Cardinal Stritch before opening the NAC schedule at home against Edgewood. Road contests at Marian and 2009 NAC Tournament champion Concordia Wisconsin follow before Lakeland returns home against Rockford and Carroll. They return to the road for eight straight at Dominican, Concordia Chicago, Wisconsin Lutheran and St. Norbert before 2009 NAC regular season champion Aurora and Benedictine, the only two teams to defeat Lakeland in regular season conference play last season, visit the Lakeland campus. Home play continues with games against Alverno and Maranatha before the Muskies close the NAC slate with a trip to MSOE before beginning NAC Tournament play.
"The trick to winning the entire thing is you need to have special players, special pitching, consistent hitting and be solid on defense, which was the last component we missed on," Buchmann said. "We won the games we should have and won the games that were close. We might not win 23 in a row this season; we have no idea how we're going to progress. We need three of four freshmen to step up and be successful this season."
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