February 3, 2006

2006 Softball Preview

Feb. 3, 2006

The 2006 Northern Colorado softball team has a new attitude this season. After a 12-28 effort last season, head coach Linda Witt met with the team's returning players and put together a new plan for success.

"So far they have responded very well, and I am expecting them to carry through the commitment for those changes," Witt said.

With only two regular season home games, the Bears face tough road tests against several quality teams, including 2005 NCAA Tournament participants Wichita State and Nebraska. But those are tests Witt believes her team can pass. The Bears gave Nebraska a tough time in two games last season, before losing 3-2 in both contests.

"Our players rose to the occasion against Nebraska in aspect of the game," Witt said. "Going toe-to-toe with the nation's best will help us become a better program."

The Bears cap off their season by hosting the Division I Independent Tournament at Butler-Hancock Softball Field April 28-29. Northern Colorado will compete against North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Utah Valley State.

Northern Colorado returns 11 players, including six starters from a team that hit .268 last year. The Bears will take the field with a new pitching staff after having a group riddled with injuries last season.

Pitching

The Bears' pitching staff will look completely different this season, after relying on just two pitchers for most of their innings last year. Junior Shea Carpenter, a 2005 NJCAA All-American, will make her debut for the Bears this season after spending two seasons at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa, where she set numerous school. As a sophomore, she won a season-best 26 wins and had a 1.81 ERA. She struck out 264 batters in two years at Kirkwood, and her two-year victory total was 45, setting a career record.

"Shea is a tremendous addition to our program," Witt said. "She's a vocal leader who expects only the best of herself and her teammates."

Freshman Hillarie Van Otterloo will give the Bears more firepower as the other starter. Van Otterloo comes to Northern Colorado from Broomfield High School, where she was named to the All-Colorado Team. As a senior, she went 11-3 with 51 strikeouts and a 1.20 ERA, earning her all-state honors. The kind of versatility Otterloo brings to the Bears is reflected in her senior year numbers: hitting .405 with a .568 slugging percentage as an infielder.

"Hillarie is an athletic player with several effective pitches and defensive skills to play her position well," Witt said. "She is a versatile offensive player and skilled enough defensively to play other infield positions."

Junior Jessica Milligan will finally make her debut at Northern Colorado after suffering a serious pitching hand injury over the winter break that sidelined her the entire 2005 campaign. As a freshman at Cowley Community College in Kansas, Milligan went 7-2 with a 2.20 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 57 innings of work. She won three straight games at regionals to help Cowley reach the national tournament for just the second time in the program's history. She also proved to be a solid hitter, batting .348 with 42 RBI, 32 runs scored and 14 extra base hits.

"Jessica has a tremendous knowledge of the game," Witt said. "She's defied all odds by returning from her injury. With her continual improvement and tenacity, she has worked her way back into the circle." Freshmen Chandra Scarrow and Katelyn Landorf will round out the Bears' pitching staff. Landorf will contribute at multiple positions, including designated hitter. "Chandra is a motivated athlete who thrives on hard work," Witt said.

Kelsey Dumler was the Bears No. 2 pitcher last season, but has moved to second base in 2006.


Catchers

The commander behind the plate will be sophomore Ashley Geist. Geist saw quality time as a backup last season; playing in 22 games and getting the starting nod 13 times. She recorded 47 putouts and five assists behind the plate.

"Ashley is a solid team leader," Witt said. "She is a tenacious competitor with an infallible work ethic. She knows her pitchers well and has a strong, accurate arm."

In the backup spot will be freshman Laura Beth (L.B.) Waltz. Waltz hit .375 her senior year at Legacy High School in Broomfield, Colo., and was named to the All-Front Range League team. "L.B. is working hard to get to know her pitchers and to develop skills to be successful at the Division I level," Witt said. "She has a good arm and a strong bat."

Infield

The Bears will see the return of junior Kelsey Dumler to second base this season. Dumler spent last season as Northern Colorado's No. 2 pitcher. She hit .284 and had six doubles in 81 at-bats. The switch back to full-time infield should give Dumler more time at the plate and more of a chance to showcase her defensive skills. Dumler is also projected as the opening day leadoff hitter.

"Kelsey is one of the best defensive players on the field and always battles in the box," Witt said. "Her teammates respect her for her mental toughness and confidence."

Sophomore Heather Beffert will contribute as an infielder and a designated hitter. Beffert drew 17 starts at the designated player spot last season and hit .157, recorded two doubles and tallied four RBI.

"Heather has great character and enthusiasm," Witt said. "She brings out the best in her teammates. She also contributes to the team by being a quick infielder and a flyer on the bases."

At shortstop, the Bears return sophomore Morgan Dahlman, who hit .270 last season in 37 starts. Dahlman was tied for second on the team in doubles (8) and in assists (67). She will also see time as a backup at third base.

"Morgan has shown a good deal of maturation as a competitor," Witt said. "She has emerged as a calmer defensive player, gaining valuable experience as a freshman last year."

Mackenzie Barrett was an All-Independent selection last season.


Sophomore Jennifer Huston will most likely see time as Dahlman's backup. Huston drew four starts last season and hit .263 in 19 at-bats. She performed well in the field, recording just one error and a .957 fielding percentage.

"Jennifer earned her way to several starts on the infield last season," Witt said. "She has made her presence well known as a contact hitter."

Junior Ashley Martinosky will return as the starter at third after drawing 38 starts last season. Martinosky batted .213 and drove in 10 runs, while racking up 69 assists in the field.

"Ashley has a solid glove and strong arm," Witt said. "She has one of the strongest bats on the team with consistent, solid contact."

At first base and batting cleanup in the lineup will be junior Astrid Yestness. She made a strong impact in the field last season, posting a .990 fielding percentage and 99 putouts. She did struggle at the plate, notching three hits in 26 at-bats, but Witt says Yestness is a completely different hitter now.

"Astrid is much more relaxed and confident in all aspects of her game," Witt said. "She has settled nicely into her role as a veteran."

Landorf will see time as the backup at first. As a senior at Father Lopez Catholic High School in Ormond, Fla., Landorf hit .352, crossed the plate 20 times and had a .519 slugging percentage. Landorf is also expected to see time in left field.

"Katelyn is a versatile athlete who loves to hit," Witt said. "She is a developing pitcher and will provide us with depth as first base."

Outfield

The outfield offers perhaps the biggest offensive strength for the Bears this year. Sophomore Mackenzie Barrett, who was an All-Independent selection last season, returns for Northern Colorado in right field. Barrett hit .317, smashed five home runs and racked up 16 RBI last season. Barrett also led outfielders with nine assists.

"Mackenzie is a player who has the ability to make a significant impact on our team's success," Witt said. "Her performance last season shows how important she can be to this team."

Junior Casey Hogue is another key to Northern Colorado's success. Hogue will start in center field and most likely bat second. Last season, she hit .300, hit five home runs and drove in 16. Hogue led the team in stolen bases with four. She also committed only one error in 40 starts last season.

Casey Hogue hit .300 and added five home runs last year.


"Whether on the bases or in the outfield, Casey's athleticism is apparent," Witt said. "She is a scoring threat every time she approaches the plate."

Rounding out the starters in the outfield will be the Bears' lone senior, left-fielder Aubrey Barnes, who will be relied upon for experience and leadership. Barnes hit .188 and recorded 12 hits last season. In the field, she tallied 63 putouts and six assists.

"Aubrey is a respected athlete who unifies the team and holds them accountable," Witt said. "She is a speedy outfielder with an accurate, powerful arm. She is also expected to make an offensive impact with her development as a hitter."

Freshman Alyse Kochenberger, who comes from East High School in Pueblo, Colo., could see time as a backup in right field.

The Final Thought

Playing only two regular season home games could be tough on the Bears. Witt said it will be difficult for the players to travel so much and balance that with their academic responsibilities. But it is a challenge the team is prepared to take on.

Witt said the schedule could, in fact, provide the Bears with several advantages.

"It frees up a good amount of time for the team to spend together," Witt said. "It will help them to become better players and come together as a team."

The Bears should be poised for success with the combination of a strong class of newcomers and group of experienced return players. The team is more acclimated to Division I competition, with one full Division I season under its belt. Northern Colorado will also be a strong contender at the Division I Independent Tournament.

Last season's injuries created a great deal of adversity for the team. Witt said the 2005 team has responded well to the adversity and has proven it can persevere.

Northern Colorado's 2006 season will rely upon consistent pitching and steady production from hitters. Witt summed up what she thought the team's biggest key to success was with a question: "How willing are you to play any role for the success of the team?"