June 5, 2008

Schunke Hopes For Strength In Numbers With Signees

June 5, 2008

Bears add four in the fall

GREELEY, Colo. -- Northern Colorado softball coach Jen Schunke is about to have a good problem on her hands.

The Bears lost seniors Mackenzie Barrett, Morgan Dahlman and Abby Turner to graduation last month, but the program is getting ready to welcome at least eight new players. And that doesn't include two or three expected walk-ons.

It all adds up to some tough decisions for Schunke and assistants Cristin Green and Mark Roberts once all the players arrive on campus this August.

Junior-college transfers Amanda Hensley and Kara Ryman (both from Western Nebraska Community College) and Noel Wees (Otero Junior College) and Colorado high school standout Melisa Ryba (Littleton, Colo.) signed with the Bears during the spring signing period. They will join fall-period signees Erin Geddis (Mead, Colo.), Jessie McNabb (Saskatchewan, Canada/Western Nebraska CC), Alexandra Neely (Windsor, Colo.) and Erin Wilkinson (Windsor, Colo.).

"Once we get everyone here, we'll see what we have, and then make some more concrete position choices," Schunke said. "But it will be really nice to have some depth -- especially for when we have some injuries. Now we're going to have the confidence to throw other people in when we do sustain an injury and know that we're going to be OK.

"And to the same point, now we'll be able to take somebody out when they're not doing their job, instead of just having to grit our teeth and bear it like we did so much this year. It's going to be nice to have options."

And these options aren't just warm bodies.

Schunke says Ryba, for example, was arguably the best high school softball player in Colorado. And Ryman, who earned 2008 First-Team All-Region honors by the National Junior College Athletic Association and was a member of the 2008 NJCAA All-America team, and McNabb, who holds the school record for doubles, triples, hits and RBIs in a season at Western Nebraska, both have already accomplished a lot on the national stage.

"Our junior class is the smallest class we have," Schunke said, "so adding all these junior-college players in with Jessie Scheopflin will help us replace the leadership we lost with Mackenzie Barrett and Morgan Dahlman.

"With all three of our junior-college kids, we'll be looking for them to add some maturity and leadership to the roster, which is something I think we lacked this year."

This group also brings some built-in pride in the Northern Colorado athletic department. Hensley's uncle, Terry, played baseball with the bears from 1975 to 1980 and was Northern Colorado's head baseball coach from 1991 to 2002.

Hensley, a 4-foot-11 catcher, will also bring an element to Schunke's squad that Schunke says has been lacking.

"What I love about Amanda is she's extremely vocal," Schunke said. "She's a quarterback on the field, which is something we desperately need. And she calls her own game, which will be really nice to have. And she really packs a powerful punch for a little kid. Feisty things come in small packages, and she's just feisty, and that's what we need. I don't think her size is going to matter much. She's a lot more powerful then she looks."