2010 Preview: Vikings look to turn page, enter season with renewed purpose

WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM Head Coach Lonnie Hicks
WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM
Head Coach Lonnie Hicks
WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM

Jan. 13, 2010

BELLINGHAM, Wash. - The Western Washington University softball team looks to turn the page following a disappointing 2009, and enters the 2010 campaign with renewed purpose, eager to fulfill the potential of a deep and versatile roster.

Last spring, hampered by inexperience and injuries, Western finished 20-26 and placed fourth (16-20) in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.

"Last season was a great learning experience for us," said Coach Lonnie Hicks (9th year, 200-180). "As a team, we learned a lot about ourselves, about each other, about what it takes to compete at this level and about dealing with adversity."

Much of the 2009 woes centered on season-ending injuries to pitcher Sarah McEnroe (Woodinville) and first baseman Meghan Flem (Hood River, OR/Hood River Valley), who both received second-team all-league recognition. Now seniors, McEnroe and Flem are healthy and ready to lead the Vikings.

McEnroe headlines a deeper and more durable pitching staff, while Flem paces a dangerous lineup that also features first-team GNAC all-star junior outfielder Michelle Wrigley (Bothell), junior catcher Samantha Rutherford (Kenmore) and freshman infielder Rachelle Berry (Alger/Burlington-Edison).

"We should be strong on both sides of the ball this year," Hicks said. "That balance and our depth will give us a lot of flexibility to put our players, and our club, in a position to be successful."

PITCHING

McEnroe is expected to lead a talented, but inexperienced Viking pitching staff, that also features junior Erika Quint (Silverdale/Central Kitsap), a transfer from Olympic CC, and freshman Erika Hendron (Redmond).

McEnroe has 26 career wins and has pitched 329-1/3 innings, while the rest of the Western staff has a combined two victories and 61-2/3 innings.

A hard-throwing right-hander, who was a second-team National Fastpitch Coaches' Association West Region all-star as a freshman, McEnroe boasts a three-year earned run average of 2.47 and ranks among the career leaders at Western in innings pitched and complete games (38). She posted a 2.25 ERA in 106 innings pitched a season ago, adding a 9:1 strikeout to walk ratio and allowing just one home run.

"Sarah has developed into one of the premier pitchers in the GNAC," said Hicks. "She is throwing harder than ever and has shown an ability to attack hitters on both sides of the plate. Her ability to command the strike zone and keep hitters off balance is the key to her success."

Quint is the younger sister of former Viking standout Jackie Quint. In two seasons at Olympic CC, Quint won 30 games and was twice named to the NWAACC North Region all-star team. She was named the North Region's Pitcher of the Year as a freshman, having a 16-7 record with a 1.57 ERA and 173 strikeouts.

"Erika is a tremendous competitor, who will add talent and experience to our pitching staff," Hicks said. "She throws in the low 60's, with great movement and has the ability to change speeds and pitch ahead in the count."

Hendron earned second-team Class 4A All-State honors and was named the KingCo 4A Pitcher of the Year, after posting an 18-7 record, a 0.58 ERA and a league-best 170 strikeouts during her senior season at Redmond High School.

"Erika should step right into our rotation and make an immediate impact," said Hicks. "She is a durable kid with tremendous command of all her pitches and a natural ability to miss bats."

CATCHING

Rutherford enjoyed a breakout season as a sophomore, hitting .309 with a .400 on-base percentage, a .412 slugging-percentage and 18 runs batted in. She hit .319 with two home runs and 14 RBI in the season's second-half, while replacing the injured Flem in the lineup.

A rare fleet-footed catcher, Rutherford is a perfect 14-for-14 in stolen base attempts in her first two seasons at Western. She is also a defensive standout, throwing out 28 percent of would-be base stealers while her presence behind the plate limited opponents to just 19 attempts.

Freshman Jackie Rothenberger (Coquitlam, BC/Gleneagle Secondary) is a solid defensive catcher, with an ability to hit for both power and average. She should compete immediately for playing time.

Rothenberger played 18 Gold Ball for the White Rock Renegades, hitting .372, with a .441 on-base percentage, six doubles, five home runs and 30 RBI last season. She led the Renegades to the 2009 national championship, belting a tenth-inning, game-winning home run in the final.

"Sam and Jackie give us great flexibility and options behind the plate," Hicks said. "Both are complete players capable of handling a pitching staff, running a defense and hitting in the middle of our lineup."

INFIELD

Four starters return to a deep and slick-fielding Viking infield, which ranked among the best defensive units in the GNAC a season ago. As many as eight players could see significant playing time, led by Flem at first base.

Flem hit .489 (23-for-42) with three doubles, three home runs and a .632 on-base percentage in 18 games before suffering a broken fibula at Central Washington on March 29. She is the program's career leader in home runs with 17, including a single-season record of nine in 2007.

A .306 career hitter, Flem also ranks among the program leaders in on-base percentage (.382), slugging-percentage (.491) and RBI (87).

"Meghan is an elite hitter, with the rare ability to hit for average, power and run production," said Hicks. "She has an effortless swing which should allow her to recover fully and step back into the middle of our line-up as one of the nation's best hitters."

Two talented underclassmen will be pushing for playing time.

Sophomore Krista Bickar (Hoquiam) continues to improve and should get plenty of at bats in the middle of the Western lineup at first base or designated player. She hit .253 last season while posting team-best totals of four home runs and 24 RBI, reaching base at a .363 clip.

Berry is expected to make an immediate impact for the Vikings as a frosh. A left-handed hitter with power to all fields, hit .427 with 19 RBI and 35 runs scored as a senior captain at Burlington-Edison High School last spring, helping the Tigers to the Class 2A state championship last season. A two-time first-team all-state pick, Berry also was the team's defensive MVP as both a junior and a senior.

A trio of experienced Vikings will compete for playing time in the middle infield. Returning starters Caitlin Dotlich (Sedro-Woolley/Burlington-Edison) and Stephanie Fox (Sammamish/Eastlake) saw most of the action last season at shortstop and second base, respectively. Both will be pushed hard by redshirt-freshman Melissa Becker (Puyallup/Graham-Kapowsin).

Fox hit .253 and led Western in walks (24) and on-base percentage (.431), adapting nicely to the lead-off spot as a freshman. She finished second on the team with 23 runs scored and received all-GNAC honorable mention.

Dotlich, a junior, has started 84 games at shortstop over the past three seasons. A solid defender with a propensity to make spectacular plays on a regular basis, Dotlich has averaged 16 RBI and 14 runs scored over the past two seasons.

"We feel very good about our depth up the middle," Hicks said. "All three players are versatile enough to play on both sides of the bag and give us a lot of flexibility when building a line-up."

Junior Kelsey Anderson (Mount Vernon) and sophomore Jordan Emmil (Colville) split time at third base in 2009 and are expected to do so again this season.

Anderson committed just four errors in 74 chances last season. She hit .256, with 16 runs scored and five stolen bases. In two seasons at Western, Anderson is 16-for-19 in stolen base attempts.

"Kelsey is primed to take a big step forward as a junior," said Hicks. "As she continues to improve, she should develop into a tremendous table setter with the potential to hit well over .300 and score a lot of runs for us."

Emmil hit .283 (13-for-46) over her last 19 games last year as a freshman, ranking fourth on the team during that span.

OUTFIELD

Five outfielders who played in at least 23 games each for the Vikings last spring return, while a quartet of newcomers add speed and depth to the unit.

Wrigley has started 93 straight games in left field and is a two-time first-team All-GNAC selection. She is a .348 hitter in two seasons at Western, .001 points off of Andie Greenen's career batting average school record of .349.

Wrigley has led the team, and ranked among the GNAC leaders, in batting average, runs scored, hits and multi-hit games each of the past two seasons. Last year, she batted .360.

"Michelle has been such a consistent contributor," Hicks said. "She truly sets the tone for our offense at the top of the order and it's exciting to see her continue to improve as she gets more and more experience at the college level."

The competition in center field revolves around junior Karli Baumgartner (Silverdale/Central Kitsap) and sophomore Jessica Carey (Everett), a transfer from Ohio Dominican.

Baumgartner is a tall, rangy athlete who can cover a lot of ground with a long and effortless stride. She drove in eight runs last spring on five hits. Carey has outstanding speed and an accurate throwing arm. She was a first-team Class 4A all-state selection as a senior at Everett High School.

When not pitching, McEnroe could see a lot of duty in right field. She was a regular there as a freshman, hitting .295 with five doubles.

Another right field candidate is junior Hilary Cosentino (Stevenson). A team leader and one of the squad's most versatile players, she started nine of the last 10 games in 2009, hitting .250 (4-for-16) with three walks and three RBI over that stretch. Cosentino has a career on-base percentage of .319 and is a perfect 9-for-9 in stolen base attempts.

Anderson, Berry and Rothenberger are also expected to see action in the outfield. Both Anderson and Berry are athletic enough to play all three outfield spots, while Rothenberger's strong arm and offensive ability make her a perfect fit at either corner.

SCHEDULE

The Vikings open their season against defending GNAC champion Montana State Billings on Feb. 27.