2009 Preview: Vikings looking for return to top of GNAC
Jan. 20, 2009
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - Western Washington University enters the 2009 softball season looking to return to the top of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
The Vikings, who captured the league title and made a trip to the NCAA Division II West Regional in 2007, won 16 of their first 23 games last season but faltered down the stretch. They missed out on a post-season berth, finishing 24-24 overall and placing fifth in the GNAC at 11-13.
Inexperience was part of Western's problem last spring, and while the team remains young with just four upperclassmen, there are 11 letter winners, seven of them starters, and 12 new faces that could produce one of the most talented squads in school history.
"This is the best collection of talent we've had in my eight years here," said head coach Lonnie Hicks (180-154). "Last season was a great learning experience. The team has come back motivated and familiar with the level of commitment needed at the Division II level."
The Vikings are led by two seniors and two juniors. Junior first baseman Meghan Flem (Hood River, OR/Hood River Valley) and senior pitcher Jessica Rosencrants (Sequim) will serve as team captains, while senior utility Morgan Parkerson (RAF Lakenheath, England) and junior hurler Sarah McEnroe (Woodinville) will also provide leadership.
"We have great leadership in our upper classes," said Hicks. "These are kids who are not only talented, but they know what it takes to win a GNAC championship and to compete in the post-season."
Of the 10-member sophomore class, five were regulars in the Viking lineup last season. And immediate impact is expected from a recruiting effort that netted nine freshmen and three transfers.
A potential Rosencrants and McEnroe tandem never materialized in 2008, but the duo will team up to anchor one of the region's best pitching staffs this spring.
Rosencrants, a senior co-captain who battled a shoulder injury and mononucleosis last season, was dominant when healthy and led the Vikings with 11 wins and a 1.89 earned run average. During one mid-season stretch she was 6-1 with a save and a 0.97 earned run average, including a one-hitter against Montana State Billings. Rosencrants ranked among the national leaders in fewest walks allowed, issuing just 15, while striking out 95, in 125-2/3 innings pitched.
"Jessica is one of the best pitchers on the West Coast," said Hicks. "She gives us a chance to win every time out and she proved last season that she can take over a game when we need her to."
McEnroe, a hard-throwing junior, was a second-team National Fastpitch Coaches Association West Region selection with a 12-3 record as a freshman. She missed the first half of last season before blanking Sonoma State on a three-hit performance in her sophomore debut. McEnroe finished the season with a 2.67 ERA in 105 innings pitched.
"Sarah is a great compliment to Jessica," said Hicks. "She had a terrific fall - she threw the ball really hard and hit all her spots."
"We struggled through a lot of injuries last season with our pitching staff," said Hicks. "Stephanie, Alyssa and Tobey give us great depth and will allow us to keep our staff fresh and our opponents off balance."
A talented and experienced will compete for playing time behind the plate. Sophomore Samantha Rutherford (Kenmore, WA/Inglemoor), sophomore Andrea Sherrill (Edmonds, WA/Kamiak), a transfer from NCAA I Sacramento State, and redshirt sophomore Hannah Becker (Robstown, TX/Calallen) have all established themselves at the collegiate level.
"We have some great options behind the plate this season," said Hicks. "All three are complete offensive threats and all three are veterans when it comes to handling a pitching staff."
Rutherford platooned last season with graduated Liza Teichler, helping lead a Western pitching staff that had a 2.86 earned run average and held opponents to a .269 average. She made 29 starts and 37 appearances, hitting .247 with a pair of home runs and 10 runs batted in.
Sherrill sat out last season, following a transfer from Division I Sacramento State University, where she hit .289 as a freshman for the Hornets.
Becker appeared in 48 games as a freshman in 2007, making 45 starts and hitting .264 with three doubles, four home runs and 19 RBI. She missed all of last season due to a knee injury.
Three infield starters return, led by Flem. Flem, a second-team GNAC all-star as a freshman, is the program's career leader in home runs (14) and the fastest player in school history to drive in 60 or more runs (67). She hit .299 as a sophomore with five home runs and 30 RBI and tied for the team lead in on-base percentage at .387. Flem started at third base as a freshman, before moving to first base last year. She committed just six errors in 368 chances for a .984 fielding percentage.
"Meghan is due for a breakout season," said Hicks. "She has that rare ability to hit for average and power and we're expecting her to become one of the top run producers in the GNAC this season."
Parkerson and freshman Krista Bickar (Hoquiam) will also see time at first base.
Parkerson is a converted outfielder and one of the Vikings most dangerous bats off the bench. In 2007, she was Western's most efficient run producer, driving in 19 runs in just 80 at bats as a sophomore.
Bickar, a four-time Evergreen League first-team selection, set Hoquiam High School records with a .488 career batting average, 18 home runs and 66 RBI.
At second base, Western must replace stalwart Katie Barker, who started 100 of 104 games over the past two seasons. Favored to win the job is freshman Stephanie Fox. Fox, the 2008 KingCo 4A League MVP and a Seattle Times All-State selection, hit .466 as a senior at Eastlake High School, leading the team to a Class 4A state championship.
"Stephanie should make an immediate impact on our club," said Hicks. "She can defend, she can hit and she can run. And she has a history of success in key situations."
Baumgartner hit .330 at Olympic CC last season, earning all-NWAACC Northern Region accolades and team defensive MVP honors.
Kirschner hit .453 as a senior at Interlake High School, earning KingCo 4A League first-team honors for the third straight year.
Sophomore third baseman Kelsey Anderson (Mount Vernon) was the only Viking to start all 48 games last season. She hit .248 as a freshman, including seven multi-hit contests, six doubles, 14 RBI and a team-high 11 stolen bases.
"Kelsey is one of the players we expect to take a big step forward this season," said Hicks. "She has all the tools to become one of the better defensive third basemen and offensive table setters in this league."
Freshman Jordan Emmil (Colville), who hit .537 with 21 home runs during her sophomore and junior years at Colville High School, will push Anderson for playing time.
Shortstop Caitlin Dotlich (Sedro-Woolley/Burlington-Edison) rounds out the left side of the infield. Dotlich, who has a strong arm and great range, drove in 14 runs last season.
"Caitlin was one of our most improved players this past fall," said Hicks. "She swung a great bat and was all over the field defensively. She's really developing into the player we knew she could be."
The Vikings return four of five outfielders from 2008, led by sophomore left fielder Michelle Wrigley (Bothell/Inglemoor).
Wrigley is coming off one of the better freshman performances in Western history, leading the team with a .336 average, 34 runs scored, 51 hits and 13 doubles earning second-team Daktronics West Region accolades. She also was a first-team GNAC all-star, the first Viking to do that since Adrienne Moore in 2002.
"Michelle had a tremendous rookie year," said Hicks. "She has a great mental approach to the game - that's what really sets her apart from other players around the league."
Talented freshman Alyssa Malland will push for playing time in left. Malland hit .426 and was named MVP as she led Kamiak High School to the Class 4A district playoffs for the fourth straight season.
Mohrweis made 45 starts in 2008, tying for the team lead in on-base percentage at .387. She walked 20 times and set a single-season school record getting hit by a pitch on 11 occasions, stealing stole five bases in six attempts and scoring 20 runs as the Vikings' lead-off hitter.
Lampman appeared in 54 games as a freshman at Liberty, hitting .188 and stealing nine bases. Lampman played her high school ball at Ryle High School in Union, Kentucky, batting .492 during her prep career and setting northern Kentucky records with 101 runs scored and 80 stolen bases.
McEnroe expects to see the bulk of the playing time in right field when she's not pitching. McEnroe had just 14 at bats a season ago, but as a freshman hit .295 (23-for-78) and scored 15 runs.
"Sarah is a great athlete with a well above average throwing arm," said Hicks. "She is that rare outfielder who can control a running game simply by being on the field."
Sophomore Hilary Cosentino (Stevenson, WA) and Varney should also see plenty of action in right.
Cosentino played in 30 games last season hitting .133 with three walks and a triple. She was a perfect 8-for-8 in stolen base attempts.
Varney is a strong-armed outfielder who hit .571 as a senior at Woodinville High School a year ago.
Western opens its campaign on Feb. 20 with a GNAC doubleheader at Northwest Nazarene.
The Vikings are slated to play each of the other five conference schools eight times each and they will take one trip to California for three non-league contests and the Tournament of Champions.
The post-season will have a little different format. Instead of all eight teams qualifying for the West Regional on May 8-10 competing at one site, the field will be divided in half and play at two sites. The two winners will meet in a best two-of-three Super Regional on May 15-16 with the champion advancing to the NCAA II National Championships at Salem, Virginia, on May 21-25.
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