2003 Preview: Vikings look to pick up where they left off
Jan. 23, 2003
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - If the Vikings can ride the momentum created at the end of last season, the 2003 campaign figures to be a good one for the Western Washington University softball team.
The Vikings were 27-15 overall and finished second in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference at 17-6 in 2002, overcoming a slow start to win 11 of their last 13 games. Fifteen players return from that team, including eight starters and the top three pitchers, and added to that group are two all-West Region picks from 2001 who sat out last season.
There's also the added bonus of having a year with coach Lonnie Hicks (2nd year) and not having to go through the transition experienced in the early portion of last season.
"Last season was a transition year, and going in we didn't realize just how large the transition would be," said Hicks. "We've seen a monumental difference this year. The kids know what to expect and it truly looks like a different team. We've picked up where we left off at the end of last year and continued to see improvement from there."
Experience is another plus for the Vikings, who have perhaps the most veteran-laden team in school history.
"Last year, we had two seniors," Hicks said. "This year we have seven, and three of them are pitchers. We lost seven games by one run last year. That's not going to happen this season."
Leading the pitching staff is senior Amanda Grant (Edmonds/Kamiak), the 2002 GNAC Pitcher of the Year and a two-time second-team West Region all-star, was 12-7 with a 0.93 earned run average last season and had 86 strikeouts in 135 innings. Grant ranks second in school history in career ERA (1.08), wins (35), complete games (42), innings pitched (368 2/3) and strikeouts (260).
Grant is just one element of a pitching staff that goes four deep. Like Grant, Nancy Mills (Los Gatos, CA) and Kristen Kiekenapp (Renton/Lindbergh) are both seniors and three-year letter winners. Mills was 7-4 last season with a 1.38 ERA and holds the school record for consecutive victories (14). Kiekenapp was 7-4 with a 2.19 ERA and had 65 strikeouts in 86-1/3innings. Mills is third in school history in career victories (23), Kiekenapp is third in strikeouts (158).
Making the trio tougher still is their contrasting styles. Grant is a battler who outsmarts hitters, Kiekenapp is a power pitcher, Mills throws a variety of pitches, all with great movement.
"They are three very skilled pitchers who have been in a lot of tough situations and can pitch through any situation," said Hicks. "This season is kind of a crown jewel for them. They plan on stepping up and making things happen."
Returning to the mound corps is sophomore Sarah Diamond (Sedro Woolley), who is fully recovered from a shoulder injury which forced her to sit out last season. In 2001, Diamond was the Pacific West Conference Freshman of the Year and a second-team all-West Region pick, as she went 9-5 with a 1.11 ERA.
Seven players who started at least half the time last year return, led by the senior outfield duo of centerfielder Jessi Williams (Everett/Cascade) and leftfielder Candace Adamo (Issaquah/Skyline), who also combined to be the top two hitters in the order in all but two games last year. Both were first-team all-GNAC selections.
Williams hit .356 and led Western in runs (26), hits (52) and stolen bases (28), ranking 20th in the final category. She enters the season with a .360 career batting average, the best in school history, and ranks third in career stolen bases (58). Williams is also a defensive wizard with the range needed in a great centerfielder who has committed just one error while starting all but two games at the position over the last two years.
Adamo, a Verizon District VIII Academic all-star, hit .355 last year, notching a team-high 15 multiple hit games and being second on the team in runs (24), hits (49), runs batted in (21) and stolen bases (20). Her career batting average is .353.
"Jessi and Candace both have exceptional speed," said Hicks. "Defensively, they cover a lot of ground, and their presence makes the pitchers a lot more confident."
Figuring to join the seniors as the rightfielder is freshman Ashley Barber (Camas), who adds even more speed. She hit .416 in helping Camas High School to the Class 3A State Championship. In a four-year prep career, she had an on-base percentage of .501 and stole 83 bases.
There are also veterans returning in the infield. At shortstop, junior Dani Deyette (Olympia) started all but two games last season, hitting .331 with two home runs and 18 RBI, and tying for the team lead in doubles with seven.
Also available at short is junior Jodie Rock (Anacortes), but that's just one of the positions Rock can play. Perhaps Western's most versatile position player, she made 21 starts at second base last season, and also can play the outfield. Rock hit only .221 last season after hitting .330 as a freshman, but her team-high 15 walks lifted her on-base percentage to .343.
Returning at second base is junior Charity Harmeson (Oxnard, CA/Hueneme), who split time evenly at the position with Rock, hitting .255 and tying school records with four hits and four runs scored in a victory over Central Washington on the final day of the season. Also at second is freshman Mandy Kaestner (Coeur d'Alene, ID/Lake City), who hit .401 as a high school senior and could also see time in the outfield.
"We've got a lot of depth there," Hicks said of the middle infield. "The kids there can play the outfield and other positions and give us a lot of flexibility. We won't lose anything skillwise when we put other people in."
Western has run producers on the corners in sophomore third baseman Adrienne Moore (Lake Forest Park/Shorecrest), who was the 2002 GNAC Newcomer of the Year, and junior first baseman Hadley Jensen (Olympia). Moore hit .248 last season and led Western in home runs, tying the school record with four, and RBI (26). Jensen sat out last season while on an exchange program at UMass, but was a second-team all-West Region pick in 2001, when she started all 47 games, mostly as a catcher or designated hitter, hit .322 and drove in 20 runs as well as setting a school-record with 11 sacrifice bunts.
"Adrienne is a great athlete," said Hicks. "She's one of the strongest players on the team, she's fast, she has a good arm, and has very quick reflexes. I had only heard about Hadley Jensen, but she's been a real treat. She's adapted to first base really well and is the comedy relief of the team."
Also likely to see time at first base is freshman Jessica Rios (Moses Lake), who hit .468 and was the Big Nine Conference Offensive Player of the Year as a high school senior.
Behind the plate is senior Rachel Laitala (Woodinville), who hit .256 with two homers and 11 RBI, improving her average nearly 100 points from the previous season. Adding to her offensive numbers are her unquestioned defensive abilities.
"Rachel was probably our most improved player last year," Hicks said. "She was forced to take control of the position and did a great job. She calls a good game, is an excellent receiver and has a very good arm. We expect a lot of big things out of her."
Sophomore Lindsay Walton (Chesapeake, VA/Great Bridge), who hit .259 in 14 games last season, is the other catcher.
Western opens the quest for its sixth consecutive winning season in the Central Washington University Invitational at Richland on Feb. 28-Mar. 2. The Vikings have two NCAA Division I schools on their schedule, traveling to Santa Clara University on March 26 and University of Washington on Apr. 22.
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