2004 Softball Preview: Vikings deep in hitting, young on the mound
Jan. 27, 2004
Bellingham, Wash. - Coming off its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division II West Regional, the Western Washington University women's softball team enters 2004 with an interesting blend of youth and experience.
The Vikings, who were 26-22 overall and had a 16-8 mark to place second in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, return four of their top five hitters from last season, led by second-team all-West Region junior rightfielder Megan McPhee (Anacortes), and first-team all-GNAC senior utility player Jodie Rock (Anacortes).
But in other areas, Western coach Lonnie Hicks (3rd year, 53-37) will rely on newcomers, especially in the pitching staff, where everyone is a freshman.
"We have four seniors and they give us exceptional leadership," said Hicks. "There's tight comradarie on the team - not a lot of individual attitudes. The players began to help each other right from the beginning."
Western's offensive production was down slightly from past seasons in 2003, but Hicks has placed an emphasis on getting it back on track.
"A lot depends on our hitting," said Hicks. "We were very strong defensively last year, and now we're working on improving our offensive output."
That production is led by McPhee, who hit .356 with three home runs and 28 RBI last season, leading the Vikings in batting average and runs batted in. A unanimous all-conference selection last year, when 15 of her 53 hits were for extra bases, McPhee has a career average of .347.
"She had a phenomenal year," Hicks said of McPhee. "She just missed out on being conference MVP. She's a strong left-handed hitter, and she has surprising speed."
Rock, who can play at least five positions, spent much of last season as a designated hitter, earning her all-GNAC recognition there. She hit .311 with a home run and 18 RBI, and walked a team-high 21 times to lift her on-base percentage to a team-best .432.
"Jodie was really unselfish in being the DH and handled it very well," Hicks said. "There isn't a position she can't play - where we put her depends in part on how other players fit in."
But the offensive weapons don't stop with McPhee and Rock, as the left side of Western's infield is as explosive as any in the GNAC.
Senior shortstop Dani Deyette (Olympia) hit .295 and has a career average of .300. Deyette, a three-year starter who was a second-team all-GNAC pick as a sophomore when she hit .331, was one of two players to start all 48 games last year, McPhee being the other. She even provides additional depth at catcher during tournaments and other busy sections of the schedule, having started two games there last year.
"Dani has had a couple of very good years and we're looking for her to step up even higher," said Hicks. "She's got one of the strongest arms I've ever seen in women's softball."
At third base, junior Adrienne Moore (Lake Forest Park/Shorecrest) provides Western's most potent power threat. Moore hit .292, leading the Vikings in home runs (a school-record 5) and runs scored (22) and being second on the team in RBI (27) and slugging percentage (.482). She already has nine career home runs, just three short of the school record.
"She didn't get the accolades she deserved last year," Hicks said. "She's well on her way to the home run record, she has a phenomenal arm, and she's a quiet leader who is looked up to by the whole team."
Another veteran in the infield is senior second baseman Charity Harmeson (Oxnard, CA/ Hueneme). Harmeson struggled at the plate last season, hitting .164 after being around the .250 mark her first two seasons, but still made a contribution with her defense.
"Charity's a strong defensive player and she's made some adjustments at the plate," Hicks said. "Her confidence is up, and her hitting mechanics are clean."
The other returnee in the infield is sophomore second baseman Mandy Kaestner (Coeur d'Alene, ID/Lake City), who hit .200 in part-time duty last season and stole seven bases, the most of any returnee.
"She'll surprise a lot of people," said Hicks. "She handled her freshman year well and she's really improved."
The one place were the Vikings don't have experience in the infield is at first base, where the "twin towers" of Cortney Walton (Chesapeake, VA/Great Bridge) and Ashley Osman (Federal Way/Jefferson) are both freshmen. But the lack of experience is made up for by their potential.
"Both are close to 6-foot," said Hicks. "They provide nice targets for our infielders, and they both have potential long-ball power."
Back behind the plate is junior Lindsay Walton (Chesapeake, VA/Great Bridge), who had a .192 average last season and was very solid defensively, committing just two errors and having four passed balls in 24 games.
"She's steadily improved over the last two years," Hicks said of Walton. "She provides very good leadership, she handles pitchers well, and she's looked upon highly by the other players as a leader."
Joining Walton at catcher is sophomore Rachel Ellis (Pleasant Hill, CA/Santa Cruz), a transfer from NCAA Division I Saint Mary's, where she saw action in 25 games last year.
McPhee is the most experienced outfielder, although Rock and Kaestner could also see time there. The other returning outfielder is sophomore Ashley Barber (Camas), who is the likely starter in leftfield and a candidate to hit in the leadoff spot. Barber hit .156 in 32 at-bats last season, stealing five bases.
"She's very fast, and we'll find a way to get her on base," Hicks said.
The likely starter in centerfield is junior Holly Hayden (Spokane/Shadle Park), who redshirted last year after transferring from Spokane CC, where she hit .377 and scored 45 runs as a sophomore.
Adding depth in the outfield is freshman Kizzy Crouse (Baraboo, WI), who attended Western the last two years but did not play.
The pitching staff is comprised entirely of freshmen. Osman may see some time, but the bulk of the innings figure to be thrown by three others.
Jackie Quint (Silverdale/Central Kitsap) is a hard-throwing righthander who had a 1.09 ERA as a high school senior, once striking out 18 batters in a game. She could also see time at third base.
Nicole Walker (Kenmore/Juanita) mixes pitches well and has surprising power for a 5-foot-3 pitcher. She'll also play some at shortstop.
Sarah Arnold (Vancouver/Evergreen) has a tough drop ball and change-up. She'll also play first base.
"With any young staff, you don't really know what they'll do until they get into game situations," Hicks said. "What we saw in the fall was very impressive. They didn't get beat around, and their demeanor on the mound was excellent."
The Vikings were eliminated after two losses at the West Regional last year. There are certainly hopes of returning and doing better in 2004.
"Our goal is to win the GNAC and get the automatic berth into the regional tournament," Hicks said. "But the girls also have their sights on doing better at regionals. They've seen the bigger dance, and they liked it."
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