You are currently viewing historical information.
-> Return to current season <-
While we strive to provide accurate historical information, there may be some inaccuracies. If you find errors, please email them to email@example.com. Please include a source of proof (newspaper, yearbook, etc.) to support your claim.
Season Preview: New Faces, Roles As Softball Looks To Defend National Title
Posted: Monday, March 9, 2009
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. - Riding the coattails of the program's first-ever NCAA Division III national title, the UW-Eau Claire softball team looks to duplicate that success this season.
With high expectations, eighth-year Head Coach Leslie Huntington said the team's goal this year is not to defend their title, but to simply try and win another one.
"We can't deny the potential pressure we might have this year," said Huntington. "But our approach is unwavering – work the process and let the end result take care of itself."
Huntington said this year's team is looking to get back to basics and win a regular season Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) championship. Although the Blugolds have advanced to the NCAA tournament in each of the last three seasons, they haven't won a regular season title since 2006.
The Blugolds finished the 2008 campaign with a 36-11 record, and capped off an impressive 8-0 postseason run with a thrilling 4-3 extra-inning victory over UW-Whitewater in the national championship game.
The team has 15 veterans returning, including four seniors. New to the mix will be a group of seven freshman. Huntington said this year will be different from others, with no "shoe-ins" at any position. This year's squad will have to replace three starting infielders and All-WIAC selections Michelle Butkus (Medford, Wis.), Jill Janke (Black River Falls, Wis.) and Casey Leisgang (Seymour, Wis.). The three seniors combined to collect 189 hits, score 123 runs, drive in 112 runs and hit 22 home runs in 2008. With the losses, Huntington said she hopes to fuel a more balanced offensive attack this season.
Returning to the mound this season is pitcher Jenny Ross (So.-Mendota Heights, Minn./Henry Sibley). The southpaw looks to improve on a successful freshman campaign in which she collected a school-record 27 victories, and threw the first perfect game in school history against UW-Oshoksh on April 15. Huntington said Ross, a preseason All-American, will be the pitching staff's ace and has added to her pitching repertoire this season.
Also expected to log innings in the circle will be a quartet of pitchers. Senior Bri Sturm (Zumbrota, Minn./Zumbrota-Mazeppa) was an All-WIAC selection two seasons ago and compiled a 5-5 record in 2008. Kristi Doucette (Sr.-Green Bay, Wis./Ashwaubenon) saw limited action in the circle last season, and primarily served as the team's designated player. An All-Region selection last season, Doucette batted .396 , knocking in 21 runs and hitting four round-trippers. Brooke Malnory (So.-Chippewa Falls, Wis.) and newcomer Ashley Meinen (Fr.-Chippewa Falls, Wis./McDonell) will also add depth to the position. Malnory saw limited action in 2008 and Meinen is coming off a WIAA high school state championship.
Junior Bekki Kidnie (St. Paul, Minn./Johnson) returns behind the plate. Kidnie started all but one game last season while batting .327. Huntington said Kidnie will be the team's starting catcher and may also see time at first base. Freshmen Nikki Brommelkamp (Zumbrota, Minn./Zumbrota-Mazeppa), Emily Muller (Lancaster, Wis.) and Becca Moos (White Bear Lake, Minn./St. Agnes) will also vie for time at catcher. Huntington said all three will add depth to the position and will also have the opportunity to play other positions.
Returning on the infield is speedster Katie Stalker (Jr.-Madison, Wis./La Follette). Stalker started 31 games at shortstop last season, batting .299 and scoring 27 runs. Huntington said that combined with her outstanding speed and instincts, Stalker has "developed into a huge offensive threat" and will make "tremendous plays on defense." Last season Stalker sparkled in the postseason where she batted .455 in the national championship and was named to the All-Tournament team in the process.
Also looking for time in the middle infield will be Meghan O'Hearn (So.-Woodbury, Minn.), Jess Freagon (Fr.-Chippewa Falls, Wis./McDonnel) and Aleisha Harper (Fr.-Mondovi, Wis./Eau Claire North). O'Hearn picked up innings at second base early last season before patrolling center field on a regular basis. Freagon wrapped up her first season on the Blugold basketball team, and Huntington said it won't take long for her to get in the swing of things on the diamond, and expects Freagon to compete for a starting spot. Harper's "great game sense" will make her a threat on the bases and in the field, said Huntington.
First and third base will be up for grabs this season, with four players vying for time. Senior Jen Barron (Brooklyn Center, Minn.), Ainsley Klar (Jr.-La Crosse, Wis./Aquinas), Kaity Acker (So.-Cross Plains, Wis./Middleton) and Jenny Janke (Fr.-Black River Falls, Wis.) will all see innings to start the season, said Huntington. Barron saw action in 20 games last season and Huntington said she swings a powerful bat. Due to injury, Klar is looking for her first action in two seasons. Huntington likes Klar's game sense and leadership ability on the infield. Acker saw limited action last season and Huntington said she will challenge for time at the designated player and first base. Janke, with "good bat speed and a lot of power," will search for time in those same positions.
The outfield will see many familiar faces with O'Hearn, Betsy Kettinger (Sr.-Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson) and Tamara Zeman (Jr.-Lodi, Wis.) all returning after seeing significant time last season. Kettinger found her niche in left field, starting 34 games and recording 14 putouts and 18 assists. Zeman batted second in the lineup and started all 47 games in right field a season ago. Zeman batted .336, scored 39 runs and went yard three times in 2008. Heidi Arciszewski (Jr.-Thorp, Wis.), Sara Baumgartner (So.-Arcadia, Wis.) and Emily Pierce (So.-Onalaska, Wis,/Holmen) will also roam the outfield for the Blugolds. Arciszewski wrapped up yet another successful season with the Blugold basketball team and Huntington said she showed great improvement last season on the diamond. Baumgartner was primarily used as a pinch runner, scoring 20 times in '08. Huntington said Baumgartner will likely play center field this season and "after a year of maturity, could become a real impact player." Pierce appeared in 16 games last season, also as a pinch runner.
The 2009 season will be one for the record books as it marks the 25th anniversary of the Blugold softball program. To commemorate the feat, the team will be hosting the "Leave a Legacy Weekend," reuniting former coaches and players as the Blugolds host a weekend doubleheader on April 4 and 5.
Eau Claire begins its title defense on March 14 when it travels to Tucson, Arizona for the Tucson Invitational Games to play the University of La Verne (Calif.). The Blugolds will play 12 games in Tucson before heading to Washington University-St. Louis (Mo.) on March 28 and 29. Eau Claire will kick off its home campaign against St. Norbert on April 1 before hosting UW-River Falls in its first WIAC competition on April 2.
In seven seasons, Huntington has amassed a 205-96 record, which places her fourth on the WIAC's all-time coaching list. She will be assisted by Robin Baker, also returning for her eighth season with the Blugolds. Student coach Stacey Epping returns for her second season, while three new faces enter the scene. Mallory McKinney and Jill Janke enter their first season as student coaches, after experiencing successful playing careers for the Blugolds. Assisting with the pitchers will be volunteer coach Mike Wirz.
- CL -