Feb. 3, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. - The 2012 softball season is right around the corner and this year's Stanford team is primed to make a run to the Women's College World Series. Among its core group of veterans, Stanford returns the national player of the year and four first team all-region selections to this year's squad. Together the upperclassmen and eight newcomers will endure tough competition as they compete for a Pac-12 title and a chance to advance to Oklahoma City.
Stanford is coming off a 42-17 season in which it advanced to its 14th consecutive NCAA Tournament. The Cardinal made is fifth super regional appearance in the last five years and posted its 12th 40-win season. The Cardinal is seeking its first NCAA title in 2012.
"We have very high expectations for this season," said head coach John Rittman. "We have a group of seniors who have been through pretty much every postseason scenario that you can go through. They are really leading this team by example and are very determined to get to the College World Series and compete for a national championship. With the infusion of a lot of young talent, that goal is within reach for us."
The 2012 Cardinal squad only boasts seven upperclassmen on a roster of 21, so the underclassmen will need to provide consistency and stability to the lineup. However, Stanford's veterans have experienced success at the collegiate level and will be looked upon to provide leadership for the newcomers. The seniors, Jenna Becerra, Maya Burns, Ashley Hansen and Sarah Hassman were a part of the 2009 squad which posted the best winning percentage in school history (.814) and have made two super regional appearances in their three seasons on The Farm. The juniors, Teagan Gerahrt, Kelsey Gerhart and Jenna Rich, have also obtained invaluable experience during the past two seasons while dealing with successes and adversity.
Together the juniors and seniors have combined to produce 477 runs, 692 hits, 381 RBI and 424 strikeouts. Led by Hansen, the group boasts a national player of the year, a conference player of the year, two All-America accolades, eight all-conference picks and seven all-region selections.
"I think the key to success for our team this season starts with our defense," explained Rittman. "We have a great middle of the field, which will be a strength of ours. On the offensive side of the ball, I think we are going to be a much stronger team this year."
Stanford's veterans are joined by 14 underclassmen, led by sophomores Corey Hanewich, Danielle Miller and Michelle Prong. Hanewich was an All-Pac-10 Conference honorable mention pick and a member of the All-Pac-10 Freshman Team. She hit .294 with six doubles, two triples, five home runs and 25 RBI as a rookie. Miller, also an All-Pac-10 Freshman Team selection, racked up 42 hits and was third on the squad with 35 RBI. Prong earned All-Pac-10 Freshman honorable mention honors while leading the team with 30 walks on the year.
This year's rookies include eight freshmen, second-year player Madison Hanten and third-year player Tegan Schmidt. Due to injuries, Hanten and Schmidt have yet to suit up in a Cardinal uniform, but are hoping to make an impact on the squad this season.
"We have eight very talented freshmen, who have really brought a lot of competition at each position for us," said Rittman. "They are providing quality depth to our team and can provide consistency day-in and day-out. They are a good group of kids that work hard both on and off the field. They are going to bring a lot to this year's team."
Rittman, now in his 16th season at the helm of the program, has guided the Cardinal to 15 consecutive winning seasons, made 14 straight NCAA postseason appearances and compiled a .685 winning percentage. Along with associate head coach Letty Olivarez onto his staff as a volunteer assistant coach. A standout pitcher at Wisconsin, Olivarez will assist the staff in all areas of coaching this season.
Following is a look at the 2012 Cardinal by position:
Leading the Cardinal in the circle this season is junior Teagan Gerhart. Being Stanford's ace during her first two seasons, Gerhart has experience and poise to lead the team again in 2012. She has already etched her name in the Cardinal record books, ranking second in career ERA (1.70), sixth in strikeouts (423) and shutouts (14), and seventh in wins (48) and innings pitched (448.0). Racking up 250 strikeouts in 2011, Gerhart was 26-13 overall with a 1.74 ERA. She was selected to the All-Pac-10 First Team and named an All-West Region First Team pick.
Backing up Gerhart in the circle this season is rookie Nyree White. A standout at Marist High School in Eugene, Ore., she is a two-time state champion, three time pitcher of the year and four-time first team all-state honoree. The coaching staff will look to White to eat up some innings and provide a stable second option.
Junior Jenna Rich adds depth to the staff once again this season. Making strides each year, Rich understands her role and is a viable third option. She's made 14 career appearances and holds a 3-3 record in the circle.
Leading up to the season there has been a lot of competition behind the plate for the Cardinal. Likely using a combination of players, Rittman has four solid options on the roster.
Senior Maya Burns, who started last season at catcher, returns for the Cardinal. She is a very vocal leader who has works well with the pitching staff and will likely see time behind the plate again this year. Offensively, Burns is hitting .237 in her career with 102 hits and 62 RBI.
Also returning for Stanford is junior Kelsey Gerhart, who did a great job for the team behind the plate during the second half of last season. Having gained postseason experience in 2011, Gerhart is a viable option for the coaching staff.
New faces behind the plate could include sophomore Michelle Prong and redshirt freshman Madison Hanten. Prong moved behind the plate in the fall and has quickly picked up the fundamentals and mechanics. She also provides a threat offensively, recording 31 hits, four home runs and 23 RBI as a rookie. Hanten, who sat out last season due to injury, has also progressed nicely and will push for playing time this year.
The Cardinal infield has no shortage of depth or talent this season. Returning in the middle positions are senior Ashley Hansen and junior Jenna Rich. Coach Rittman has called the pair "interchangeable" as they both do an outstanding job in either of the positions. Both have great range and will be the leaders of the infield again this season.
Hansen, the reigning collegiate player of the year, returns for her final campaign in a Cardinal uniform. Last season, she set new Stanford single season records in batting average (.495), hits (95) and slugging percentage (.797), while leading the nation in doubles per game (0.42) and was the third-toughest player to strikeout (she struck out just five times in 2011).
"Ever since Ashley has been in the Stanford program she has been a special player," said Rittman. "She has been an outstanding player both offensively and defensively, and does things the right way. She's the glue on our defense that keeps everyone into the game. She controls the emotions of the team on the field and she is just an outstanding leader."
Rich has also been a solid player for Stanford the past two seasons. An all-conference and all-region selection last year, she boasts a .316 career average to go with 22 home runs, which is the 10th-most in school history.
On the corners, Stanford has a multitude of players who could play their way into the line-up. Returning with the most experience is senior Jenna Becerra, who has the ability to play either position. An outstanding defensive player, she will likely see time at first base, providing stability and leadership.
Backing up Becerra at first base are rookies Erin Ashby and Lauren Donovan. Ashby comes to The Farm from Crescenta Valley High School where she was a two-time Pacific League Player of the Year. Donovan, who hails from Salem, Ore., was the South Salem High School Female Athlete of the Year in 2011. Additionally, both Gerhart and White could see time at first base, providing Rittman flexibility in the line-up.
Likely seeing time at third base this season is freshman Hanna Winter. She is a dynamic player out of La Reina High School in Camarillo, Calif. Offensively, she is versatile, quick on the bases and has a lot of range. Redshirt sophomore Tegan Schmidt is also a versatile hitter who could provide an offensive spark and see time at third base this season. Both Becerra and Ashby also have the ability to play third, giving the Cardinal quality depth at all infield positions this season.
Stanford boasts one of the best center fielders in the country in senior Sarah Hassman. She will be the leader in the outfield for the team this season. She has incredible speed and range in the center and will likely be the lone upperclassmen in the outfield this season. Having a breakout junior year, Hassman was an all-conference and all-region selection in 2011. She led the conference with 35 stolen bases and paced the team with 60 runs scored. She was second on the squad with a .398 batting average, 74 hits and a .496 on-base percentage. Backing up Hassman is freshman Alyssa Lombardo, who was a two-time all-state outfielder at Saucon High School in Bethlehem, Pa.
Competing for a spot in left field is sophomore Caitlyn Pura and rookies Cassandra Roulund and Leah White. Pura played in 33 games last season, hitting .213 with 13 hits and eight RBI. Roulund was a standout at Tesoro High School in Trabuco Canyon, Calif., where she is the school's career leader in hits (135), stolen bases (17) and runs (88). White comes to The Farm from Horizon High School in Phoenix, Ariz., where she was a two-time first team all-region pick.
In right field, sophomore Corey Hanewich returns for her sophomore season. Playing the majority of last season in left field, Hanewich earned All-Pac-10 Conference honorable mention accolades. Pushing Hanewich for time is freshman Tylyn Wells. Hailing from Concord, Calif., where she was a three-time offensive player of the year at Carondelet High School.
Sophomore Danielle Miller was the Cardinal's main DP last year. An All-Pac-10 Freshman pick, she was third on the team with 35 RBI. She has grown in her approach at the plate and will be prepared to hit in big games this season.
Rittman feels that anyone on the roster could have the potential to be the team's designated player this season and that the team could have the best offensive balance of speed and power any Stanford team in history.
Stanford will once again play one of the toughest schedules in the nation. The Cardinal will play 28 games against teams that participated in last year's NCAA Tournament, including a conference series versus reigning NCAA Champion Arizona State. Stanford will also play 20 games against teams ranked in the preseason top-25.
"As always, we play a pretty tough non-conference schedule," stated Rittman. "We are going to three high-profile tournaments, playing quite a few teams that made the postseason last year. It is going to five us a good indication of where we're at and wat we need to work on to get ready for our conference season."
Stanford opens the 2012 campaign at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz., for the second straight year. The Cardinal will play a double-header against Cal State Northridge and No. 15/17 Texas A&M on Feb. 10. Stanford will face NCAA Tournament participants Portland State and Texas Tech on Feb. 11 and wrap-up the weekend against UC Santa Barbara on Feb. 12.
The Cardinal will play its first home games during the Stanford Nike Invitational, Feb. 17-19. Stanford's home opener will take place, Friday, Feb. 17 against Pacific at 2:30 p.m. Also competing in the tournament, which will end in bracket play with a true champion, are Bradley and Nevada.
Stanford will hit the road for the next two weekends, traveling to Cathedral City, Calif., and Fullerton, Calif. The Cardinal will participate in the Cathedral City Classic, Feb. 24-26, and the DeMarini Invitational, Mar. 2-4. During that span, Stanford will take on six teams who appeared in last year's NCAA Tournament.
The Cardinal will close out the pre-conference season at home in the Stanford Louisville Slugger Classic (Mar. 9-11), held at Smith Family Stadium. Participating teams include Ole Miss, James Madison, Colorado State, Cal Poly and San Jose State.
The squad will open the conference season at home against Women's College World Series participant California. The series opener against the Golden Bears on Mar. 23 will be televised on a tape-delayed basis by Fox Sports Net.
The Cardinal will continue Pac-12 play on the road as they travel to Tucson, Ariz., to face the Arizona Mar. 30-Apr. 1. The Wildcats are one of six conference teams to make a super regional appearance in 2011.
Up next, Stanford is scheduled to play nine Pac-12 games during an 11-day stretch. The Cardinal hosts Oregon, Apr., 5-7, plays a three-game series at UCLA Apr. 10-11 and returns to The Farm to host the Oregon State Beavers, Apr. 13-15.
Stanford will then return to the desert to take on 2011 national champion Arizona State, Apr. 20-22. After a bye-weekend, the Cardinal will host Washington, May 4-6, in its final regular-season home games before travelling to conference newcomer Utah, May 10-12, to close out the year.
NCAA Regional action will begin May 17, and leads up to the 31st annual Women's College World Series, May 31-June 6 in Oklahoma City, Okla.