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Cardinal Sets Sights On A Championship: 2008 Stanford Softball Outlook
Courtesy: Stanford Athletics  
Release: 01/28/2008

Jan. 28, 2008

Stanford, Calif. - The Stanford softball team is back for 2008, ready to continue a long run of winning seasons, top-25 rankings, NCAA Championship success and outstanding individual performances.

During the last 11 seasons, Head Coach John Rittman and the Cardinal program have joined the ranks of the nation's powerhouses, and established themselves as a consistent force in the battle for Pac-10 and NCAA titles. Since Rittman took the helm of the program 11 years ago, Stanford has posted 11 consecutive winning seasons, made ten consecutive NCAA appearances, tallied nine 40-win seasons and racked up a .674 winning percentage. In 2008, the program has the tools to not only uphold that tradition, but to reach even newer and greater heights.

To start, the squad returns one of its most veteran groups in program history, built from five capable seniors, seven returning starters, two All-Americans, 11 returning letterwinners and two dominant, seasoned pitchers. The program also boasts Rittman, one of the winningest and most well-respected coaches in collegiate softball, who will help coach the USA Team at his second Olympics in Bejing this summer. Moreover, Rittman is armed with a seasoned staff of assistants and has nabbed another elite class of capable newcomers. With all of the tools in place, Rittman is confident the Cardinal has the potential to succeed this season.

"We have a lot of returning players with postseason experience and have a freshman class that's going to help contribute in a lot of different ways," said Rittman. "With great experience, depth and versatility, this year's team is definitely in position to vie for a championship.

The Cardinal is set to take on another challenging list of opponents in 2008, playing 28 games against teams that competed in last year's NCAA Championship and 22 games against teams that finished last season ranked in the top-25.

"As always, we have lined up a very tough non-conference schedule this year," said Rittman. "Not only is this a great opportunity for us to showcase our talent, but it puts us in position to compete for a Pac-10 Championship and gets us ready for a tough postseason."

Stanford kicks off the 2008 regular-season in San Diego, competing in a tournament hosted by the USD Toreros. The squad meets the host in its season-opener on Feb. 8 and continues play against Illinois-Chicago and Long Beach State over the opening weekend.

After hosting Santa Clara, Wichita State and Pacific in its first of three home tournaments, Stanford will hit the highlight of its 2008 preseason- the Palm Springs Classic. In the course of the elite tournament, Stanford will face three teams that ended 2007 ranked in the top-25: No. 9/11 Oklahoma, No. 22/23 Ohio State and No. 24/24 Texas.

Stanford will then return to the Worth Classic in Fullerton, Feb. 29-Mar. 2, where it will get a chance to square off with No. 14/15 Florida. The Cardinal hosts back-to-back home tournaments in early March before jumping into the competitive Pac-10 season.

The squad begins the conference season at home, meeting defending National Champion Arizona at Smith Family Stadium on Mar. 28. The Pac-10 will again provide a challenging agenda, as all eight conference teams return from NCAA appearances and three return from trips to the Women's College World Series. Seven of the eight conference teams, including Stanford, finished 2007 ranked in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top-25 Final Poll.

"The Pac-10 continues to be the toughest conference in the country from top to bottom and seems to get better every year," said Rittman. "The parity in the conference is outstanding and will help us prepare to win a National Championship."

NCAA Regional action begins on May 16, and leads up to the 27th annual Women's College World Series, May 29-Jun. 4 in Oklahoma City.

Following is a look at the 2008 Cardinal by position:

Pitchers and Catchers

The Cardinal returns its entire pitching staff from 2007, with seasoned upperclassmen Missy Penna and Becky McCullough both returning to the circle. The pair combined for 382 strikeouts last season, the fourth highest total in program history, and both enter the year among the school's top-five all-time strikeout leaders.

Penna, a 2007 All-Region selection, returns as one of the conference's most dominant pitchers. As a sophomore last year, the Miami, Fla. native became just the second player in Stanford history to notch 300+ strikeouts in a single season and, just halfway through her career, moved into third place on the career K's chart. Additionally, Penna has proven to be a consistent hitter for the Cardinal, with the ability to perform in key situations. This year, her first as an upperclassman, Penna will be looked upon to provide a consistent bat, leadership and reliability in the circle.

McCullough has been a staple of the Stanford pitching rotation since stepping onto the Farm as a freshman in 2005, and has proven her potential to be one of the conference's best. As a freshman, she led the Cardinal to a share of its first-ever Pac-10 Championship, with a career-best 21 wins and 1.83 ERA. Last season, she was responsible for two of the team's biggest upset wins of the year, including a 3-2 decision over eventual National Champion Arizona. In 2008, McCullough will be looked upon to bolster the pitching staff and provide valuable experience in the circle.

The Stanford pitching staff will be one notch deeper this season as well, as a third pitcher, freshman Ashley Chinn, joins the rotation. A local standout from Carlmont High School in Belmont, Chinn was a three-time Peninsula Athletic League Pitcher of the Year and one of the area's most touted players. In 2008, the newcomer will be looked upon to develop her skill set in the circle and provide valuable depth for the Cardinal staff.

Behind the plate, the Cardinal returns sophomore Rosey Neill, who made an immediate impact as a newcomer last season. Neill proved her ability to hit for power last year, blasting seven homeruns and coming in second on the team with 33 RBI. Additionally, the Laguna Hills, Calif. native led the conference in pick-offs and ranked among the Pac-10's top-three with 16 runners caught stealing.

Additionally, the Laguna Hills, Calif. native provided stability behind the plate, taking over the catching duties for Stanford, leading the conference in pick-offs and ranking among the Pac-10's top-three with 16 runners caught stealing.

Joining Neill as catchers on the roster are senior Erin Howe and freshman Brittany Minder. Howe was the primary catcher for the Cardinal as a freshman and sophomore, before moving to first base last season. Minder, a standout from Valley View High School in Moreno Valley, Calif., will look to battle for time behind the plate and contribute a powerful bat to the Cardinal lineup.

Infield

Stanford returns a seasoned infield, with a foursome of experienced upperclassman looking to reclaim their starting spots around the diamond.

At first base, senior Erin Howe is the returning starter and has been battling back from a knee injury suffered at the NCAA Championships last season. Howe has proven her ability to hit consistently from the left side of the plate and will be depended upon for leadership, consistent defense and a dangerous bat this season.

Senior Tricia Aggabao aims to begin her fourth straight year as the Cardinal's starting second baseman. In addition to being one of the most consistent defensive players on the field, Aggabao is one of the team's primary leaders and brings energy to the team both offensively and defensively. She has been one of the best hitters on the team the last two seasons, pacing an elite group of .300+ hitters both years. In 2008, Aggabao will be looked upon to provide energetic leadership, a consistent bat and steady defense.

Junior Maddy Coon will likely be the Cardinal's shortstop this season, a spot she has seen significant time at over the last two years. As a freshman, Coon played both shortstop and third base, and rotated between shortstop, third base and DP duties last season. Coon is continually improving defensively and has the potential to be one of the best hitters in the conference. As a freshman in 2006, she hit a whopping .353, slammed 13 doubles, blasted nine homeruns, and notched 40 RBI. Last season, she boasted one of the best on-base percentages on the team, earned All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention and was named to the NCAA Regional All-Tournament Team. In 2008, she will be valuable as a solid middle infielder and dangerous hitter in the meat of the Cardinal batting order.

At third base, Stanford boasts its first of two All-Americans in senior Michelle Smith. The Agoura Hills, Calif. native is not only the strongest power hitter on the Cardinal squad, she is one of the team's most dependable infielders and is a primary leader both at the plate and in the field. Smith blasted a school record 19 homeruns as a freshman in 2005, and was named an All-American for her efforts. Since then, she has continued to climb the program's homerun and RBI charts, and enters her senior year among the all-time top-five in both categories.

Two other infielders will join the mix in 2008, newcomers Erikka Moreno and Melisa Koutz. The two Southern California products will both vie for the spot at first base, with Koutz seeing time in the middle infield as well. Both are consistent at the plate, and will be looked upon to bring reliable bats to the Cardinal lineup. Sophomore Shannon Koplitz, who played both infield and outfield for Stanford last season, will also see some time in the middle infield.

Outfield

In the outfield, Stanford returns its 2007 MVP but will also be forced to fill its largest hole in the lineup. All-American Alissa Haber will reclaim her spot in center field, while a number of talented outfielders will look to fill the job vacated by four-time All-Conference selection Jackie Rinehart.

Haber got a fast and promising start to her collegiate career in 2007, emerging as one of the Pac-10's top players. She led the team in nearly every offensive category with a .365 batting average, 65 hits, 40 runs, 15 doubles, two triples, a .539 slugging percentage and a .455 on-base percentage. Her marks in batting average and doubles both ranked among the top-10 single-season marks in program history and her batting average, on-base percentage, hit total and doubles marks were among the best in the Pac-10. At the conclusion of the season, she became the 12th Stanford player and fifth freshman to earn an All-America honor. In 2008, Haber will be looked upon to continue her offensive domination and provide consistent defense in center field.

Three other experienced players and newcomer Autumn Albers will compete for the remaining spots in the outfield this season. Sophomore Shannon Koplitz, who also spent a significant amount of time in the infield last year, finished 2007 as the starting right fielder. A consistent and powerful hitter, Koplitz fought her way into the starting lineup last season and returns as one of the most dangerous hitters in the Cardinal lineup. Senior Anna Beardman brings the most experience to the outfield, having played 150 games in a Cardinal uniform. The Perris, Calif. native has the potential to contribute a powerful bat and brings speed on defense and the base paths. Sophomore Michelle Schroeder, a capable slap hitter, gained valuable experience as a freshman last season, and will look to battle for a spot in the starting lineup this year. Albers, a local product of Danville, brings quickness and range to the Stanford outfield and will look to make an immediate impact at the collegiate level.


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