Jan. 13, 2009
Stanford, Calif. - A core group of veterans and six highly-touted newcomers comprise a 2009 Stanford softball squad that enters the year with high expectations. Again playing one of the nation's toughest schedules, the Cardinal looks to compete for a Pac-10 title, maintain its place in the upper echelons of the NFCA poll, return to the Women's College World Series and battle for its first NCAA title.
After posting the second-most wins in school history last season and advancing to its third NCAA Super Regional in four years, the Cardinal is ready to take the next step.
"This season, we have some returning players with a great deal of experience and we look forward to having them lead us to the next level," said head coach John Rittman. "We've been to Super Regionals and this team is very hungry to get past that point. We're ready to get to the World Series and vie for a national championship."
With just five upperclassmen, the Cardinal is, for the most part, a very young team. Yet, the squad is armed with some of the Pac-10's most talented veterans at key positions. All five upperclassmen - Missy Penna, Maddy Coon, Shannon Koplitz, Alissa Haber and Rosey Neill - have been starters since the day they arrived on The Farm. The group has also been well decorated, accumulating 10 All-Pac-10 awards, six all-region honors and three All-America nods. Statistically, the fivesome has already combined to score 329 Cardinal runs, notch 531 hits and belt 73 home runs. It also includes one of the best pitchers in Stanford history - Penna.
Stanford's veterans are only half of the story this season, however. Rittman and his staff have also landed one of the nation's top recruiting classes, which is headlined by infielder Ashley Hansen, the only high school player invited to USA Softball's selection camp for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"We have added six extremely talented freshmen and, despite losing five seniors, we feel like we're a much improved team," said Rittman. "The freshmen have brought in a lot of versatility, speed and offensive talent. They can each play a variety of positions, which gives us depth and competition within the program."
Coaching this arsenal of talent is Rittman, one of the winningest and most respected coaches in collegiate softball. Last summer, he was a member of the U.S. Olympic coaching staff for the second time, helping Team USA to a silver medal at the Beijing Games. During the last 12 seasons, he has guided the Cardinal program into the ranks of the nation's powerhouses and established the team as a consistent force in the battle for Pac-10 and NCAA titles. Since Rittman took the helm of the program 12 years ago, Stanford has posted 12 consecutive winning seasons, made 11 straight NCAA appearances, tallied 10 40-win seasons and racked up a .675 winning percentage.
With all of the tools in place, Rittman is confident that the Cardinal has the potential to be a national title contender.
"We expect our team to do great things this year," he said. "Our combination of veterans with a lot of postseason experience and freshmen with a lot of talent is going to put us in great position to compete for a championship."
Following is a look at the 2009 Cardinal by position:
Stanford is one of nine Division I teams returning a 2008 All-American to the circle this year, and the nation's only squad carrying a pitcher with more 900 career strikeouts. Ace Missy Penna enters her senior season as the country's active strikeout leader and its third-winningest active pitcher. A three-time All Pac-10 pick, she is undoubtedly one of 2009's most seasoned and dominant throwers.
Penna set a school record with 37 wins last season, pitched a school-best 335 innings and became the eighth player in Pac-10 history, and the first at Stanford, to record 400 or more strikeouts in a single year. She finished second in the Pac-10 and sixth nationally in wins last year and ranked among the nation's top 20 in both earned run average and opponent hits per game.
As Penna attempts to carry the Cardinal to the Pac-10 title and beyond, she will likely shatter Stanford's career win, strikeout and shutout records along the way. In her final season, she will be looked upon to provide leadership on a young squad and once again dominate in the circle.
Penna is not the only talented hurler on Stanford's pitching staff, however. As a freshman last year, Ashley Chinn pitched some big innings behind Penna, and together the duo struck out 508 batters and posted one of the top 15 ERAs in the country. In her rookie campaign, Chinn threw two no-hitters, including the school's seventh perfect game, and posted an 11-2 record. Now, with a year of valuable experience, she will be relied upon to consistently throw key innings for the Cardinal.
Newcomer Jenna Becerra, who was named the 2008 Marmonte League Pitcher of the Year as a senior at Westlake High School last year, will add another level of depth to the Cardinal pitching options.
Behind the plate, Stanford returns one of the top all-around players in the conference in junior Rosey Neill. As a sophomore last season, Neill led the league in putouts and became the second player in school history to be named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. Offensively, she emerged as one of the nation's top power hitters, leading the conference and finishing 10th nationally with 19 home runs.
After being named the top catcher in the Pacific Region and earning a spot on the All-Pac-10 First Team, Neill steps into a new role as an upperclassman this season. As a veteran, she will be looked upon to provide leadership behind the plate and bring her consistent and powerful bat to the middle of the Cardinal lineup.
Competing with Neill for time behind the plate this season will be sophomore Brittany Minder and freshman Maya Burns. Minder, a capable power hitter, saw 28 at bats as a rookie last year, hit her first career home run and made five appearances as a catcher. Burns, a graduate of St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco, adds further depth to the 2009 roster, not only as a catcher but also in the outfield and at the plate.
Coon has seen significant time at third base and shortstop in her three years as a Cardinal starter and will provide valuable experience in the infield. Entering her senior season with one of the best career batting averages in school history (.300), she has the ability to once again be one of the conference's most dangerous hitters. Last year, Coon carried one of the top on-base percentages in the Pac-10 (.444) and was named the best shortstop in the Pacific Region. In 2009, she will likely play second, shortstop or third base and provide power and consistency in the middle of the Cardinal lineup.
Koplitz, a versatile junior, started every game at second base for Stanford last season and is a candidate to play second, third and outfield this year. The New Orleans, La. native, who earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention accolades as a freshman in 2007, has provided steady defense and a consistent bat in the Cardinal lineup for the last two years. With the ability to hit for power, drive in runs and provide speed on the base paths, Koplitz will be looked to as a consistent force in the Stanford batting order.
Koutz wasted no time making her mark on the collegiate game last season, earning the starting role at first base and a spot on the Pac-10 All-Freshman Team. Koutz recorded the highest fielding percentage of any infielder in the Pac-10 last year (.997) and provided three game-winning hits in Pac-10 play, including a 10th-inning home run to beat eventual national champion Arizona State. This season, Koutz will look to reclaim her spot at first base and provide consistency in the lineup, both offensively and defensively.
Sophomore Erikka Moreno, who made 10 appearances as a freshman last season, also returns to the infield this year and will challenge for a spot in the starting lineup.
Hansen, a USA Junior National Team veteran who was the only high school player selected to participate in USA Softball's Olympic selection camp, is a capable shortstop with the ability to hit for power and average. Becerra, who could see time at second, shortstop, third or in the outfield, has shown quickness defensively and a promising bat. Goswiller and Smith, both accomplished high school power hitters, will compete for the spot at first base.
In the outfield, Stanford returns two-time All-American Alissa Haber, a junior who has led the Cardinal in nearly every offensive category the last two years. Haber hit .374 last season and became just the 10th player in school history to record 70 or more hits in a single year (77). Halfway through her career, her batting average ranks second only to two-time Olympian Jessica Mendoza. As an upperclassman, Haber will provide leadership in the outfield and look to continue to be one of the most dangerous hitters in the Pac-10.
Next to Haber, Stanford will be forced to fill vacancies left by graduated seniors Tricia Aggabao and Anna Beardman. Competitors for those spots include junior Shannon Koplitz, sophomore Autumn Albers and newcomers Sarah Hassman, Jenna Becerra and Maya Burns.
Koplitz, a two-year starter and consistent hitter, is a versatile player who will likely see time in both the infield and outfield. As a freshman, Koplitz earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention as the team's starting right fielder. Albers, a reserve last year, brings valuable speed on defense, on the base paths and as a slapper at the plate.
Hassman, a talented slapper, will likely jump into the lineup right away, adding depth to the Stanford outfield with speed and the ability to get on base. Becerra, a versatile outfielder, infielder and pitcher, will also compete for a starting role in the outfield, while Burns will see time as both a catcher and outfielder in her first year on The Farm.
As usual, Rittman has set another challenging preseason agenda for the Cardinal, which will be followed by another run through the nation's most competitive softball conference. Stanford will play 29 games against teams that competed in last year's NCAA Tournament and 15 against teams that finished last season ranked in the top 25.
"Our nonconference schedule is going to be difficult this year," said Rittman. "We've lined up some great competition, which will help us develop as a team. This also allows our freshmen to make the transition to playing at this level before we get into a very tough Pac-10 season."
Stanford kicks off the year at a familiar tournament, the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. The Cardinal meets McNeese State in its season opener on Feb. 6 and continues play against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Kansas and 2008 NCAA Tournament participant Central Florida over the opening weekend.
The team will be on the road for the second weekend of the season as well, heading south to San Diego to make an appearance at the Campbell/Cartier Classic, Feb. 12-15. The weekend will be highlighted by a Friday doubleheader that puts the Cardinal up against No. 22/23 Long Beach State and No. 24/24 San Diego State.
After hosting Sacramento State, Notre Dame and Western Kentucky in its first of three home tournaments, Stanford will head to the DeMarini Invitational at Cal State Fullerton. Stanford will face Indiana, UC Riverside, Minnesota and Cal Poly before squaring off with 2008 NCAA Tournament participant Cal State Fullerton on the Titans' home field to conclude the event.
The Cardinal hosts back-to-back home tournaments in March before jumping into the competitive Pac-10 season. Among the challengers in Stanford's 11-game preseason home streak are two teams coming off NCAA appearances, Princeton and Winthrop, as well as the always-competitive Pacific Tigers. During the stretch, Stanford will also have a second showdown with San Diego State.
The squad begins the conference season at home, meeting 2008 Pac-10 runner-up UCLA at Smith Family Stadium on March 27. The Pac-10 will again provide a challenging agenda, as seven of the eight conference teams return from NCAA appearances, five are coming off NCAA Super Regional trips and three are back from runs to the Women's College World Series. Five of the eight conference teams, including Stanford, finished 2008 ranked in the NFCA poll.
"The Pac-10 Conference is by far the best softball conference in the country and it's always a challenge to play in," said Rittman. "This conference is a lot of fun, brings out the best in our team and prepares us for our ultimate goal - to win a national championship."
Highlighting the 2009 home season for the Cardinal will be a matchup against Bay Area rival California on April 9, a showdown with defending national champion Arizona State on May 1 and a pair of contests against traditional powerhouse Arizona, May 2-3.
NCAA Regional action begins May 15, and leads up to the 28th annual Women's College World Series, May 28-June 3 in Oklahoma City.