Experienced Cardinal Sets Sights High
Stanford Softball anticipates an exciting year in 2006 with a versatile and experienced squad. In his tenth season on The Farm, head coach John Rittman is looking to build off of a strong postseason finish last year, in which the Cardinal advanced to the NCAA Super Regional. As usual, Stanford will face a challenging pre-season schedule, preparing the team for an even tougher Pac-10 lineup. The Cardinal graduated six seniors in 2005, but returns seven starters and 13 letterwinners from the team that won a share of the Pac-10 Championship for the first time in school history. Three student-athletes received NFCA All-American honors: shortstop Lauren Lappin, outfielder Catalina Morris and rookie infielder Michelle Smith.
With the loss of six seniors to graduation, the Cardinal will carry 15 players on the roster in 2006. "Last year our greatest strength was our depth," said Rittman. "We have the same depth this year because our players are incredibly versatile. We still have the ability to play the short game and have power in the middle of our lineup, as well as speed at the top and bottom of the lineup."
Stanford will look to its five seniors for leadership, but will also depend on the strengths of young veterans. Senior All-Americans Lauren Lappin and Catalina Morris will lead the Cardinal, along with seniors Megan Bordelon, Shoney Hixson and Laura Severson. Junior veteran Jackie Rinehart started 54 games for the Cardinal in 2005 and returning sophomores Tricia Aggabao, Erin Howe, Becky McCullough, Anna Beardman, Lauren Nydam and All-American Michelle Smith combined for 226 starts last season. Newcomers Missy Penna (Miami, FL) and Maddy Coon (Chappaqua, NY) will have an immediate impact for Stanford. Penna, one of the top pitchers out of high school last year, has gained international experience pitching for the Dominican National Team. Coon, the 2005 New York Gatorade Player of the Year, will add talent to the Cardinal infield. "The expectations for this program are very high," explained Rittman, "We lost six seniors last year, all players who had made significant contributions to the program. We have outstanding freshmen to fill big roles."
The squad will begin the 2006 season with its most challenging preseason schedule to date in order to prepare for the grueling Pac-10 lineup and a long postseason appearance. The Cardinal will begin the season on the road at the Kajikawa Classic, playing two more tournaments on the road and three at home before beginning Pac-10 Conference play on March 31.
"Our schedule is as tough as it has ever been", noted Rittman. "Our preseason includes three nationally-renown tournaments at the Kajikawa Classic, Palm Springs Classic and the Worth Classic in Fullerton. We'll be challenged early on and it will be a good time to evaluate where we're at and what we need to work on. Pre-conference play will be tough, preparing us nicely for the rigors of the Pac-10 schedule, where every team is one of the top teams in the country. Our ultimate goal is to be in the WCWS and put ourselves in a position to win the national championship. Our expectations for this team and the season are very high. Everyone in the program has a passion to be the very best, both academically and athletically."
All three Cardinal pitchers return to the circle this year, along with standout freshman Missy Penna. Senior Laura Severson (Frankfort, IL) has improved each of her four years on The Farm. Severson went 15-6 during her junior season, earning a 1.80 ERA. Sophomores Lauren Nydam (La Canada, CA) and Becky McCullough (Moraga, CA) made significant contributions in their rookie campaigns. Nydam went 7-2 with a 1.62 ERA. McCullough took on a large role as a freshman, starting 32 games and pitching 206.1 innings with a 1.83 ERA. Newcomer Missy Penna will make an immediate impact in the circle.
"Our pitchers are led by our outstanding pitching coach Trisha Ford," said Rittman. "She has done a great job with the veteran staff and developing our young pitchers. We're lucky to have four outstanding pitchers. We're looking for Laura to provide leadership and give us solid innings. Our two sophomores gained valuable experience last season. Becky is a hard worker and perfectionist and someone we're looking to develop and lead our program. Lauren made the transition from high school/travel ball to Division I, Pac-10 softball and did a nice job giving us innings early in the season last year."
"Missy comes to us as a blue-chip recruit, one of the best pitchers in the country coming out of high school," states Rittman. "We'll look for her to step in a fill a big role. She has a variety of pitches - she throws hard and can change speeds. Missy is a great athlete and we'll look to her to step in and produce right away."
Two Cardinal catchers will likely spend significant time behind the plate with the departure of senior Leah Nelson, who started all 59 games for Stanford in 2005. Senior All-American Lauren Lappin (Anaheim, CA) has started at shortstop for the last three years, but will see action this year at catcher. Lappin batted .331 on the year and tallied ten doubles, one triple and five home runs. Sophomore Erin Howe (Missouri City, TX) played in 53 games last season and gained experience behind the plate. "We have two great catchers in the program," said Rittman. "Lauren is a tremendous athlete and was an Olympic alternate because of her versatility. She's a world-class catcher with a great arm. Erin got time as a freshman and is continuing to develop as a catcher. Her biggest asset is her ability to hit."
Rittman has many options this year at first base. In addition to catcher, Erin Howe spent significant time at first base last year and will continue to be an option in 2006. Pitchers Becky McCullough and Missy Penna will also see action at first base. All-American Michelle Smith (Agoura Hills, CA) was primarily a third baseman in 2005, but depending on the pitching staff could see playing time at first base. "We can put a lot of people at first base," noted Rittman. "Missy and Becky are both good hitters and can play at first. Michelle can play either corner position effectively."
Starting second baseman Tricia Aggaboa (Walnut, CA) returns from last season. Aggabao started all 59 games for the Cardinal, recording 105 putouts and 85 assists at second base. Junior Lindsay Key (Galveston, TX) and senior Megan Bordelon will also vie for time at second base. "Tricia gained valuable experience as a freshman," said Rittman, "Lindsay is a very good defensive player with a lot of power offensively. Megan has been working very hard on her fielding and hitting and could see time, as well."
Similar to the other infield positions, Stanford will also have flexibility at third base. Michelle Smith is the returning starter at third base, hitting .322 with a single-season record 19 home runs in 2005. Should Rittman decide to move Smith to first base, Aggabao would shift to third base. Megan Bordelon could also see time at third base. "Michelle and Tricia both have great hands," noted Rittman. "Michelle is consistent throwing the ball and is great defending the short game. Tricia has quick feet and a good arm. It will be good to have the flexibility to move Michelle between first and third base."
All-American and 2005 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year Lauren Lappin has anchored Stanford's defense at shortstop for the past three years, but will likely see time at catcher as well. Highly-touted freshman Maddy Coon will also see time at shortstop. "Lauren is one of the best, if not the best shortstop in collegiate softball," commented Rittman. "Maddy is also a versatile player with great offensive talent and could play at second, as well."
Stanford will rely on experienced veterans in the outfield, returning four impressive outfielders from last season. Senior All-American Catalina Morris (Sonoita, CA) will guide the Cardinal defense, as well as the offense as leadoff hitter. Morris will likely start in centerfield, and will be joined in the outfield by All-Pac-10 leftfielder Jackie Rinehart (Reno, NV), senior Shoney Hixson (Oklahoma City, OK) and sophomore Anna Beardman (Perris, CA). Morris led Stanford in hitting last year with a .351 average, collecting 13 homeruns and 36 RBI. Rinehart hit .331 in 2005, tallying 52 hits and 25 runs. "Catalina has developed into a great defensive outfielder," said Rittman. "We're looking for her to provide leadership. Jackie is a great outfielder and has versatility offensively. Shoney is a hard worker and should get some time in the outfield. Anna is a tremendous athlete, hits for power, and has developed into a great outfielder."
Stanford has several candidates that could fill the designated player position.
"We have a lot of great athletes who can mix and match positions," Rittman concluded. "Our challenge as a coaching staff will be to get the best possible people in the best possible positions to give us the opportunity to win."