STANFORD, Calif. – With a healthy mix of experienced upperclassmen and talented youth, No. 22/20 Stanford is poised to challenge for a Pac-12 title and make a run to the Women’s College World Series.
The journey to Oklahoma City begins this weekend at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz., with the Cardinal playing six games over four days.
Stanford will take on a challenging nonconference slate before pursuing a Pac-12 title and a chance to advance to Oklahoma City at the end of the season.
The Cardinal finished the 2013 season with a 39-21 overall record – the 17th consecutive winning season under head coach John Rittman. Stanford finished fourth in the Pac-12 with a 13-11 mark, and was 26-10 against nonconference opponents. The Cardinal competed in its 16th straight NCAA Tournament, concluding its season with a 2-2 result at the Lincoln Regional.
“Our expectations of this team are very high,” said Rittman. “We’re a relatively young team with just two seniors and have five freshmen that are going to be called upon to contribute at some point. Like every year, our expectations are to win a Pac-12 championship and a national championship, and this year is no different.”
The Cardinal roster of 18 players features 13 letterwinners, two all-region selections, five players who earned All-Pac-12 Conference honors and six returning starters. However, the team will have a couple big holes to fill after seeing the graduations of All-American Jenna Rich, pitcher Teagan Gerhart, centerfielder Sarah Hassman and infielder Tegan Schmidt, who each played significant roles throughout their collegiate careers.
“We’re going to need our pitching staff to step up and do a great job,” said Rittman. “We have one returning pitcher, Nyree White, that we’re going to look for to provide leadership among our pitching staff and we have two freshmen that are going to need to step in and do a good job.
“All three are capable of doing the job and they complement each other well with their styles of pitching. For us to be successful, it starts in the circle with those three.”
Among the key returners for Stanford will be all-region selections Kayla Bonstrom and Hanna Winter. Bonstrom had a terrific freshman campaign and was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, becoming the third Cardinal to receive the award. She paced Stanford offensively, batting .404 with a team-high 55 RBI.
Winter led Stanford in hits for the second straight year with 72, and was second on the team with a .346 batting average. She has started every game of her collegiate career at either second or third base and handled the hot-corner in all 60 games in 2013.
Along with Bonstrom and Winter, the Stanford lineup is deep in terms of defensive options and offensive production. Harboring that depth and taking advantage of matchups will be a major factor in the team’s success.
“We’re going to have to score runs and have offensive production up and down our lineup,” said Rittman. “We will also have to play good defense, which is going to be a big part of winning a championship.”
Rittman, now in his 18th season at the helm of the program, has guided the Cardinal to 17 consecutive winning seasons, made 16 straight NCAA postseason appearances and compiled a .684 winning percentage. Associate head coach Claire Sua-Amundson returns for her fourth year with the program. With the departure of assistant head coach Danielle Henderson, who became the associate head coach at her alma mater Massachusetts, Rittman has promoted two-year volunteer assistant Leticia Olivarez into the assistant role. Teagan Gerhart (’13) joins the coaching staff this year as the volunteer assistant coach.
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The following is a look at the 2014 team by position:
The highly touted freshman duo joins the Cardinal with a lengthy list of accomplishments and awards. Hoover was the 2013 Gatorade Softball National Player of the Year and National High School Coaches Association Player of the Year. While Schreyer was the 2012 Washington State Gatorade Softball Player of the Year and an ESPN High School All-America First Team selection.
“We’re expecting them to step in and provide a key role for us,” said Rittman. “They’re talented and they work hard, so we’re going to expect a lot out of them.”
White pitched mainly in a relief role last season, making 20 appearances and holding a 3-1 record and 3.00 ERA. She will again be asked to provide relief in pressure situations and tasked with providing leadership to the younger members of the staff.
“She’s going to be looked at to provide a lot of leadership for our pitching staff and fill the key role of being a relief pitcher that can come in and give an opposing team a different look,” Rittman said.
Jessica Plaza will again assume her role behind the plate, while Erin Ashby and Kayla Bonstrom will likely see some innings at the position as well. Plaza started 48 games at catcher as a freshman and hit .268 with 34 hits.
“She has done a great job for us and we’re looking for her to continue to build on what she accomplished last year,” said Rittman about Plaza.
Along with seeing time behind the plate last year, Ashby also recorded innings at first base and designated player. She hit .291 with seven doubles, three triples and six home runs.
Stanford returns key corner infielders with Kayla Bonstrom at first and Hanna Winter at third. Bonstrom had an outstanding freshman campaign earning all-region honors, first-team All-Pac-12 honors and being named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. Winter also garnered all-region and second-team All-Pac-12 honors. She has started every game of her collegiate career at either third or second base.
The Cardinal will have holes to fill in the middle of its infield with the graduations of Jenna Rich and Tegan Schmidt. Freshman Kylie Sorenson has established herself at shortstop and will likely see significant time at the position. Sorenson holds her high school’s all-time records in hits, runs and extra-base hits.
“She’s a leader and has great instincts for the game,” said Rittman of Sorenson. “She has great range and hands, and a strong arm.”
Ashby, Lauren Bertoy and Kaitlin Schaberg are all in the mix for time at second base. Schaberg made 33 starts as a designated player or second base last year. Bertoy joins the squad looking to make an immediate impact after a high school career that included career and single-season school records in stolen bases, home runs and hits.
Lauren Donovan returns for her junior campaign and will likely see time at first base or designated player. She appeared in eight contests in 2014 as a pinch hitter or pinch runner.
The Cardinal boasts two returning outfielders from last year’s team in Leah White and Cassandra Roulund. Both players garnered All-Pac-12 recognition and expect to be significant contributors again this season. White will primarily see time in left field while Roulund will play in center.
Four additional Cardinal players will be competing for time in the outfield, including Corey Hanewich, Tylyn Wells, Alyssa Lombardo and Bessie Noll. Hanewich, Wells and Lombardo each saw time in the outfield last season.
Along with softball experience, Noll joins the squad with a successful background in baseball. Rittman notes Noll has great range in the outfield, a strong arm and had a good showing at the plate during fall ball.
Senior Danielle Miller played in 15 games last year, making five starts at designated player. She collected three hits, five RBI and two runs scored. She logged significant time at the position in 2012, playing in 36 games and finishing with a .307 batting average.
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Stanford will play some of the nation’s best this spring, including 33 games against 17 teams that participated in 2013 NCAA Regional competition.
The Cardinal will play a challenging nonconference schedule, highlighted by a Feb. 23 matchup against 2013 NCAA runner-up Tennessee at the Mary Nutter Classic in Cathedral City, Calif., before embarking on another tough Pac-12 schedule that includes seven NCAA Tournament teams from last season.
Stanford will be featured on television 15 times during the 2014 season, including 10 broadcasts on the Pac-12 Network and five on the ESPN family of networks. Seven of Stanford’s eight Pac-12 series will feature at least one televised game.
The Cardinal opens the season Feb. 6 at the Kajikawa Classic where it will face six teams over four days, before returning home the next weekend for the Stanford Nike Invitational.
NCAA Regional action begins May 15, and leads up to the 33rd annual Women’s College World Series, May 29-Jun. 4 in Oklahoma City, Okla.
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WATCH: Corey Hanewich, Hanna Winter and Kaitlin Schaberg sat down with Stanford Athletics to discuss the upcoming season and a variety of other topics in a Google+ Hangout.