Feb. 5, 2007
Stanford, Calif. -
Stanford head softball coach John Rittman has seen his share of outstanding players graduate from Stanford University. Each year a talented number of players leave The Farm after taking the Cardinal program to new heights.
Last year's team chalked up a 42-18 record and a trip to the NCAA Super Regional. From that squad, Stanford lost two All-Americans, outfielder Catalina Morris and shortstop Lauren Lappin, along with pitcher Laura Severson, infielder Megan Bordelon, and outfielder Shoney Hixon.
"Losing players of that caliber is always difficult," said Rittman, "However if you look at our returners and the talent of the freshmen class, I think we have the ability to be very good."
In 2007 Stanford returns ten outstanding letter winners and adds four talented freshmen who should keep Stanford among the top collegiate teams in the nation. Among the returners are All Pac-10 performers infielders Maddy Coon and Michelle Smith, outfielder Jackie Rhinehart, and pitchers Becky McCullough and Missy Penna.
"We had a great year last year, however the year did not end how we would have liked. The expectation level of this program is very high. We expect to succeed, and to have a winning program. Our goal is to get to the Women's College World Series and to win a national championship. Our program has been very consistent, and there are things we learned from last year that will benefit us in 2007."
In 2007 Stanford's expectations are very high and another trip to the Women's College World Series is not out of the question.
"This year we probably have as good a balance and depth as we have ever had," said Rittman, who has chalked up a 430-199-1 record in ten seasons on The Farm. "We still have players who are incredibly versatile and still have the ability to play the short game, have power in the middle of our lineup, as well as speed at the top and bottom of the our lineup. Our team can be interchangeable both offensively and defensively, we have a lot of tools and weapons to choose from depending on what players are hot."
With Stanford's versatility, look for the team to use several different lineups during the first half of the season. "That's what makes this team unique. We have only 14 players on the roster but within that 14 players we have a lot of talent and versatility. The competitveness from within our program is what makes it so successful."
Stanford will open the season with its usual tough pre-conference schedule. The team will compete in the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Arizona, the FIU Addidas Inviatational in Miami, Florida, and the Worth Classic in Fullerton, California. The Cardinal will also host the Stanford Classic and two Invitational Tournaments. Stanford's schedule will help prepare the Cardinal for the rigors of competing in the toughest collegiate conference in the nation, the Pacific-10.
"We play one of the toughest schedules in the country and this year is no exception. The level of competition we face prior to conference helps prepare us for playing in the Pac-10, the toughest conference in the country."
Success is an integral part of the Cardinal softball program. During Rittman's tenure as head coach at Stanford, the Cardinal has been to the post-season nine straight years, and during that time has made two trips to the Women's College World Series.
"The loss at Super Regionals last year was very tough on our team, however it will make us stronger this year. All of our returners are very hungry, and have worked extremely hard in the off-season. I see a high level of commitment and focus on this team."
The Cardinal return three players who hit above .317 last season. Maddy Coon and Jackie Rinehart started all 60 games in 2006 while Tricia Aggabao was a starter in 44 of 49 games. Coon, a sophomore, leads all returning players with a .353 average which was good enough for her to gain second team All Pac-10 honors. In addition to her ability to hit for power and average in the middle of the lineup, Coon will be a stabilizing force either at third base or shortstop. Rinehart, a senior, has been a starter since she arrived on The Farm in 2004. Rinehart, who hit .352 last year, has been a consistent performer in the outfield and offensively has a lot of versatility. Aggabao not only hit for a .317 average last year, but the two-year starter showed outstanding improvement defensively at second base. Her passion for the game of softball makes her one of the team's leaders.
The list of other top returning hitters include Michelle Smith, Anna Beardman, Lindsay Key and Erin Howe. Smith, who set the single season homerun mark in 2005 with 19 homeruns, has played in and started 119 games during her two previous seasons at Stanford. Defense is one of her fortes for a player who has played at first base and third base. Two seasons ago, Smith, now a junior, gained first team All Pac-10 honors and second team All-American accolades with a .322 average. Her ability to hit for power and average make her a dangerous offensive weapon in the middle of the lineup for the Cardinal. Beardman, a junior, started all 60 games last year. Her five triples was just one short of the school record. Beardman underwent arm surgery during the off-season and when healthy, gives the Cardinal great speed and power from both sides of the plate. Key, a senior, has the ability to play several positions including second base, shortstop and even in the outfield. The coaching staff refers to Key as the ultimate team player; someone who will do whatever it takes to make the team better. Howe, a junior, has started 98 of 110 games the past two seasons at first base and behind the plate. Howe gives Stanford a strong bat from the left side of the plate.
The Cardinal pitching staff returns three outstanding players. Missy Penna had a successful year as a freshman, and her enormous talent bodes well for an outstanding season in 2007. Last year, Penna led the team in innings pitched (196.2) and her 179 strikeouts ranked her sixth on the Stanford's single season strikeouts list. Penna won 22 of Stanford's 42 games and her five shutouts and six combined shutouts helped chisel an excellent 2.35 era. Penna can also hit (.280 last year) and play first base. Her ability to be an outstanding pitcher and her ability to drive in runs as a hitter spells success for Stanford this year. Becky McCullouch has chalked up a 31-14 record in two seasons at Stanford, good enough to gain All Pac-10 Honorable Mention honors during that time. McCullough has been a stabilizing force in the circle for the Cardinal the past two seasons, and is looking to build on her first two years of success. Lauren Nydam is a two-year veteran who is hoping to return to her freshman season success when she chalked up a 7-2 record with a 1.62 era.
The Stanford coaching staff recruited one of the top freshman classes in the nation, and this year's group of four standouts should make an immediate impact on the Cardinal fortunes in 2007. Heading the list of newcomers will be Alissa Haber and Rosey Neill. Haber and Neill recently returned from the United States Junior National team where they both played an integral part of the team winning the Junior Pan American Games championship in Puerto Rico. Haber can play outfield or first base and will provide the Cardinal with great speed and power. Neill will battle for a starting position at catcher. Her outstanding arm and power offensively will be tough to keep her out of the starting lineup. Shannon Koplitz is a versatile player who can play shortstop, second base and the outfield. Michelle Schroeder has great range in the outfield and possesses a strong offensive game.
"We have proven players who are returning in addition to an excellent pitching staff and an outstanding freshmen class who will create a lot of energy and excitement," said Rittman. "The last two years we have made it to the Super Regionals. We're ready to knock down the door, get back to the College World Series, and put ourselves in a position to win a national championship. That's our ultimate goal."