Feb. 5, 2013
STANFORD, Calif. - The 2013 softball season gets underway this week and the Stanford team is primed to make a run to the Women's College World Series. Among its core group of veterans, Stanford has a returning All-American and four all-region selections on this year's squad. The Cardinal will endure tough competition as they compete for a Pac-12 title and a chance to advance to Oklahoma City at the end of the season.
Stanford is coming off a 40-19 campaign in which it advanced to its 15th consecutive NCAA Tournament. The Cardinal posted its 13th 40-win season under head coach John Rittman. The Cardinal is seeking its first NCAA title in 2013.
"Our expectations for the 2013 season are very high," said Rittman. "Nothing changes in regards to our goals as far as winning a Pac-12 Championship and competing for a national championship. We've lost three seniors from last year's team who were starters so replacing them is not going to be easy. However, we do have four seniors this year who have stepped up in providing leadership and will be impact players for us this year."
The 2013 Cardinal squad only boasts six upperclassmen on a roster of 18, so the underclassmen will need to provide consistency and stability in the lineup. However, Stanford's veterans have experienced success at the collegiate level and will be looked upon to provide leadership for the newcomers. Fifth-year senior Sarah Hassman will be back at full strength and provides speed in the lineup and outfield. Short stop Jenna Rich is a returning All-American and senior pitcher Teagan Gerhart will be the Cardinal's ace in the circle. Senior infielder Tegan Schmidt will also be asked to take on a greater role in the lineup this season. The juniors, Corey Hanewich and Danielle Miller, have obtained invaluable experience during their two years on The Farm, while dealing with successes and adversity.
Together the juniors and seniors have combined to produce 355 runs, 508 hits, 312 RBI and 643 strikeouts. The group boasts an All-American, 13 all-conference picks and six all-region selections.
"Our first key to success this season starts in the circle," explained Rittman. "We have to pitch well which will lead to more wins. Secondly, we lost some key players defensively from last year so we have some holes to fill. We do have versatility defensively, so I think it is going to be important early to get people settled into positions. Finally, we are going to have to score runs and have some players step up and improve offensively from last year."
Stanford's veterans are joined by 12 underclassmen, led by sophomores Leah White and Hanna Winter. White earned All-Pac-12 and All-West Region second team honors as a rookie outfielder. She led the team last season with 54 runs scored and paced the conference with 12 sacrifice bunts. Winter was a first team All-Pac-12 selection and a second team All-West Region pick as an infielder. Playing second and third base, Winter's 89 hits last season led the Pac-12 and were the most by a rookie in school history.
"Both Hanna and Leah had great years for us as freshmen both offensively and defensively," said Rittman. "They are probably going to be in the top three in the lineup this year, so I think they will build and improve off of their accomplishments from last season. They both have a lot of versatility offensively, and I think the biggest thing we will need from them is consistency."
This year's freshmen include utility player Kayla Bonstrom out of Tucson, Ariz., catcher Jessica Plaza from Huntington Beach, Calif., infielder Kaitlin Schaberg hailing from Lee's Summit, Mo., and pitcher Kelsey Stevens from Albuquerque, N.M.
"The freshmen class is eager to learn," said Rittman. "They are energetic, they are talented and they are going to have to step in and be productive for us to be successful this season."
Rittman, now in his 17th season at the helm of the program, has guided the Cardinal to 16 consecutive winning seasons, made 15 straight NCAA postseason appearances and compiled a .685 winning percentage. With the departure of associate head coach Trisha Ford, who became the head coach at Fresno State, Rittman has promoted third-year assistant Claire Sua-Amundson into that role. Former UMass pitcher and Olympian Danielle Henderson has been brought onto the staff and will take over pitching coach duties. Volunteer assistant coach Leticia Olivarez is back for a second season and helps out the staff in all areas of the program.
Following is a look at the 2013 Cardinal by position:
Leading the Cardinal in the circle this season is senior ace Teagan Gerhart. She has the experience and poise to lead the team again in 2013. She has already written her name in the Cardinal record books, ranking third in wins (80) and strikeouts (628), fourth in shutouts (23) and innings pitched (709.2) and 10th in ERA (2.14). Racking up 205 strikeouts in 2012, Gerhart was 32-13 overall with a 2.89 ERA. She earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention and was named to the All-West Region Second Team.
Backing up Gerhart in the circle this season are sophomore Nyree White and rookie Kelsey Stevens. White produced a successful freshman season, posting an 8-6 record with 69 strikeouts, three shutouts and two saves. She was an All-Pac-12 Freshman Team honorable mention honoree.
Stevens is a product of Volcano Vista High School in Albuquerque, N.M. Her team won two state championships and she was the team MVP in 2012. A four-time first team all-state, all-metro and all-district performer, she holds her school's record for lowest ERA.
Stanford will have a new face behind the plate this season in freshman Jessica Plaza. The rookie out of Edison High School in Huntington Beach, Calif., will begin the season as the Cardinal's starting catcher. A four-time first team all-league selection, she holds her high school's single season and career records for home runs.
Backing up Plaza and moving to a new position this season is sophomore Erin Ashby. She appeared in 18 games last season, playing first or third base.
The Cardinal infield will be led by returning All-American Jenna Rich at the shot stop position. Rich, who has played second base the past two seasons, will move back to the left side of the field for her senior campaign. Rich has solidified herself as one of the best power hitters in Cardinal history. She ranks fifth all-time in home runs (33) and RBI (162) and is currently fourth in slugging percentage (.595).
Also returning in the infield with a year of experience under her belt is sophomore Hanna Winter. Likely Stanford's starting third baseman, Winter also the has the ability to play second. She led the Cardinal last season with a .428 batting average and 89 hits.
Other Cardinal players looking to nab a starting infield spot in the lineup are senior Tegan Schmidt, sophomores Erin Ashby and Lauren Donovan and freshmen Kayla Bonstrom and Kaitlin Schaberg.
The Cardinal has depth and experience in the outfield, led by senior centerfielder Sarah Hassman. After a knee injury kept her sidelined for the majority of last season, Hassman is ready to make an impact as one of the best centerfielders in the nation. An all-conference and an all-region selection in 2011, Hassman is second all-time at Stanford in stolen bases (82) and ninth in runs scored (133).
Also returning for the Cardinal are sophomores Leah White and Cassandra Roulund. Both players finished the 2012 season as starters for the Cardinal. White, who played left field last year, will move to right field this season. She was an All-Pac-12 second team selection a year ago and led the Cardinal with 54 runs scored. Roulund made her way into the starting lineup in centerfield, filling in for Hassman. She will likely make the transition to left field this season.
Other options for Stanford in the outfield include junior Corey Hanewich and sophomores Alyssa Lombardo and Tylyn Wells. Hanewich has been a mainstay in the lineup during her first two seasons, while Lombardo and Wells both saw playing time as rookies.
Junior Danielle Miller was the Cardinal's main designated player last season. An All-Pac-10 Freshman pick in 2011, Miller racked up 65 hits, 46 RBI and 20 runs scored as a sophomore last year.
Rittman also feels that several other players have the potential to be the team's designated player this year, and that the team will have a great offensive balance of speed and power.
Stanford will once again play one of the toughest schedules in the nation. The Cardinal will play 29 games against teams that participated in last year's NCAA Tournament, including a conference series against Women's College World Series participants Arizona State, California and Oregon. Stanford will also play 21 games against teams ranked in the preseason top 25.
"The tournaments that we go to and the non-conference teams that we play help prepare us for the rigors of the Pac-12 schedule," explained Rittman. "The Pac-12 schedule definitely prepares us for what we will see in the postseason. They key for us is to not overlook any team. We have to play one game at a time and take every opponent seriously."
Stanford opens the 2013 campaign at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz., for the third straight year. The Cardinal faces Bradley on Thursday, Feb. 7 to start the season. Stanford's second game of the year is against second-ranked Oklahoma on Friday, Feb. 8. The Cardinal will also take on Portland State, Cal Poly, Indiana and Kentucky during the opening weekend.
With the launch of the Pac-12 Networks back in August, Cardinal fans will have more opportunities to see the squad this season. Seven of Stanford's conference games will be televised live by the Pac-12 Networks, including at Oregon (March 24), versus UCLA (March 28), a double-header against Arizona State (Apr. 6), at home versus Utah (Apr. 26), at Cal (May 5) and at home with Arizona (May 9).
"From a coaching standpoint, we are very excited for the exposure that the Pac-12 Networks is going to bring our team and our conference," said Rittman. "I feel like we have a great product to watch. It allows a lot more people to get addicted to softball. It is a great, fast-paced sport to watch."
NCAA Regional action will begin May 17, and leads up to the 32nd annual Women's College World Series, May 30-June 5 in Oklahoma City, Okla.