2004 Softball Outlook
At 10 a.m. on February 20, 2004, the UMBC softball team will finally begin to face the challenges of the new season.
After completing a highly successful five-year run in the Northeast Conference, in which UMBC posted an incredible 78-26 (.750) league record while capturing two conference titles, the Retrievers get ready to face the challenge of joining the highly competitive America East Conference.
Head Coach Joe French, too, faces a new challenge. After winning his 300th career game in 2003, and recording back-to-back 40-win seasons during his first two years as the Retriever coach, he now enters a new league with seven rookies on his starting lineup.
"With the loss of All-Conference player Lisa Boone, hard-hitting Lauren Hebb, experienced starters Christy Sheppard, Abbie Kahn, Christina French, and Lara Seamon, someone will need to step up offensively to replace the productivity in the batting order," French said. "Defensively, we're brand new up the middle, but most of all, we're untested as a group."
The Retrievers, however, have a solid foundation to form a new beginning. Returning for 2004 will be sophomore pitchers Lauren Nicholson and Amy Sadowl, who are currently tied for the school's single season record in wins. 2002 NEC Rookie of the Year and 2003 NEC Player of the Year Kristie Pickeral will also be back in the lineup, posing a long-ball threat to the opponents.
In addition, Coach French believes that the newcomers are very talented. "With plenty of speed and athleticism out in the field and on the bases, I'm confident that we will be a strong contender in the America East."
French feels that pitching will be the Retrievers' number one strength this season, as both his #1 and #2 starters from last year, sophomores Nicholson and Sadowl, will be returning to the rotation. In 2003, both pitchers broke into college softball with a bang, winning 18 games apiece, and leading UMBC to a regular season conference title. They will be the 1-2 starters again this year, followed by freshman Kelly Claar at the #3 spot. Claar, a highly recruited player from Federal Way, Washington, might also see some time as a closer, in addition to being the team's 'cleanup' batter. The Retrievers' fourth pitcher, freshman Jessica Taylor, will primarily come out of the bullpen as a reliever.
When not pitching, Claar will also be the team's designated hitter. However, when she is included in the lineup, French might give Sadowl, and freshmen Heather Bennett and Kristi Troster a chance to bat.
Defensively, UMBC's youth will show as only two starting position players from the 2003 season will be returning to the field. Senior Jen Sanfilippo, who saw action in 11 games last year, and sophomore Jessica Keenan will be splitting time behind the plate. Newcomer Bennett might also see some time as a catcher.
Senior tri-captain Crystal Beveridge, who played in right field last year before suffering a shoulder injury, will move to first base this season. Her backups include Claar and newcomer Nicole Stanke, who currently has an injured rotator cuff, but should be ready to play by March.
Alternating at second base will be freshmen Gina Olivieri and Troster. Olivieri, an All-State player from New York, has line drive power, while Troster, who received America East All-Rookie honors for field hockey, will try to add to her accolades on the softball field. When healthy, Stanke might also see time in this position.
Junior tri-captain Pickeral, the school record holder in single season RBI's, will begin her third season as a starter at third base. Pickeral, who posted 12 homeruns and 59 RBI's last year, is on pace to set the school career records for those categories by the end of 2004.
UMBC's starting shortstop this season will be freshman Reilly Ward, a key recruit who enjoyed a great fall season. Troster, a versatile infielder with a strong bat will be her backup.
The outfield will see some familiar faces in senior tri-captain Sarah Crowell, and junior Amanda Bile. Crowell, who started 56 of last season's 60 games will return to right field, while Bile, who saw time as an outfielder and designated hitter in 2003, will be the leadoff hitter and secure the left field position. Newcomer Tara Lindsey, an ASA Gold All-American at Blinn Junior College last season, will join the veterans as a possible centerfielder. Megan Oursler, another junior college transfer who received All-Region honors, will challenge all three for time in the outfield, as might Olivieri.
With UMBC's move to the tough America East Conference, the Retrievers will look to contend with perennially strong teams such as Boston University, Albany, Maine, and Stony Brook, each of whom play strong national schedules each year. "Hopefully, the four tournaments that we are participating in during the first two months will help prepare the team for league play," said French. Games against non-conference teams such as East Carolina, George Mason, Fordham, Niagara, and Delaware should aid the Retrievers in taking on their new challenge.