Last year, the Tech softball team had its most successful season ever, winning the ACC Championship and hosting a NCAA Super Regional. The Jackets finished the season with a 46-15 overall record and a 17-3 record in ACC play.
Coming into this season, the Jackets are ranked No. 13 in the USA Today Poll, their highest pre-season ranking ever. They are also picked to repeat as ACC champions according to a poll of the league’s coaches.
If the Jackets are going to reach their potential this season, and move past the NCAA Super Regionals, they will have to rely on their middle infield to lead the way. Tech returns a pair of stars from last year’s team in senior second baseman Jen Yee and sophomore shortstop Kelsi Weseman.
Both players are among the 50 players selected by the Amateur Softball Association of America to USA Softball’s Player of the Year “Watch List.” Weseman is one of only six sophomores on the list.
Last season Yee led the team with a .415 average and 16 home runs, and she had 41 walks against just 11 strikeouts. Weseman was not far behind with a .406 average and nine homers. It is not uncommon to have a high hit total from a team’s middle infielders, but the large amount of run production is rare from those positions. Yee and Weseman drove in 91 runs in only 331 at-bats combined last season.
“Our offense is the best it has ever been in my four years…we’re going to hit the ball pretty hard. I wouldn’t be surprised if we lead the nation in home runs this year”, said Yee.
As far as the rest of the infield goes, first baseman Whitney Haller was a major producer last year, hitting 12 home runs and driving in 55 runs. Third baseman Tiffany Johnson was also productive last year, posting 11 home runs and 47 RBI while also pitching for the Jackets. Both of those players were seniors last season. Haller has since graduated and Johnson is now a student assistant coach, and the Jackets will have to find a way to replace their production.
At first base, the Jackets do not seem to have a clear front-runner to earn the starting job. Tech only has three first basemen listed on the roster in junior Kristine Priebe and freshmen Rachel Glazebrook and Caitlin Jordan. Priebe is a transfer from the University of Florida, where she made 16 starts in two seasons.
Tech has options at third base. Junior Kristen Adkins saw some time at that position last season, but Adkins is also Tech’s top returning pitcher. Sophomore Danielle Dike will most likely see time there this season after spending most of her freshman season pinch-hitting.
Last season, Tech’s outfield struggled to hit for a high average. This season the Jackets will have to replace departed center fielder Blair Shimandle, who started 61 games last season and had 23 stolen bases. Tech should cope well, though, as a bevy of young outfielders return.
Junior Amelia Beach and senior Kelly Eppinger will compete for a starting outfielder job, but junior Christy Jones returns to patrol one corner outfield spot after starting 61 games last season, mostly in left field. Jones posted a .322 average and stole 22 bases in 2009.
Sophomore Kate Kuzma also returns after getting 99 at-bats as a freshman last season. Kuzma only hit .212 but she did have 16 runs batted in and should improve with one season under her belt.
In the circle, Tech loses their No. two starting pitcher in Johnson, who will be sorely missed this season after going 14-3 last season while posting a 1.92 ERA.
Adkins returns and will take over the top spot in the rotation. The junior went 24-7 last season while eating up 182.1 innings. She also led the team with a 1.69 earned run average.
Sophomore Jessica Coan will most likely be Tech’s number two starter this season after going 8-5 with 102 strikeouts last season.
Junior Emily Schreck from Allen, Texas will most likely be Tech’s third starting pitcher. Schreck missed 2009 after having arm surgery but pitched 12 games as a freshman in 2008, posting a 4.88 ERA that year.
Whoever is in the circle for Tech this season, they will have junior Jessica Weaver catching from behind home plate. Weaver started 48 games last year. Junior Caroline Hilton will relieve Weaver when her knees need a day off.
“[Weaver] brings experience [to this team]. She knows our pitchers well….[She brings] team leadership…if something is going on in practice, she steps up and gets things going the right direction,” said Head Coach Sharon Perkins.
Expectations are high this season for Tech, as the defending ACC champion is predicted to repeat in 2010.
“Someone’s has to have a target [on them]…You still go out and you compete. Sometimes it’s easier to be the underdog so you don’t have the target on you and you go out and do your thing”, said Perkins.
The season’s first pitch is Friday, Feb. 12 when Tech travels to Clearwater, Fla. to take part in the USF-DeMarini Tournament. Tech opens with Long Island on Friday, then take on the No. 3 University of Florida later that day.