Feb. 13, 2012
VILLANOVA, Pa. -
The 2012 Villanova softball team enters this season with a core group of experienced veteran leaders who hope to excel this season and find their way back to the BIG EAST tournament. After a tough season where Villanova dropped several close ball games and struggled in conference play, the Wildcats lost just one senior and one other starter from last year’s squad. With so many returning players who gained valuable playing time in 2011, Villanova looks to rebound in a big way and come out strong in 2012.
“I think with so many people returning from last year’s team, we should be really strong this year,” said head coach Maria DiBernardi. “We expect to be mature enough this year to push those games over the top that we struggled so much in last year. I think this team is seasoned enough since most of them have been on the field since they were freshmen and they now know that they need to push just a little harder to get over the hump and win the tough games against the top teams. We had 16 games last season against teams in the top-25 and I think our team learned a lot from playing close games with quality opponents. This season I expect a lot more success by taking it one game at a time and playing hard for seven full innings.”
With just one senior graduating from last year’s team, a majority of the players seeing the field this season will be veterans and will be asked to continue performing at a high level. There are several seniors and juniors on the roster coming into this season, in addition to the sophomore and incoming freshmen talent, so the coaching staff feels it has a deep enough roster to get back to where they need to be in the BIG EAST conference.
DiBernardi said, “Obviously the ultimate goal is to make the BIG EAST tournament, but we need to take the little steps to get there. I want to see this team gain the confidence to finish out games, and the coaches see that the team wants that too. They are practicing harder than I’ve ever seen a team practice.”
Most of that credit, she believes, is to go toward her new assistant coach Gerry Mauro, who replaced long time assistant Linda Goss after she retired following last season. “Having Linda for twenty five years was a blessing that no coach has had, so I felt extremely lucky. However, Gerry has stepped in nicely and the girls have responded well to him even though it was something different for the program,” DiBernardi said.
She continued, “Gerry has been great with drills and making sure the team does them right time after time after time. We are trying to teach them the ins and outs of the game as well so they understand when and why to do different things on the field. We both believe that will translate to success on the field as long as long as they stay loose and play their game in tight situations. Too often last season we tightened up, especially offensively, and we gave our pitchers no room to work. Gerry and I believe our offensive work this offseason will allow our girls to play loose and comfortably in late game situations, which will lead to more victories.”
DiBernardi will also be assisted by her fifth year assistant and former player Sheri Donley. She may take over at first base coach for the departed Goss and will continue to work on improving the outfielders. “Sheri has been great through the coaching change and she continues to be a big part in the development of our players”, DiBernardi said.
With so many veterans around the field, DiBernardi feels it will be a big plus to the program. Leadership should be fairly easy to come by given the experience at essentially every position on the field, and the presence of many seniors. The team named seniors Molly Manning, Caitlyn Delahaba, and Kristi Burlin as tri-captains this season. DiBernardi feels great about her senior class saying, “This group of seniors is extremely close and they each have each other’s backs in every situation. They all work hard and feed off each other, so we are never at a loss for someone to lead our younger players. I feel that we have six strong leaders across the board that has a goal to get back to the BIG EAST tournament. They tasted it as sophomores, and they want to taste it again this season so I see them stepping up all season long.”
The Wildcats finished with a perfect fall record including the City 6 Championship title in preparation for the spring regular season. Villanova will face a challenging non-conference slate at four separate tournaments up and down the eastern seaboard. They will then enter into the BIG EAST schedule and look to re-establish themselves in the conference.
The Villanova pitching staff will return their top two starters in seniors and tri-captains Caitlyn Delahaba and Molly Manning along with experienced sophomore Kaity Sitzman as the pitchers who will throw the most innings. Junior Adrienne Drummond is coming off of a season where she sat out due to injury, but will look to contribute in relief as often as she can. Freshman Ali Angelbello will also vie for innings in the circle as the year progresses.
DiBernardi’s top two pitchers are very different from each other in how they attack hitters. Delahaba’s game is centered around power, while Manning pitches to more contact and relies on a wide array of pitches to get hitters out. Delahaba is quickly becoming one of the most accomplished pitchers Villanova has ever seen. She is currently tied for the all-time lead in school history in complete games with 57 and is 5th on the all-time strikeout list with 517. She would need 201 strikeouts this season to tie Keri Stoller (1998-2001). Last season, Delahaba went 7-21 with a 3.33 ERA in 174.1 IP. She had 145 strikeouts along with 19 complete games, including one shutout. DiBernardi said about Delahaba, “She is a workhorse on the mound and a great competitor. She has increased her velocity and worked extremely hard on locating her pitches. She’s a great leader and will keep us in every game she pitches.”
Manning will be the other top starter on the staff and continue to pitch big innings for the Wildcats. Manning went 8-9 last year on the mound with a 3.83 ERA in 115 IP. She issued just 32 walks and had 11 complete games. Manning is also an accomplished hitter and will be used in the designated player role. She hit .275 last season with two home runs, seven doubles and 19 RBIs. DiBernardi says that Manning is a huge part of the team’s success in many ways. She said, “If we could make three more of her, we’d be in great shape. In addition to her workhorse mentality on the mound, she is also a great hitter. She understands the game better and how to pitch in certain situations. She will be in the lineup for us every day because she is such a valuable piece of the puzzle. She’s a positive influence on everybody and we look forward to that for this whole season.”
Delahaba and Manning will both see a majority of the innings this season as well as most of the starts. The Wildcats will rely heavily on their contributions, but will also look to the younger pitchers for some added quality innings.
Sophomore Kaity Sitzman gained a lot of valuable experience last season despite just being a freshman. She appeared in 15 games, three of which were starts en route to 37 innings in the circle. She also earned a win and a save in her first season. “Kaity came in some very tough situations last year and handled herself great, which will benefit her greatly in her future here”, said DiBernardi, “She will see a lot of playing time this year as our primary reliever out of the bullpen and in some spot starts.”
Junior Adrienne Drummond is coming off of shoulder surgery and will be used in a relief role to spell Delahaba and Manning.
Lastly, freshman Ali Angelbello from Fort Lauderdale adds some great depth to a deep rotation. She will add some quality innings to the staff and will be a pivotal part of the rotation for years to come.
The Villanova infield will have many familiar faces around the diamond that have a wealth of experience in big spots both offensively and defensively. The addition of some young talent will add tremendous depth to an already strong part of the Wildcat team.
There will be fairly limited change in terms of players in new spots, aside from second base. Departed senior Christina Botkins and freshman Brittany Ewing saw a fair amount of innings at second base last season, but several players on this year’s roster have experience at the position so the coaching staff feels confident they will be able to plug that hole.
Junior Amanda Marquez will return to the starting catcher position for the third consecutive year and hopes to rebound from a tough year offensively. She hit .252 while starting every game with seven doubles, two home runs, and 12 RBIs. Her defense continues to be among the best in the conference as she picked off a BIG EAST high five runners last season. DiBernardi hopes that she can be a consistent offensive force to complement her defense. “Amanda is a great contact hitter and we know that she can be that every game for us. She is a great gap hitter who is a big part of our lineup. Her work behind the plate is also invaluable as pitchers love throwing to her because she has great control of the game”, said DiBernardi.
Sophomore Julie Smith will be the primary back-up to Marquez and the first call off the bench whenever the team needs a big pinch hit. DiBernardi said, “She is our most clutch performer and she carries herself with a lot of confidence offensively. We know she can deliver whenever we need a big hit.”
Sophomore Danielle Lewandowski will return this season as a backup catcher and will attempt to find her way on the field in any way, primarily as a pinch hitter and pinch runner.
At first base, junior Valerie Ortega will begin the season as the starter and hopes to continue her success from her first two seasons at Villanova. Ortega was tied for second on the team last year in average at .308 and home runs (2), and was second on the team in runs (20), hits (44), on base percentage (.369), and RBIs (21). “She has a tremendous amount of talent and has some really hot streaks throughout the season, so we hope she can sustain that throughout the season and be one of our most consistent performers”, said DiBernardi.
Freshman Randi Josett from Agua Dulce, Calif. has established herself as a back-up at both catcher and first base with an impressive fall and winter showing. DiBernardi said, “She has some great power and we may need to find a way to get her into the lineup due to her strong bat.”
Junior Taylor Olafson will come into the season as the primary second baseman and the coaching staff hopes that she can fill the only significant hole that was left by any departing players. “She will get any job done that you ask of her, no matter how it looks”, said DiBernardi, “We hope that she can grow offensively and consistently remain in the lineup because she has a great glove.”
Freshman Briana Fujii from San Jose will be one of the back-ups at second base and will likely see a fair amount of playing time. “She is another strong gap hitter that we have coming off of our bench and we envision her getting some innings in the field to gain her some experience.”
Sophomore Ali Lowe will enter the 2012 campaign as the starter at shortstop after playing the majority of the innings at that position last season. She made 36 starts while picking up 17 hits, four doubles, 14 runs scored, and seven RBIs. Her defense is also valuable at such a key position. DiBernardi said, “She has a great arm at shortstop, covers a lot of ground, and has a good sense of the game there. She will be much more confident this year given her experience last year, so she will stay poised in the pressure situations.”
Senior tri-captain Kristi Burlin has been a rock at third base for her Villanova career and will continue to be that this season. She is coming off a monster 2011 campaign where she led the team in several offensive categories. While starting every game, she led the team in hitting (.319), runs scored (22), home runs (9), RBIs (31), walks (17), on base percentage (.411), and tied for doubles (8). She also made just three errors over at third base. Burlin will attempt to establish herself as one of the all-time greats at Villanova as well. She currently is tenth on the all-time home run list with 16, but could move up to 2nd with another strong season. DiBernardi knows how important Burlin is both offensively and defensively, “She is our best all-around hitter in terms of average and power. She is also like a hockey goalie over at third base, nothing gets by her. I hope she has a great year offensively so she gets the recognition she deserves around the conference.”
The outfield will return all of the main players, most of them in similar roles that they appeared in last season while trying to mix in some of the new, younger talent. Seniors Jamie O’Hara and Tessa Braga will consistently find themselves in the lineup as their defense and bats are crucial. Senior Shannon O’Brien, and juniors Taylor Olafson and Julie Smith will also see significant time in a variety of roles in the outfield.
Jamie O’Hara will be in her typical centerfield spot in charge of the outfield and she will look to build upon a strong junior campaign. She played in every game for the Wildcats while hitting .308 with the most hits (48), stolen bases (15), and triples (3) on the team. She added 20 runs scored while being a rock in centerfield and in the lead off position. “She will likely be our starter in center and our leadoff hitter again this season”, DiBernardi said, “She really works hard and listens to how the game should be played. Her speed is a great asset and she is learning to become a more effective hitter”.
Senior Tessa Braga will likely be the starting left fielder and she will look to pick herself up from a down 2011 season offensively. She played in every game and contributed 12 hits and 4 stolen bases. Her defense is the strength of her game, mainly her throwing arm. Coach DiBernardi said, “She’ll always play where we need her and she always works very hard. She could see time in the infield in spots this season as well. She is fast and we hope she can steal more bases and help the team in that way.”
Taylor Olafson, Shannon O’Brien, Julie Smith, and Danielle Lewandowski are all veterans and will all likely see time in the outfield, primarily in right field. All four are very versatile players which greatly benefit the coaching staff when they are making lineup decisions, especially in pinch running situations. Their depth is crucial to the success of the team.
There are also a number of freshmen who will be competing for time in the outfield. Beth Smetana will join the mix from San Diego and the coaches hope to use her bat as it is the strength of her game, and hope to find her some innings in the outfield to help her defensive skills. Elise Samoy Alvarado from Tucson will be a great addition to the outfield due to her speed and her offensive potential, so the coaches know she will be on the field in varying roles throughout the season.
The Wildcats will rely on the veteran experience of the returning starters and add the young talent from the freshman and sophomore classes to form a deep roster this season. The large senior class will be a huge bonus as these players are hoping to earn their way back to the BIG EAST tournament before departing Villanova. DiBernardi is confident that the lessons learned from last year’s tough season by this veteran group will translate into success on the field and a return to the postseason.
The Wildcats open the non-conference schedule against University of Illinois-Chicago at the FIU Blue & Gold Feisberg Memorial in Miami on February 17, and will make their BIG EAST debut hosting Providence on March 31.