Feb. 17, 2011
VILLANOVA, Pa. -
The Villanova softball team is set to open the 2011 season this weekend at the Homewood Suites/Hilton Garden Inn FGCU Tournament. The tournament is being hosted by Florida Gulf Coast University in Ft. Myers, Fla.
The Wildcats will open play on Friday, Feb. 18 against St. Louis at 9:00 a.m. and follow with South Carolina at 11:15. On Saturday, Feb. 19 Villanova will take on Michigan State at 1:30 and see the Gamecocks again at 3:45. The `Cats conclude the tournament on Sunday, Feb. 20 at 11:15 a.m. against host FGCU.
Villanova brings a deep infield into the 2011 season and are one of the strongest defenses that head coach Maria DiBernardi has had on the field. The focus offensively for the season will be timely hitting, something the Wildcats are capable of.
Last season the Wildcats made a strong push in the latter half of the season to advance to the BIG EAST Tournament for the first time since 2005. They finished the season 27-28 overall and were 12-10 in the BIG EAST. Villanova concluded the regular season on a nine-game win streak to earn the No. 4 seed in the tournament, but was ousted in the first round by eventual tournament champion Syracuse.
Villanova was picked seventh in the preseason conference coaches' poll, but will look to finish the conference season in a higher position. The `Cats lose two from their starting infield in second team All-BIG EAST honoree Danielle Maricle and Jess O'Boyle, but have two all conference players returning; sophomore Valerie Ortega who was a second team selection and catcher Amanda Marquez who was named to the third team last season.
DiBernardi expects on-field leadership to come from lone senior and co-captain Chrsitina Botkins as well as the junior class including co-captain, pitcher Caitlyn Delahaba. Delahaba will lead on the mound with help from fellow starting pitcher and classmate Molly Manning. Manning was a second team All-Mideast Region selection in 2010 and will also hit for Villanova.
Junior Tessa Braga will return to her role in the infield and will start out at shortstop for the Wildcats. Classmate Kristi Burlin will resume her starting role at third base and pick up offensively where she left off last season.
Junior Shannon O'Brien will likely be Villanova's lead-off hitter and play in the outfield. O'Brien is a hard slapper with a great eye at the plate that could help get the `Cats rolling offensively. Classmate Jamie O'Hara will join her in the outfield and provide the squad with multiple hitting options.
Redshirt freshman Taylor Olafson returns to the lineup after redshirting last season. Olafson was injured in the first weekend of play and sat out for the remainder of 2010. She had a phenomenal fall and makes good contact with the ball, so DiBernardi expects her to be a tough out at the plate.
Ortega returns to first base, a role she stepped into last season for the conference portion of the season. She is a left-handed power hitter who can make good contact with the ball.
The Wildcats will face a tough out-of-conference schedule this season, but it is set to prepare them for BIG EAST play which begins March 26 at Louisville.
Follow livestats for the Wildcats this weekend at the tournament central page. The link can be accessed at the top of this page.