Softball Season Preview: Sights Set On Opening Day
Feb. 17, 2014
VILLANOVA, Pa. - Villanova softball returns to the diamond for the 2014 season with a revamped roster that features a blend of key returning veterans and talented newcomers. With 16 underclassmen and only three seniors on the roster, the Villanova softball team is one of the youngest in the rebranded BIG EAST.
The Wildcats will rely heavily on veterans like senior captain Ali Lowe and sophomore ace Kate Poppe to help the team reach its goal, getting back to the conference tournament with a chance to compete for the title. Back for her 30th season as the head coach is Maria DiBernardi who believes this team's camaraderie and chemistry will be vital for success.
Villanova will feature three seniors who have taken on the task as leaders in the clubhouse. Team captains Ali Lowe, Kaity Sitzman and Danielle Lewandowski have been a vocal presence since the day last season ended, leading the way in offseason workout programs and batting practice sessions. This group of young ladies has instilled a team-first atmosphere among the younger players, which is key to a team with a bulk of their roster consisting of underclassmen.
"There's a whole different mentality and mindset with the team this year. They all feel like they are united and that they're playing together. They're all for one and there is no individuals on this team. They are rooting for each other and I think that will carry us a long way. They want to win and they work hard," said DiBernardi.
Despite the loss of five starters from last season's team, the Wildcats return three of their top four players, including two of the squad's top hitters and their ace who set several pitching records as a freshman.
Co-captain Ali Lowe will serve as the team's starting shortstop for her fourth and final year. Last season, Lowe finished with a team-high 26 runs scored and three triples, while ranking second on the squad in games started (51), at-bats (158), batting average (.304) and stolen bases (6). Lowe also recorded 14 RBIs, six doubles and a homerun.
Outfielder Shea Palmer returns for her sophomore campaign after a solid freshman year in which she started 49 of the team's 52 games. Last season, Palmer led the team with seven stolen bases, finished second with 25 runs scored and third with a .296 batting average.
Kate Poppe returns to the mound as the team's ace after breaking the single season record for innings pitched with 237 2/3 innings a year ago. Last year's freshman sensation capped off her inaugural campaign 19-23 with a 2.56 ERA, including 20 complete games, five shutouts and 256 strikeouts, while holding opponents to a .225 batting average. Against Lafayette, Poppe registered a school record 20 strikeouts en route to becoming the ninth Wildcat in program history to throw a no-hitter.
Villanova adds eight newcomers to the team in 2014. Freshmen Jessica Angersbach (Long Branch, N.J.), Sarah Dnistrian (Milford, Conn.), Ciara Earrey (Jacksonville, Fla.), Lauren Herschberg (Newport Beach, Calif.), Brette Lawrence (Sparks, Nev.), Jordan Prutzer (Collegeville, Pa.), Natalia Segovia (Temecula, Calif.) and Chase Snell (Poway, Calif.) will compete for playing time this season as the squad replaces five position starters from a year ago.
"The freshmen are coming along very nicely. Chase Snell is going to be a really steady player for us in the infield. She came through with some key hits in the fall and she's a real good two-strike hitter. Natalia Segovia should fill some key starting spots for us, whether it's at catcher or third base. She can put down a good bunt and can hit with contact. She has a good sense for the game," added DiBernardi.
Heading into the 2014 campaign, the pitching will highlight the Wildcats as all three starters from a year ago return. Also the pitching coach, DiBernardi believes this group is the strongest area for Villanova and will be counted on to win ball games.
Poppe will lead the charge on the mound this season. Joining her in the rotation will be Kaity Sitzman, slotted as the No. 2 starter. Last season, Sitzman appeared in 25 games and started 14 of those contests. She finished with a team-best 2.46 ERA to go along with two wins, four complete games and a shutout in 92 innings of work. Ali Angelbello tossed 19.1 innings in 13 appearances; including the only two other starts from the pitching staff.
Freshmen Brette Lawrence and Jordan Prutzer are both lefties that add a different dimension to the Wildcats pitching staff. Lawrence won 15 games as a senior and led her team in batting average, hits, RBIs and doubles on her way to being named All-North Player of the Year and First Team All-State in Nevada. As a senior, Prutzer posted 15 wins with a 1.16 ERA, 144 strikeouts and eight shutouts while being named First Team PAC-10 Conference and First Team Norristown Times Herald All-Area.
"I fully expect that our pitching staff is going to be at the top of our league. Poppe had a great freshman season. Sitzman has been pitching for four years; she knows what it takes to get the job done. And then we have Angelbello who had a great fall season and I expect her to be a key contributor. The two freshmen we have are both lefties and add a little more variety to our staff. They will challenge opponents from a different side and both pitchers have a variety of pitches with some good speed. I expect them to be important contributors this season," said DiBernardi.
Coach DiBernardi made an emphasis that competition will take place for the starting roles at catcher, first base, second base and the hot corner. Following three solid seasons as the Wildcats shortstop, Ali Lowe is the only listed starter heading into the season.
Stephanie Butler returns for her sophomore campaign after appearing in 21 games as a utility player a year ago. Butler hit .276 in 2013 and will compete for playing time at second base and third base. Junior Randi Josett had a solid fall campaign switching time between catcher and third base. Josett tallied four hits, including two doubles in only 10 at bats a year ago. Carly Danek is a sophomore that adds solid depth to the Villanova infield, primarily at catcher and third base.
Chase Snell is a freshman from California that has a tremendous glove and can play both second base and shortstop. She excelled in the fall season after being named First Team All-Palomar League as a senior in high school. Freshman Natalie Segovia saw time at catcher and third base during the fall and will be counted on to make an impact filling both roles this season. The California native received First Team All-League honors as a senior and batted .330 or above throughout her high school career.
Ciara Earrey is a freshman catcher who will be fighting for the starting role vacated by four year starter Amanda Marquez. Earrey was a Dean's list member who received All-Conference Athlete honors in Jacksonville, Fla.
Freshman Jessica Angersbach is another that can benefit the Wildcats in several different ways. The New Jersey native can play catcher, first base and third base that will push for time in the lineup. Competing against Angersbach will be fellow classmates Sarah Dnistrian and Lauren Herschberg. Both freshmen play first and third base and add depth for Villanova.
"Ali Lowe is the starting shortstop. You will not find a better shortstop in the conference and she's among the best in the country. She hit very well for us last year and it's great to have her back. Stephanie Butler is our utility player who plays all positions in the infield. Chase Snell will play a lot since she has good range, a good bat and great game knowledge. Natalia Segovia will battle it out for playing time as well," added Butler.
Palmer is slotted as the team's starting center fielder after posting a .963 fielding percentage in 49 starts in 2013. She adds a premier bat with a lot of speed to the starting lineup and will be viewed as a key player heading into the season.
McConnell started 47 games last season as the team's left and right fielder. She hit .209, with nine RBIs and eight runs.
Ayers appeared in 32 games last season, primarily serving as a late game defensive replacement. Alvarado filled a similar role during her 38 games played and scored seven runs in the process.
The luxury Villanova will have is its ability to have multiple players that can serve different roles. The squad features nine players that provide depth to different positions. This season, coach DiBernardi will allow pitchers to hit in the starting lineup and provide support to the lineup as well.
The team is scheduled to open the season with 15 games in the state of Florida. The season will get underway Feb. 21 in Ft. Myers when the Wildcats take on Harvard, Arkansas, Eastern Michigan, North Dakota and Florida Gulf Coast at the FGCU Tournament. The following two weekends, Villanova will stay in Florida to compete at the premier Under Armour Showcase hosted by USF in Clearwater. Among the top-teams the Wildcats will face include Kennesaw State, FAU, Boston College, Western Michigan and former conference rival USF.
Villanova will conclude its tournament schedule with four games at the Delaware Tournament before traveling to nonconference rival, Temple for a doubleheader in the city. After 21 road games, the Wildcats will return to campus and host Georgetown (Mar. 22-23) for three games to open BIG EAST action.
With the new look of the BIG EAST, Villanova's path to the conference tournament is a lot different this season. With only four of the conferences eight teams making the postseason, Villanova will have to stay among the top-half to reach their goal. Benefitting the Wildcats is the luxury of hosting the majority of their conference matchups with Seton Hall (Mar. 29-30), St. John's (May 3-4) and newcomer Butler (Apr. 12-13) making the trip to the Main Line. Villanova will travel to battle newcomer Creighton (Apr. 5-6) and rivals Providence (Apr. 17-19) and DePaul (Apr. 26-27). The BIG EAST Championship is slated for May 8-11 in Chicago, Ill.
"It's such an even playing field in the BIG EAST right now. There are no big guns and everybody is equal. We need to go out and we need to play hard. Take one game at a time, one inning at a time and not look ahead. With the ultimate goal being the BIG EAST tournament, we need to focus on the task at hand and beat the opponents in front of us," said DiBernardi.