Feb. 21, 2013
VILLANOVA, Pa. -
Wildcat softball returns this weekend as Head Coach Maria DiBernardi and her team head down to Florida Gulf Coast University to take part in the FGCU La Quinta Inn and Suites Tournament. The team kicks off their season Friday, February 22, when they face Albany at 10:00 AM. Fans can stay up to date with the team through FGCU's Live StatsPage.
This season, Villanova will rely heavily on their returners from last season as well as their nine newcomers to step up in taking the place of six players who graduated. The team is looking to make headway in the conference in 2013 under the guidance of DiBernardi as she enters into her 29th season at Villanova. Last season, the Wildcats finished 32-24 overall and 6-16 in the BIG EAST.
The Wildcats will feature five seniors who have taken on the task of leading the younger girls in producing a strong season with a hopeful BIG EAST tournament appearance in May. Co-captains Amanda Marquez (Miami, Fla.) and Taylor Olafson (Jacksonville, Fla.) alongside veteran players Valerie Ortega (Ventura, Calif.), Julie Smith (Dana Point, Calif.) and Adrienne Drummond (Broomall, Pa.) look to make their final seasons in blue and white a successful one.
The softball team adds nine newcomers to the squad in 2013. Freshmen Aleshia Ayers (Sacramento, Calif.), Samantha Blemker (Camarillo, Calif.), Stephanie Butler (Barnegat, N.J.), Carly Danek (Des Plaines, Ill.), Sierra McConnell (Katy, Tex.), Shea Palmer (Scottsdale, Ariz.), Kate Poppe (Downingtown, Pa.), Sara Ruiz (Davie, Fla.), and Taylor Secemski (Scottsdale, Ariz.) will all be working hard for time on the field this season as Villanova makes a run for the conference tournament. DiBernardi has high hopes for the new squad as she said, "This is one of the best freshman classes we have ever had Villanova. They bring both speed and power to the lineup and give us the depth we need off the bench that will enable us to make strategic moves on the field. “
DiBernardi also looks forward to seeing what the entire team can do together as she explained, “I am excited and optimistic about this team. They have come together very nicely. The upper classmen have taken the younger girls under their wings and they are working very hard. There is a good chemistry with this team. I think they are in a good mindset and will do the little things… control the controllables, not have too many highs or too many lows and take it one game at a time. If they do that, then everything else should fall nicely for us at the end of the season.”
Despite the loss of six graduating seniors in 2012, Villanova welcomes back a strong slew of returners, including junior Ali Lowe (West Palm Beach, Fla.) who makes her return at shortstop. Last season, Lowe notched the third most putouts on the team with 123 and registered a .917 fielding percentage. Coach DiBernardi had this to say about Lowe: “She is a very smart and strong defensive shortstop with a great arm…she covers a lot of ground in the infield and is a leader on the field.”
Briana Fujii (San Jose, Calif.) returns at second base and offers more than just a great defensive game. Fujii is a powerful hitter who registered 34 hits in 2012 including two homeruns and 11 doubles. Solid first base veteran, senior Valerie Ortega, has started 136 games over her three-year career. A left handed power hitter with a high on base percentage, Ortega recorded a .373 OB% last season and hit a team-high 16 doubles.
Leading the offense for Villanova will be utility player Beth Smetana (San Diego, Calif.). In her freshman season, Smetana led the team with a .399 OB% and had 39 hits, including a team-high (tied) three homeruns. DiBernardi has much confidence in what Smetana can do as a batter saying, “She is an RBI producer and is one of the toughest people to strike out because she has such a good eye at the plate.” Another “tough out” on the Wildcat squad is Julie Smith who is one of the “best pinch hitters in the game,” according to DiBernardi.
Co-captain Taylor Olafson will be strong at second base for Villanova and the team will rely heavily on her speed and ability to steal bases. Olafson went 9-11 in stolen base attempts last year. Fellow captain and seasoned catcher Amanda Marquez’s quick release and great arm will aid the Wildcats defensively in protecting the plate.
The Wildcats will look to replace the pitching duo of Molly Manning and Caitlin Delahaba who combined for 30 of Villanova’s 32 wins last season on the mound. Top returner, junior Kaity Sitzman (Tucson, Ariz.), is expected to lead the way on the mound this season. Last year, Sitzman took home two wins and pitched 32.2 innings, while striking out 15 batters.
Villanova’s pitching staff will also include senior Adrienne Drummond and sophomore Ali Angelbello (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). The two saw little action in past seasons due to injuries, but have pitched a combined 13.2 innings and have struck out 16 batters.
Newcomer Kate Poppe will also be added into the mix with the Villanova pitching staff. Poppe is a power pitcher with a high strikeout ratio and a wide variety of pitches.
DiBernardi looks forward to seeing what this group of girls can accomplish on the mound as she commented, “Our pitching staff is young and untested. They are highly talented and anxious to get on the mound and prove themselves. They have waited a long time to do that since Molly and Caitlin pitched the majority of our games. We have a nice mix of pitchers that will keep our opponents off balance.”
Behind the plate will be veteran catcher and co-captain Amanda Marquez. Marquez has played and started in all 159 games of her career with 825 putouts and a .986 career fielding percentage. She will provide Villanova’s young pitching squad with leadership and support.
Smith and Smetana will also serve as outfielders for the 2013 team along with sophomore Elise Samoy-Alvarado (Tucson, Ariz.). The three returners will be joined by three talented freshmen in Shea Palmer, Sierra McConnell and Aleshia Ayers. Coach DiBernardi has faith in her outfielders who are strong competitors and all “speedy with great arms.”
The Wildcats will feature a lot of flexibility in their utility. DiBernardi anticipates big things from Julie Smith, Beth Smetana, Taylor Olafson and Sierra McConnell who all play both infield and outfield very well as she said, “They give us depth and flexibility… something we didn’t have last year.”
The team is scheduled to open their 2013 campaign with a series of four tournaments that will include 19 games. Villanova will participate in the FGCU/La Quinta Inns and Suites Tournament this weekend, the UCF Spring Fling, the USF Underarmour Invitational and the Delaware Spring Invitational. The Wildcats will begin non-tournament play at Saint Joseph’s on March 19 and kick off conference play at Georgetown March 23-24. Villanova will host their first home game against powerhouse USF March 27-28 followed by a game against local rivals LaSalle on April 1; the team will then head to Princeton the next day.
The Wildcats will continue through the month of April at Notre Dame and at home versus Rutgers, followed by a game at Penn. Mid-month, Monmouth will travel to Villanova and then the team will head to Syracuse for more BIG EAST action. The Wildcats will host Louisville and Temple before traveling to Lafayette and Providence. Villanova will round out their regular season with three sets of home series versus Drexel, Delaware and St. John’s. The team will enter postseason play beginning with the BIG EAST tournament in Tampa, Fla. on May 9-11.