Armed and Dangerous: 2003 Wildcat Softball Preview
Nov. 4, 2002
When looking back at the 2002 softball season, it is easy to notice the tremendous spring turned in by the Villanova Wildcats. The team was faced with several key losses due to graduation, but did not miss a beat as they set a new standard for wins in a season with 45. Many individual and team records were re-written as part of this storybook year. With a strong nucleus returning, head coach Maria DiBernardi believes that 2003 may bring Wildcat softball to an entirely new level- the NCAA tournament.
"We've been on the fringe for four years now, " states DiBernardi ,"and there's no forseeable reason why we shouldn't make it this year. I believe we can play with any of the top teams in the country. This team has a lot of depth, game and post season experience. They know what it takes to win."
"The loss of Heather and Karen is huge," explains DiBernardi. "They had a lot of leadership and game experience and will be sorely missed. We'll miss Heather's bat, as well as her defense, and you could always count on Karen to be a leader and to come through with a clutch hit when you needed it."
As they have done in previous years, Villanova will look to its veterans to help fill the void on the field, in the batting order and in the clubhouse. The ever-reliable Sara Carlson and Theresa Hornick look to be two of many key pieces that prove to be vital to Villanova's success.
Carlson is coming off a highly decorated 2002 season in which she was named First Team Verizon Academic All-American, First Team All-Northeast Region, First Team All-Big East, First Team ECAC, Villanova Female Student- Athlete of the Year, as well as becoming the Villanova career home run record holder and posting the second best season fielding percentage for an infielder (.986).On the mound, Theresa Hornick has established herself as one of the top pitchers on the east coast. The 2002 Big East Pitcher of the Year also garnered First Team All-Big East, Second Team All-Northeast Region honors in addition to tying the Villanova single season record in wins (22) and recording her third career no-hitter versus Connecticut (4/29/02).
Joining Carlson and Hornick as team captains is Kriste Romano. This trio hopes to lead Villanova back to the Big East tournament for its fourth consecutive trip. However, with tough competition up and down the schedule, Coach DiBernardi knows that every game counts.
"The Big East is the strongest conference on the east coast. There are no easy games, no sure bets. We are a solid experienced team, and I expect the team to pick up where we left off."PITCHING
In conference play last season, Hornick led the Big East in strikeouts (103) and held opposing batters to a paltry .131 average. She finished the year with a 22-10 record and a 1.32 ERA and tied Villanova's strikeouts in a game record when she fanned 16 Princeton Tigers on April 4.
"We return a seasoned pitching staff with Theresa at the helm," states DiBernardi. "Theresa is a dominating force out there. I fully expect Theresa to have another 20-win season for us."
Taking on some of the pitching load is sophomore Shannon Williams, who is coming off a stellar freshman season in which she led the team in ERA (1.11) and limited opponents to a .186 batting average. A hurler with excellent control, Williams struck out 129 batters and only walked 18 in 113.1innings. She tallied her season high 10 strikeouts in a complete-game shutout of Bucknell.
Also seeing time on the mound this season is sophomore Kristen Haynes. In 2002, she made five starts and logged 13 relief appearances, converting five of those for saves. In her first collegiate outing, Haynes got the win with one-hit shutout against St. Xavier, a game in which she also went 2-for-3 at the plate. On the mound, Haynes finished the year with a 7-2 record and a 1.41 ERA, while hitting .281 and scoring eight runs.CATCHING
Villanova returns its four-year starting backstop in senior Kriste Romano, a smart, excellent defensive catcher with an outstanding arm.
"Kriste is probably one of the best defensive catchers I've seen,"states DiBiernardi. "The way she catches Theresa and reads batters is amazing."
With the exception of Garboden, Villanova returns its entire infield. The front-runner to step in at first base is sophomore Kari Koller, who logged 24 starts last year as the designated player.
"Kari is an excellent hitter with first base experience. I expect her to fill Heather's shoes, not just offensively, but defensively as well, " explains DiBernardi.
Sophomore Allison Wisnewski may also come in from the outfield to see some action at first base.
Returning at second base is Carlson, who in addition to her numerous offensive achievements, also provides steady defense in the infield.
"Sara is incredibly valuable to this team. It doesn't matter where you put Sara, she gets the job done," states DiBernardi. "Her fielding percentage is excellent, and she can hit for both power and average. She is an excellent asset to Villanova, not just athletically, but academically."
Roaming the area between second and third is junior Ricci Lugo. Lugo is coming off a breakout sophomore season in which she set a new record for home runs in a season with 11. Lugo was also ranked among the NCAA Division I leaders in triples per game throughout the 2002 season.
"Ricci covers a lot of ground out there, provides valuable leadership in the infield, as well as hits for power at the top of the lineup, "states DiBernardi.
Junior Andrea Brown will also see some action at shortstop and second base. Brown is a smart player with an excellent arm.
Handing the duties of the hot corner will be sophomore Sarah Wall. Last year as a freshman, Wall made several outstanding defensive plays as well as contributing a clutch base-clearing single against Notre Dame in the Big East tournament.
Spelling Wall at third will be junior Kristen Strait, a solid fielder who will provide an offensive spark off the bench.OUTFIELD
For the second straight season, Villanova returns its entire starting outfield. Anchored by fleet-footed juniors Robin Flier and Lisa Krueger, DiBernardi expects the defense to be solid. For their efforts last season, Flier and Kruuger were named to the All- Big East Second Team.
"Lisa and Robin have started almost every game since they were freshmen. Both have great speed and continue to rack up clutch hits. There are no holes in our outfield."
The incumbent starter in right field is Allison Wisniewski, an All-Big East Rookie Team selection a year ago. Coming off a breakthrough freshman year in which she hit .297 with 23 RBI, Wisniewski will again be looked upon to contribute offensively.
"Alli came in last year and did an incredible job for us. She should step up and do some big things for us again this year," explains DiBernardi.SCHEDULE
Villanova has increased the strength of its schedule from year to year, and 2003 is no different. Starting much earlier than prior years, the Wildcats will play in several highly competitive tournaments in mid-February. DiBernardi had also added some tough non-conference games with Maryland (Mar. 15) and Massachusetts (Mar. 23). Villanova's conference schedule includes home dates with Seton Hall and St. John's (Mar. 29-30) and Rutgers (April 19). The 'Cats round out their home Big East schedule with matchups with Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh (April 26-27). Villanova will hit the road this year to take on conference foes Connecticut and Boston College (April 5-6), along with a trip out to South Bend for a showdown with Notre Dame (May 2). Villanova concludes its Big East schedule with a May 4 game at Syracuse.
"We've strengthened our schedule quite a bit," states DiBernardi. "I'm looking forward to a tremendous season with full expectations of an NCAA bid."