2014 William Penn Softball Preview
2014 Softball Preview
2013 record: 32-21 (12-8 MCC, 4th)
Starters returning/lost: 5/4 fielders; 1/1 pitchers
Letterwinners returning/lost: 10/10
Jennifer Whitehead, Sr., Oskaloosa, Iowa
(First-team all-MCC, MCC Pitcher of the Year, 15-10, 1.74 ERA, 183 K)
Jessica Christensen, So., Marysville, Wash.
(Honorable-mention all-MCC, .357, 25 RBI, 19 R)
Bri Zerley, Jr., Monroe, Iowa
(First-team all-MCC, .315, 30 RBI, 25 R)
Ashlee Dennis, Jr., Loveland, Colo.
(Honorable-mention all-MCC, .270, 35 R, 7 RBI)
(Three-time first-team all-MCC)
(Two-time honorable-mention all-MCC)
Ashley Bezdicek, Jr., Walla Walla, Wash.
Brittanee Grove, Jr., Runnells, Iowa
Malloree Grove, Sr., Runnells, Iowa
Lunden Young, Jr., Lewiston, Idaho
New faces adorn a Statesmen softball squad looking to return to diamond dominance in 2004.
William Penn was 32-21 (12-8 Midwest Collegiate Conference) last year, posting its 18th-straight winning season. A fourth-place finish in the league was not acceptable, though, forcing the coaching staff to hit the recruiting trail.
“Our program took a step back last year,” Head Coach Mike Christner said. “We lost a little of our luster and we are trying to get that back this spring.”
“We went out and had a lot of success bringing in quality players who not only filled voids, but made us better in most areas,” Christner added.
The navy and gold will rely one more time on the left arm of Jennifer Whitehead (Sr., Oskaloosa, Iowa, Biology). The three-time MCC Pitcher of the Year will be trying to cap off a brilliant career with another trip to nationals, having led WPU to the dance back in 2012.
“Jen is one of the best pitchers in the league,” Christner said. “We know what we will get from her every outing.”
The staff ace since she stepped into the circle three years ago, Whitehead was 15-10 with a 1.74 Earned Run Average last year. She struck out 183 batters and will likely close her collegiate tenure with nearly every pertinent Statesmen pitching record in her name.
Christner cannot have Whitehead throw every pitch of the campaign, so he will have to put his trust in at least one more hurler. Fortunately, the shelf is stacked with talented newcomers.
Lunden Young (Jr., Lewiston, Idaho, Physical Education) and Brittanee Grove (Jr., Runnells, Iowa, Elementary Education) offer the Statesmen two very competent and hard-throwing arms. Young was a two-time all-conference pitcher at Pierce CC in Washington, while Grove has had two stints at the NCAA Division I level. Brittanee is one-third of the Grove triplets who have transferred in from the University of Iowa.
“Both ladies have looked really good in the fall and preseason,” Christner said. “They actually probably throw harder than Jen, but need to fine-tune a few things to get even better. This could be the deepest pitching staff we have ever had.”
Returner Veronica Castro (Sr., Riverside, Calif., Elementary Education) and freshman newcomer Olivia Nichols (Hurdland, Mo., Exercise Science) will add depth at pitcher as well.
While the circle seems well in hand, the same unfortunately cannot be said about the other side of the battery. The talent is there, but no frontrunner has emerged in a tight pack vying for the starting nod.
Bri Zerley (Jr., Monroe, Iowa, Biology) leads the group, returning from a first-team all-MCC season. The junior was in left field in 2013, though, not behind the plate, so her advantage is not as big as one might think. Zerley hit .315 with 30 RBIs and 25 runs scored. She enters this year with the best power numbers of any returning player with three home runs last spring.
Returners Diana Cassaro (Jr., Las Vegas, Nev., Undecided) and Jessica Christensen (So., Marysville, Wash., Sociology), redshirt Breanna Armiento (Jr., Madera, Calif., Human Services & Sociology), and newcomer Steviee Grove (Sr., Runnells, Iowa, History/Government) are in the fight as well.
Cassaro hit .257 with four RBIs and four runs scored, while Christensen collected honorable-mention all-MCC laurels after hitting .357 with two roundtrippers, 25 RBIs, and 19 runs.
“Some individuals in this group are better on the offensive end, while others can do more defensively,” Christner said. “This position is wide open right now.”
Amanda Finkelberg (Fr., Sparks, Nev., Biology) will add depth in her inaugural collegiate campaign.
When not pitching, Brittanee Grove will man first base.
“Brittanee is extremely versatile and will do well in any situation in which we put her,” Christner said.
Cassaro and Young may also see time at first, as could returner Ashley Olson (Sr., Norwalk, Calif., Biology).
Second base has been vacated with the graduation of three-time first-team all-MCC pick Molly Miller, giving Sonia Ray (Sr., San Diego, Calif., Physical Education) the ability to move back to her normal playing spot.
The senior will be challenged by 2013 starting shortstop Sydney Edwards (Jr., Galesburg, Ill., Psychology & Biology). Ray posted a .236 batting clip (1 HR, 23 RBI, 14 R), while Edwards was at .213 with ten runs and eight RBIs.
“Sonia and Sydney are in more natural positions, so both should fare better this spring defensively,” Christner said.
Nichols, 2013 redshirt Asia Thomas (So., Moreno Valley, Calif., Elementary Education), and newcomer Beth Barnes (Fr., El Centro, Calif., Human Services) will supply depth at second base. Barnes will join the team after finishing her basketball season.
Jorden Steele (Jr., Tacoma, Wash., Physical Education) looks to have the reins at shortstop in her first year in the navy and gold.
“Jorden is very athletic and brings a lot to the table,” Christner said.
Steele will be backed up by fellow newcomer Brittany Weikel (Fr., Remsen, Iowa, Undecided).
The hot corner will also have a fresh face with Ashley Bezdicek (Jr., Walla Walla, Wash., Business Management) taking first-team drills.
“Ashley is loaded with talent and can handle the position,” Christner said. “She is one of the best fielders we have had there.”
Sophomore returners Katelyn Buckalew (Granger, Iowa, Undecided) and Tori Albaugh (Sigourney, Iowa, Elementary Education) as well as newcomer Gabrielle Braniff (Fr., Olympia, Wash., General Accounting) will serve as replacements for Bezdicek.
Buckalew got her feet wet last year, tallying two hits and two RBIs as a freshman.
Malloree Grove (Sr., Runnells, Iowa, Physical Education) is a lock in left field as her athleticism and quickness will also match well for her to be the squad’s leadoff hitter.
“Malloree plays a great left field and will be a traditional leadoff hitter that we need in our lineup,” Christner said.
High school teammates Danielle Grant (Fr., Soquel, Calif., Exercise Science) and Jadeane Martin (Fr., Capitola, Calif., Exercise Science) will begin their collegiate careers as Grove’s backups.
Outside of Whitehead on the rubber, Ashlee Dennis (Jr., Loveland, Colo., Biology) is the only other returner who is expected to be same starting position as 2013. A two-time honorable-mention all-MCC selection, Dennis hit .270 with 35 runs scored and seven RBIs. The squad’s best baserunner, she had 11 thefts in 12 attempts.
“Ashlee has a lot of experience in center field and we look for her to continue to get better,” Christner said. “Her speed allows her to track down a lot of balls in the outfield.”
As she did last season, BreeAnne Chism (Sr., Fullerton, Calif. Psychology) will again serve as the #2 behind Dennis.
Chism was used primarily as a pinchrunner a year ago, scoring six times in 2013.
“BreeAnne has improved tremendously over the past year,” Christner said. “It has been nice to see her grow in the program.”
Finkelberg will also vie for time in center field.
Speed will face off against power as 2013 redshirt Brittany Skoien (Jr., Glendale, Calif., Elementary Education) will battle Christensen for the starting slot in right field.
“Brittany has great quickness and has improved a lot since coming here last year,” Christner said. “Jessica brings substantial power and has the potential to do a lot of damage at the plate.”
Aylissa Tyler (Jr., Des Moines, Iowa, Physical Education) will add depth.
Christner expects to primarily use Young or Christensen in this non-fielding position.
No matter if they are playing down south or on their own friendly confines, the Statesmen will meet up with some of the best competition the NAIA has to offer during its non-conference slate.
The year begins with a neutral site dome doubleheader versus Cardinal Stritch (Wis.) in Rosemount, Minn. WPU’s spring break trip includes matchups against eight different foes, highlighted by an outing against defending national runner-up Spring Hill (Ala.). The contest is part of the traditionally-strong Mobile Tournament.
William Penn will also host its own tourney for the first time, bringing several programs into Oskaloosa on March 21-23. Twinbills against Saint Xavier (Ill.), Olivet Nazarene (Ill.), Judson (Ill.), and Calumet-St. Joseph (Ind.) will also fortify the team as will an appearance in the Ashford Tournament.
“Beginning with a tough early tournament at Mobile, our team will be challenged all year long,” Christner said. “We will definitely find out where we are at early in the season.”
The MCC’s coaches’ poll showed the skippers are projecting a vigorous fight with four of the perennial powers. WPU tied defending tournament champion Grand View at the top, while 2013 regular season winner St. Ambrose was next and Mount Mercy was also in the mix.
“Grand View and St. Ambrose will always be tough and Mount Mercy has basically its entire group back,” Christner said. “Clarke has a new coach, but should be improved, while AIB, in its first year, and Viterbo, also with a new coach, have a lot of unknowns. I really think it will come down to who shows up each and every day.”
“I really like this year’s team,” Christner added. “Our overall team speed is much better and we have filled in spots with solid players.”
“With so many new kids, it will come down to how we develop them and how they understand our program. We can be as good as we want to be or as bad as we want to be. I really feel like we control our own destiny.”