Spring college softball preview
Minnesota Duluth Coach: Jen Banford, second season 2006 record: 25-20, 3-9 North Central Conference Current record: 9-11 Conference opener: Sunday at Nebraska-Omaha Key returners: Gina Zech (Jr., 1B), Ellen Colby (Sr., C), Nikki Jensen (Sr., OF),...
Coach: Jen Banford, second season
2006 record: 25-20, 3-9 North Central Conference
Current record: 9-11
Conference opener: Sunday at Nebraska-Omaha
Key returners: Gina Zech (Jr., 1B), Ellen Colby (Sr., C), Nikki Jensen (Sr., OF), Jess Horne (Jr., P) and Myriam Trepanier (So., OF).
Outlook: The Bulldogs didn't have any seniors last year but that doesn't mean the entire team is back, as several players left after Banford's first season, part of what she called a natural turnover under a new coach. They've been replaced by a talented class of seven freshmen and junior college transfer Sonja Muck. The freshmen class includes Sarah Kabes, local products Val Hartel (Hermantown) and Whitney Olson (Proctor), and up-and-coming 5-foot-11 pitcher Kristin Danielson, who is 5-4 with a 1.27 ERA while splitting time with Horne on the mound. The team has struggled to hit for average, batting .246, but has shown glimpses. UMD lost 1-0 to defending NCAA Division II national champion Lock Haven (Pa.) on the Bulldogs' spring trip, one year after being one of only three teams to beat the Bald Eagles. UMD has only two seniors, Colby and Jensen. "We're still young, but we're not using that as an excuse. Every game we've competed and know what it takes to win," Banford said. "It's definitely been an easier transition this year. The players know what to expect this year and I know what to expect of UMD. Each year we look to get stronger with our recruiting classes and on any given day we can compete with anybody."
Coach: Jen Walter, eighth season
2006 record: 37-9, 14-0 Upper Midwest Athletic Conference
Current record: 6-8
Conference opener: Wednesday at Northwestern
Key returners: NCAA Division III third-team All-American Erica (Bond) Kozacek (Sr., OF), Rilee Dawson (Sr., P/1B), Amy Jansen (So., P) and Gina Garramone (So., C).
Outlook: The Saints have a lot of new faces, with Kozacek the only returning starter from a team that advanced to the NCAA Division III regionals. CSS graduated one of the most talented classes in school history, led by Laura Heise, Division III's all-time strikeout leader and an exceptionally talented hitter. St. Scholastica was the preseason favorite to win its ninth straight regular season UMAC title. The Saints have gone a combined 39-1 in conference play the last three years and have won five straight UMAC postseason tournament titles. Dawson and Jansen have split time on the mound, with Jansen throwing harder but with less control. Garramone (.500) , Dawson (.389, 12 RBIs) and Kozacek (366, 13 RBIs) lead the team in hitting, while Chelsey Weiss (.319, 12 R) is part of a class of seven freshmen and has emerged in the leadoff spot. "Last year's group set pretty much every record in our book over the last four years and you can't replace them, and you're not trying to," Walter said. "This team has talent, but it's just going to take a little time for them to find themselves."
Coach: Roger Plachta, seventh season
2006 record: 22-16, 7-5 Wisconsin Intercollegiate AthleticConference
Current record: 10-8
Conference opener: April 14 at Wisconsin-Whitewater
Key returners: Senior captains and 2006 all-conference selections Erin Kegley (2B), Katie Moench (SS) and honorable mention Jamie Lovstad (C).
Outlook: The Yellowjackets are picked to finish fourth in the WIAC after returning seven starters and losing only three letterwinners. Three-time defending champion Wisconsin-Eau Claire is the preseason conference favorite and was ranked fifth nationally to start the season. UWS got the only other first-place vote in the WIAC preseason poll. ... UWS has played tougher competition on its annual Florida spring trip in recent years to better prepare for an always-difficult conference schedule, with sophomores Jen Reid and Nichole Tessier have logged the majority of innings on the mound. Plachta also tries to schedule as many games as possible on the trip, knowing Northland weather. "I don't know if we're ever going to play a home game," Plachta joked during Tuesday's snowstorm. "I figured we could get rained out, but not snowed out."