No. 3 GVSU softball starts anew
Lakers look for new players to step up sans Martin
“Every day is a new opportunity,” Cleveland Indian pitching great and first ballot MLB hall of famer Bob Feller once remarked. “You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again.
“That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.”
Softball is no different, and as the Grand Valley State University softball team embarks upon the 2014 season, the challenge at hand will be to both continue to build on past success while starting again with a new team and style currently under development.
Out with the old
The Lakers finished 46-9 in 2013 as one of four final Division II collegiate softball teams left playing in late May.In 2014, GVSU will begin the season where last year’s ended, ranked No. 3 in the preseason National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) poll behind defending champion Central Oklahmoma and runnerup Kutztown, with aspirations to return to the NCAA World Series tournament for the second time since 2002.
“I know everybody is excited to get back on the field,” said senior Brittany Taylor, who will make the jump from left field to center this season. “We have a lot to prove after finishing the way we did last year and we’re excited to show that GVSU is still a top-ranked team for a reason, even though we’re different than we were.”
The Lakers will also begin 2014 without the services of a 2013 senior class comprised of center fielder and leadoff hitter Nellie Kosola, second baseman Kayleigh Bertram, pitcher Hannah Santora, catcher Emily Holt, right fielder Emily Jones, utillity players KC Christopher and Maggie Kopas and GVSU’s very own ‘Sultan of Swat’, designated cleanup hitter Katie Martin.
Kosola holds the school record for triples and is second in both career hits and runs scored; she was an Daktronics All-American honorable mention last season.
Bertram is ninth in GVSU history in career at-bats, hits, runs and RBI at GVSU, eigth in total bases, sixth in career home runs and fourth in career doubles; she was an All-GLIAC honorable mention performer last season.
Jones is third in GVSU history in career doubles, seventh in home runs and 10th in slugging percentage; she started every game for the Lakers and was second in the GLIAC in doubles last season.
Holt commanded the backstop and anchored a pitching staff that featured both an All-GLIAC first team and second team selection, while throwing out a GLIAC-best 13 attempted base stealers with just two errors; she was also an All-GLIAC honorable mention performer last season
Santora won 26 games, which paced the GLIAC and was the third highest win total in GVSU history; she was named to the All-Midwest Region second team last season.
And Martin, well she’s GVSU’s record holder in career batting average (.438), hits (300), runs (188), doubles (72), RBI (240), total bases (555), walks (115), on-base percentage (.517), slugging percentage (.810) and has tattooed more home runs (59) than any other student-athlete, male or female, in GLIAC history; she became the first-ever two-time recipient of the Daktronics National Player of the Year award last season.
That’s attrition of not only four years of record breaking experience, but also of 325 of 449 hits (72.83 percent), 62 of 83 doubles (74.7 percent), seven of 11 triples (63.63 percent), 32 of 50 home runs (64 percent), 90 of 159 walks (56.6 percent), 470 of 704 total bases (66.76 percent), 199 of 280 RBI (71.1 percent), 174 of 307 runs scored (56.68 percent), half of the starting pitching rotation and 880 of all 1,454 (60.52) percent of all at-bats taken last season.
“We’re not really looking at it as replacing them or living up to what they did, but focusing on what we do best and making that work for this team this year,” senior first baseman Tonya Calkins said. “Initially we thought that we had to replace Katie Martin with home runs and replace Nellie Kosola with the amount of triples she hit, but in reality, we just have to play our own game.
“I have to do what I do best, Miranda has to do what she does best, Brittany and Briauna have to do what they do best and the pieces will fall into place as they should.”
With the understanding that last season is over, and that replacing irreplaceable players and over 50 percent of a team’s production is a daunting challenge, the Lakers’ will begin to address concerns in more detail as the snow melts and the fields slowly (and hopefully surely) begin to thaw.
In with the new
And as the winter evolves into spring, so too will the Lakers. From a power-orientated team with a rigid identity that slugs to score to a speed-orientated team in flux that gets on-base and manufactures runs through small ball tactics.
A new team with different players and the same goals — to be competitive in the GLIAC and gain entry into an NCAA regional.
“I told the girls last year was a great year, but that one’s finished and we go from here,” GVSU skipper Doug ‘Doc’ Woods said. “We’ll just try to do the best we can and I think we have a good core of players to work with to put together a good season.”
A core of five seniors return to the diamond for the Lakers, including Brittany Taylor, her twin sister Briauna, Calkins, Miranda Cleary and Kayla Hurd.
Briauna Taylor, a three-time All-GLIAC first team short stop, will man the hole once again for the Lakers and will look to steady the lineup. Calkins and Cleary, an All-GLIAC first team third baseman, will once again cover the corners, providing GVSU with a steady and seasoned infield.
Freshman Jenna Lenza will be the likely replacement for Bertram at second base.
Last season, the outfield composed of Brittany Taylor, Kosola and Jones started every game for the Lakers, although this season, only Taylor returns. Competition has been steep in the early weeks for the other two outfielder jobs and permanent starters likely won’t be named until the conclusion of the squad’s spring break trip to Florida.
Sophomores Chelsea Horvath, a primary pinch-runner last year, and McKenze Supernaw are early favorites, although a fleet of freshman, including Kelsey Dominguez, Ali Vander Meer and Megan Downey and dual-sport athlete Janae Langs, should also factor in.
Sophomore Marianna Deppe, who was injured as a freshman, will take over primary catcher’s duty, while sophomore Taylor Fris will take on the unenviable task of replacing Martin at DH.
“I’m really excited to see how we all fit,” Briauna Taylor said. “I think we have all the talent in the world. It’s just a matter of whether not we can put it all together and play a good softball game. I think we have the goods to compete in the GLIAC and the nation, but it will be interesting to see how we come together as a team.”
Offensively, between the corners and the Taylors, GVSU returns 137 hits (30.51 percent), 17 doubles (20.5 percent), four triples (36.36 percent), 15 homers (30 percent), 59 walks (37.1 percent), 267 total bases (37.92 percent), 74 RBI (26.42 percent), 107 runs scored (34.85 percent) and 423 at-bats (29 percent) of last year’s take.
Briauna Taylor will enter her last go around at GVSU in any sport ranked fourth in career batting average (.387) and slugging percentage (.613), fifth in home runs (22), and eighth in on-base percentage (.436). Cleary is currently ranked third in Laker career history in home runs (37), fifth in RBI (127) and slugging percentage (.582), and ninth in walks (63).
Only this season, instead of making ticker-tape parade rounds along the base paths following towering home run shots, they’ll be asked to produce in new and different ways.
“Us seniors, we laugh about it,” Calkins said. “‘We’ll ask Doc, ‘wait, what’s a bunt?’. We haven’t had to do that much in the past, and we’re working on changing the game. Our game.”
“We’re not going to sit and wait for someone to hit a home run — we may have to be more aggressive on the base paths then we were. Last year, we could get some people on and wait for an extra-base hit and we may not have that luxary this year. We may have to start to hit-and-run more, and different things along those lines.”
Sophomore Sara Andrasik, who last year was named GLIAC freshman of the year and an All-America honorable mention after going 20-4 with a 1.59 ERA, 161 strikeouts and two no-hitters in 149.2 innings pitched, will take over as the Lakers’ No. 1 starter.
Hurd as well as junior Sarah Wyse, fresh face junior Lauren Gevaart and freshman Ellie Balbach will help to fill in the gaps on the mound.
“We’re fortunate to have Sara Andrasik back — a freshman pitcher who won 20 games — and that’s a big help right there,” Woods said. “I think her confidence level from last year has really grown, she’s matured and I told her that’s she basically going to be the workhorse of the staff this year. I think she relishes that opportunity.
“As for the rest of the staff, we just hope for organic development — we’re going to have to see how that develops.”
A new spring
The Lakers will begin their season Saturday and Sunday with an indoor tournament at the Rosemont Dome just outside of O’Hare airport in Rosemont, Ill. GVSU will face off against Winona State and Lewis Saturday, Upper Iowa and Wisconsin-Parkside Sunday — all Divsion II opponents — as they begin to put the pieces together.
It will be the first time the Lakers have played before their Florida trip in Woods’ tenure, which this year will be scheduled to commence Mar. 1 and be played through Mar. 9.
It will be the first in four years that the Lakers have started a season without Martin and crew on the roster.
It will be the 2014 squad’s first time to play a real game together, and GVSU’s first official game back since a 7-2 loss to Kutztown in last year’s semifinal. An opportunity to move on, to build fresh and start in on a new season — and the Lakers are excited to have it.
“We lost a chunk of key players so a lot of it will be getting a feel for everyone and how they play so that we’re able to play as a team,” Cleary said. “I think for our seniors, it’s a challenge to lead by example — we have to teach just like we were taught — and get that team chemistry to way it was before. We had a team that played together for close to three years and that can be faked or put together overnight. We have the talent, it’s just putting it together.
“With that in mind, we’ll just take each play, each hit, each swing one at a time. We’re a young team and if we try to do too much, I think we’ll get ahead of ourselves. We’ll take it game by game, not fixate on the big picture and focus instead on each individual goal. And as long as we play together, we can go as far as we need to go.”
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