2007 Softball Outlook
While the 2007 Wolf Pack softball team is young, fifth-year Nevada head coach Michelle Gardner expects the same type of success the team enjoyed last year when the Wolf Pack won the WAC Tournament and made the first trip to the NCAA Championships in school history. According to Gardner, the talent of her incoming players coupled with the experience and commitment of her talented sophomore class and veterans will help Nevada to its goals of winning another WAC championship and making a return NCAA trip.
This season's roster features 11 underclassmen, including seven newcomers, and seven upperclassmen including two seniors, pitcher Tiffany Hoeft-Bass and outfielder Amanda Wise. While the team lost seven seniors to graduation last season, including second-team All-WAC selection Candice Rainwater and WAC Tournament honoree Brittany Lorenzen, the Wolf Pack returns a number of key players from the 2006 team, including WAC Tournament MVP junior Jordan McPherson, All-WAC honoree sophomore Sarah Hunt and 2006 preseason All-WAC selection junior Kristin Stith.
"We have a lot of youth on this year's team, but the young players are very experienced. They have played national championship level ball for most of their careers and have had opportunities and experiences that some kids just don't have," Gardner said. "The newcomers have had success, so they come in wanting to win and knowing what winning is all about. We expect to win the conference again. Winning the conference, along with going to (the NCAA) Regionals and winning, are our main goals."
Nevada returns six starters and 10 letterwinners from last season's squad that finished 33-33 overall (9-9 in the WAC), captured the WAC Tournament title and advanced to the first NCAA Regional appearance in program history. Nevada returns pitcher McPherson, the Pack's career strikeout leader, outfielder Hunt, who led the Nevada starters in batting average last season, and sophomore outfielder Brittany Puzey, who led the team and conference in RBI with 39 one year ago. Sophomore catcher Katie Stith, who played in 61 games with 58 starts during her rookie season, was second on the team in putouts in 2006. Kristin Stith, a 2006 preseason All-WAC selection, returns to the Nevada infield. A junior from Chino Hills, Calif., Stith used a medical redshirt last year after suffering a broken arm prior to the season.
"Kristin's coming off a redshirt season and she is hungry to play and hungry to win. She leads by example, is very competitive and knows what it takes to win. She also has a really good rapport with everyone on the team," Gardner said. "Jordan is another team leader. In my opinion, she stepped up in numerous roles last year and throughout the fall."
Two of Nevada's seven incoming players are transfers, sophomore shortstop Michelle Beach and junior pitcher Richelle Villescas. Beach played one season at Feather River College in Quincy, Calif. Villescas played for Temple University and was named Atlantic 10 Conference Championship MVP in 2004. The remaining five newcomers are freshmen, including pitcher and Anthem, Ariz., native Katie Holverson. Holverson was a high school All-American who won three high school state championships. Fellow freshman, and Holverson's high school teammate, Montana Lucas will join the Nevada infield in 2007. Lucas was a four-time all-region and all-state honoree at Cactus High School.
"Winning the WAC and advancing to Regionals last season gives the team more confidence. It also gives them a little goal, it gives them a little spark for this season," Gardner said. "A lot of the kids have now tasted victory. When you get to where you've had a little bit of success, now you want a little bit more. It leaves them wanting more and that, to me, is the best part of it. We graduated a good class, and a big class, but we've replaced them with strong athletes. The kids I have are hungry and the kids I have coming in have been successful, so they are hungry too. They don't want to come in and fail."
The Wolf Pack returns two pitchers from the 2006 team in Jordan McPherson and Tiffany Hoeft-Bass. McPherson, who led the team with a 2.00 ERA last season, tallied a single-season school-record 246 strikeouts, surpassing the previous mark of 96 she set in 2005 and shared with Judith van Kampen in 2004. McPherson threw 283.1 innings last season and finished the season with a 22-22 record. Hoeft-Bass, who has rebounded from shoulder surgery and a foot injury during her career, posted a 2-3 record last year, recording 17 strikeouts in 41.1 innings. She pitched in 17 games, including eight starts, and ended the season with a 5.25 ERA.
Nevada also welcomes two new pitchers in Richelle Villescas and Katie Holverson. A transfer from Temple, Villescas helped the Owls to the 2004 Atlantic 10 Conference Championship. Holverson ended her high school career at Cactus High School in Glendale, Ariz. with a 96-6-1 mark and recorded 1,028 career strikeouts.
"We brought in Holverson, who won three high school state championships, and is a very competitive pitcher at the gold level. She has a lot of experience and throws hard," Gardner said. "Hoeft-Bass had not been healthy for a couple of years and she is much healthier this year than she has been, so having a healthy pitching staff with the addition of Holverson definitely helps."
Both catchers on this season's roster are sophomores who each saw playing time last season. Katie Stith started 58 of Nevada's 61 games behind the plate in 2006. She finished the season second on the team in putouts with 331 and turned in a .232 batting average.
"Katie has gotten stronger. She worked extremely hard this summer to get in better shape and do some things she needed to do. She's got some potential to hit some long balls too," Gardner said. "She's back and ready to go. She has done a very good job back there for us."
Ashley Nichelman, who played in 15 games with nine starts in 2006, recorded 45 putouts last season. She finished the year with a .200 batting average.
"Ashley is a great kid who works very, very hard. She will see some time behind the plate and potentially could see some time as a designated player."
The 2007 Wolf Pack infield will have a different look from a year ago. Sarah Hunt, who was an all-conference selection at third base last season, will most likely move to the outfield. Incoming freshmen Kelsey Starr (Tempe, Ariz.) and Montana Lucas will each challenge for playing time at third base. Starr, who attended Corona del Sol High School, was a two-time second-team all-state selection and helped her high school team to the 2003 state championship in 2003. Lucas won three state titles at Cactus High School in Glendale, Ariz.
"Kelsey wants to win and she brings that to every game, every practice and to everything that she does. I am really excited about putting her out on the field," Gardner said. "Montana adds a lot in the fact that she is very competitive and wants to be out there. For her, it's going to be being in the right role and hitting."
Fellow newcomers Michelle Beach and freshman Sam Bias (Oakley, Calif.) will push for playing time at first base/designated player and shortstop, respectively. Beach, a Fallon, Nev. native, earned all-state and All-America honors at Feather River College. Bias attended Freedom High School and won four NCS Championships with her high school team.
"Michelle definitely has the potential to see some time and she is going to hit some balls," Gardner said. "What Sammy brings to us is the strongest arm I've ever seen. She is going to be an impact player for us as a freshman."
Sophomore Kym Silagyi (Chino, Calif.), who played second base for the Pack in 2006, could also see time at third as well as in the outfield in 2007. Silagyi started 65 of Nevada's 66 games last year, recording 20 RBI and ending the season with a .259 batting average. She was also named to the WAC All-Tournament team.
"With Kristin returning, Kym might move to the outfield but she might stay at third. It depends on where I think we can use Kym because she is so skilled and can play both positions very well," Gardner said. "It's going to be a matter of what is going to be best for us as a team as to where Kym's going to play."
Kristin Stith, a second-team All-WAC honoree in 2005, started all 53 of the Pack's games in 2005 and ended the season with a .253 batting average. Stith also recorded 21 RBI, six doubles, three triples and six home runs in 2005 but missed the 2006 season with a broken arm.
"Offensively, Kristin is a good hitter. She's also a tough out and she's gotten stronger at the plate each year and this fall," Gardner said. "She has been one of our most consistent hitters this fall, and I can't tell you how thrilled I am to have her back on the field."
Nevada returns three players who saw playing time in the outfield in 2006 in junior Vanessa Briones (Ontario, Calif.), Brittany Puzey and Amanda Wise. Sophomore Sarah Hunt, junior Tyler Schafer (Star, Idaho) and freshman Amanda Nims (Reno, Nev.) will also join the Wolf Pack outfield in 2007.
Hunt, who will move from the infield to the outfield in 2007, started all of Nevada's 66 games a year ago at third base. Hunt tallied 23 RBI and recorded 12 multiple-hit games. She was also perfect in stolen base percentage, going 3-for-3.
"Hunt was an all-conference player at third base last season and may or may not see time there this year," Gardner said. "But Sarah doesn't care. She says, 'Coach, I'll play wherever you want.' The thing I love about Sarah is she works extremely hard and she will do whatever I ask her to do."
A Minden, Nev., native, Puzey led the WAC in RBI with 39 last year, including a career-high six in a win versus Riverside. A starter in 64 contests, she ended the season with a .264 batting average, recorded 51 hits and scored 22 runs. Schafer, who could also see time at first base in 2007, started 45 games and played in 51 last year. She recorded 10 RBI, was third on the team in putouts with 129 and reached base safely on all three of her stolen base attempts.
"Puzey worked really hard this fall, and I am very excited about her being out there on the field," Gardner said. “I think Schafer has gotten a little more mature each year and I think her maturity is going to show this year."
Wise, one of two seniors on the team, played in 30 games in 2006 with 10 starts. She scored seven runs and recorded two hits for Nevada.
"When I need Amanda to go do something she just goes and does it. She doesn't ask any questions and that is what I love about her," Gardner said. "She has worked so hard for me, and I'd like to see her get some more playing time this year. Being consistent will get her that playing time."
Briones played in five games a year ago including one start against San Diego. She recorded two putouts on the year.
"Vanessa has kept a positive attitude and has continued to work hard," Gardner said. "It takes the people that are on the bench as well as the people that are on the field to motivate, work hard and push the others to be better. That is kind of what Vanessa's role has been and she has done a great job for me."
Nims, a local product from Reno High School, was named to the all-conference first team as a prep senior and earned honorable-mention accolades her sophomore and junior seasons.
"Amanda has a good mentality for the game and a good work ethic which I absolutely love," Gardner said.
The Wolf Pack will play its first 27 games on the road and will face 11 teams that are either ranked or receiving votes in the preseason top 25. Nevada opens the season by playing in five tournaments, beginning with the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. Feb. 9-11. The Pack will face No. 3 UCLA and defending national champions and preseason No. 1 Arizona. Nevada will also take on Western Michigan, Texas Tech and Utah in Tempe. On Feb. 16-18, Nevada will play at UC Santa Barbara’s Softball by the Beach Tournament, taking on Northern Colorado, Santa Barbara and Long Beach State who received votes in the preseason poll. Nevada will then head to Palm Springs for the Palm Springs Classic hosted by Oregon State Feb. 23-25. Nevada will face No. 18/17 Texas and No. 12/11 Washington in addition to playing UIC, Maryland and Penn State.
“The very first weekend, we play Arizona and UCLA out of the blocks. I've always scheduled like that because I want this program to be at that level. To beat Fresno State and Hawai'i down the stretch, we've got to play tough competition," Gardner said.
The Wolf Pack will travel to Fullerton, Calif. March 2-4 for the Worth Tournament where the Pack will face No. 6 Oregon State, Texas Tech, Cal Poly SLO and CS Fullerton and San Diego State. Nevada will play in the Bank of Hawai'i Invitational March 15-17, taking on No. 10 Cal, Liberty, No. 18 Baylor and Hawai'i. The Pack will stay in Hawaii to begin WAC play against the Rainbow Wahine on March 19-20.
Nevada will open its home slate at its new softball facility, the Christina Hixon Softball Complex when the Wolf Pack hosts preseason No. 21/20 and conference rival Fresno State March 23-24. Nevada will then step outside conference play for a home doubleheader against Sacramento State on March 29. The Pack will play host to the Nevada Tournament March 30-April 1. Nevada will face Utah and St. Mary's. On April 5, the Pack will travel to Provo, Utah for a non-conference doubleheader against Utah Valley State before returning to conference action with a road series at Utah State April 6-7.
Nevada will face San Jose, UC Davis and New Mexico State during an eight game homestand which spans from April 13-21. Nevada will closeout the regular season in Ruston, LA against La Tech on May 4-5. For the second consecutive season, Fresno State will host the WAC Tournament at the Bulldog Diamond May 10-12 with the winner earning the conference's automatic bid into the NCAA Championships. NCAA regional play begins May 18 with host schools and locations to be announced.
"There are games on our schedule we should win and there are games we should lose, but I think at some point we are going to upset some people," Gardner said.