Fall ball shows that Lions are loaded
Collegiate softball's fall season operates much like pro football's preseason. The games don't count in the standings, so the primary goal is to evaluate talent for the upcoming spring season. After 17 games of evaluation, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs can be assured of one thing concerning its 2005 softball team.
The Mountain Lions are loaded.
"I don't want to sound cocky, but I think we're loaded," said CU-Colorado Springs coach Scott Peterson.
See? I told you so.
Just how loaded will only be determined by the spring season. The fall did, though, provide a bit more than a glimpse. The Mountain Lions went 15-2, outscoring their opponents 119-28. They were a perfect 7-0 against fellow NCAA Division II opponents with a 43-12 scoring advantage. CU-Colorado Springs' only two losses came at the hands of Division I Colorado State, but even with those defeats the Mountain Lions outscored Division I opponents 10-7.
All of this while getting everybody on the roster ample playing time (remember the evaluation part?). That's the definition of loaded.
The impressive fall shouldn't be a surprise to anybody who had to face CU-Colorado Springs last season. The Mountain Lions went 39-13 with a 23-3 mark in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. They followed that by winning the RMAC tournament, then knocking off three Top-20 teams en route to a 4-2 mark as runner-up at the regional tournament. Seven CU-Colorado Springs players were named All-RMAC which, not coincidentally, is the maximum number a coach can nominate from his/her team. Crystal Krebs was named first-team All-American and national catcher of the year.
The good news for Peterson and assistants Tanya Ramsay, Don Pettrow and Brian Millikan is that the Mountain Lions returned the entire team. The better news is that the entire team has dedicated itself to making a splash on the national stage.
"Eleven of our kids hung around (in Colorado Springs) for the summer. They worked out together and did everything we could have hoped they would do to get better," said Peterson. "They came in on the first day of practice looking like they hadn't taken any time off."
If that were the end of the story, the team's optimism would be justified. But that's not nearly the end of the story.
"We know, because we were conference champions and we have everybody back, that we're talented," said Peterson. "With this recruiting class, that has shown us all fall that they can play, we know we're in good shape."
That recruiting class starts with three pitchers, Amanda Ritchie, Sandra Reyes and Kaleigh Beekman.
Ritchie transferred in from Division I Illinois-Chicago with an upper 60s fastball and the swagger to match. If her 4 1/3 innings of one-hit ball against Division I Colorado State this past Sunday is any indication, she has the ability to be a dominant pitcher this season.
"Amanda, we knew she was a DI pitcher. She's what we thought she was going to be," said Peterson. "She totally overpowered Colby Community College. Those kids were walking away from the batter's box shaking their heads. They'd never seen anything like that before. She's tough."
Reyes is another tough one. During a scrimmage last season while playing for Otero Community College, Reyes held CU-Colorado Springs scoreless for three innings. While that already puts her a step ahead of what most RMAC pitchers were able to accomplish last year, Reyes has improved markedly over the summer.
Beekman, the only freshman of the group, has shown not only the physical attributes the coaching staff already knew about, but had also shown rare poise for a first-year player. She also packs a potent bat.
Combine those three with returners Amber Colton, the team's ace who has again been dominant this fall, RMAC pitcher of the year Brenna Pool and change-up specialist Katrina Maestas and CU-Colorado Springs is likely the only team in the RMAC - and possible the nation - with six pitchers capable of beating anybody at any time.
The infield will also be an embarrassment of riches. Returning are first-team All-RMAC performers Jennifer Dykstra at shortstop and Kara Rainey at second base. RMAC freshman of the year Lindsay Shandera is at first base and Sonia Reyes, who was on the regional All-Tournament team (and is also Sandra's sister) is at third.
So what did the Mountain Lions do? They added All-Colorado performers Sarah Cleland, Anna Berngard and Jodi Berghorn (along with Illinois import Sarah Brisky) to the mix. Cleland and Berngard have already shown plenty of punch, with Cleland belting two fall home runs and Berghorn getting a single and a double against DI Colorado State.
In the outfield, returning starters Brittni Carlson (second team All-RMAC), Charlene Berg (RMAC Tournament MVP) and Sarah Wodniak (.330 batting average). Also returning is versatile, strong-armed Megan Cushman. That solid core will be joined by jet Brianna Workman, the fastest player on the team.
"This recruiting class is everything we thought it would be," said Peterson. "The kids we brought in have shown they can play at the next level."
With so many capable of playing at the highest levels, finding playing time for everybody will be a tough chore.
"It's probably going to be our biggest challenge - how to rotate these kids," said Peterson. "With what we've got, nobody's going to be able to go into a slump for long. Kids are going to be battling (for playing time) and that's going to make us better.
"We've been telling them all along it's all about the team and not about individuals."
Talk to the players and you hear the same message. This year, simply going to regionals is no longer enough. The Mountain Lions want to end the recent dominance of the Lone Star and Heartland Conferences.
"We'll play in the RMAC/Lone Star tournament (Feb. 18-19 in Phoenix, Ariz.)," said Peterson. "We'll get to see where we stack up against those teams then."
But Peterson is quick to remind that such lofty goals as regionals and nationals must be kept in perspective. First, CU-Colorado Springs has its hands full with the tough RMAC schedule.
"Our goal is to win the conference tournament," said Peterson. "Sure, we'd like to go further than that, but there's no guarantee you'll get that chance unless you win the conference tournament."
If the fall season was any indication, the Mountain Lions will get that chance.
UCCS Players/Staff Featured
|Additional News Stories|
|December 27, 2004||Peterson reloads with strong recruiting class||Faced with the loss of seven seniors after this season, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs softball coach Scott Peterson knew that the 2004 and 2005 recruiting classes would be pivotal in carrying forward the national ranking that the current Mountain Lions worked so hard to earn.|
|October 18, 2004||Renovation of softball field begins||The first step of what promises to be a major upgrade of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs softball facility began Monday when team members began painting the bleachers at what used to be Four-Diamonds Sports Complex's Red Field.|
|June 2, 2004||Softball finishes 10th nationally||To the long string of firsts attained by the 2004 University of Colorado at Colorado Springs softball team, add one more.A Top-10 national ranking.The Mountain Lions finished the season ranked 10th in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division II poll, which was released Wednesday. The NFCA is responsible for the official softball rankings of the NCAA.CU-Colorado Springs was unranked until the final poll. The Mountain Lions, however, gained national notice by knocking off three nationally ranked teams at the South Central regional tournament on their way to a second-place finish. That the South Central regional winner, Angelo State, went on to win the national championship also helped CU-Colorado Springs in the voting.|
|May 17, 2004||Powerful recruiting class bolsters Mountain Lions||If the coaches in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and the Southwest Region thought the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs' run to the RMAC title and the regional championship game was a one-time fluke, they'll need to reevaluate that assessment. Not only did the Mountain Lions graduate no seniors, but they also will get back a star pitcher and have signed one of the strongest recruiting classes in school history.|