Batter up: Softball tees off Friday
Published: Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, February 9, 2011 17:02
The softball team has to set its standards high in the beginning of its tenth season.
That's what head coach Renee Luers-Gillispie said before the Knights begin their season on Friday in Los Angeles against Utah State and play against the defending national champion UCLA on Saturday night.
Standards couldn't get any higher.
"I think you have to face the tougher teams early on to see what you're made of, and that really does give you a chance to prepare for conference [play], and to us, conference is everything," Gillispie said.
UCF went 36-23 last season, beating top-ranked programs Nebraska and Alabama, and were 16-7 in Conference USA. The Knights lost to East Carolina in the C-USA Championship but still played in the NCAA Tournament.
"We're back in the same mode we were in last year," Gillispie said. "I have the same fears, the same concerns that we had last year, and you won't know until you play that first game where exactly you're going to be."
Throughout the 10 years that the softball team has been a varsity program, Gillispie has been the head coach and the Knights have come a long way.
"I think now that we've kind of set the stage, we are expected to do that every year," Gillispie said.
Gillispie said that the team has proved that their successes haven't been flukes.
"Overall nationally I think we're being recognized for being a team that's here now," Gillispie said.
The Knights' top pitcher last year, Ashleigh Cole, graduated after going 24-14. The Knights are hoping that pitchers Diana Rojas and Ashley Schmitt are able to help carry the team to the NCAA Tournament in Cole's absence. Rojas had some pitching experience last season, going 2-2, while Schmitt went 2-1.
Mary Huff and Lacey Dinney, junior transfers, will also pitch for the Knights. Dinney and the Spartanburg Methodist College softball team went to Nationals her freshman year.
Haley Douglas rounds up the pitching staff. Douglas, the only freshman on the team, is from California and will have her entire family in the stands at this weekend's tournament.
The rest of the Knights are practicing two positions each.
"We are fighting through a few injuries early on, which is tough," Gillispie said. "That's why we have so many players playing so many different positions. In case we do have something go down, we have a backup in every position."
Returning star Tiffany Lane has been practicing at shortstop and in the outfield. Lane made the All-C-USA First Team last season and is on the All-C-USA Preseason Team.
Natalie Land, who joined Lane on the C-USA First Team, will be playing second base and shortstop. Land also made the ESPN Academic All-District III Second Team and the C-USA All-Academic Team.
"Abby is a solid player; I wish I had nine of her," Gillispie said. "She's what you consider our true leader."
Should a player get injured, Gillispie can rotate the infield to fill positions.
Offensively, Gillispie said the Knights should be OK. The Knights beat teams several times in the fall by 14 or 15 runs.
"Our fall was probably the best fall offensive year we've had," Gillispie said. "We hadn't had that in the past, we hadn't had that kind of offensive strength."
After a junior-college intensive fall season in which the Knights rolled to multiple big wins, the pressure starts early at this weekend's Stacy Winsberg Memorial Tournament.
"Now is the time to see when they're in that pressured situation," Gillispie said. "We always joke that it's not pressure, it's opportunity. When they have that opportunity to really shine at the plate, are they going to be able to do it."