2008 Virginia Softball Outlook
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – First-year head coach Eileen Schmidt returned to her alma mater in June 2007 to take over the Virginia softball program. Schmidt returns 10 letterwinners from the squad last year and welcomes a group of eight newcomers that includes seven first-years and a third-year transfer. Fifth-year Meghan O’Leary and fourth-year Whitney Holstun have been tabbed team captains and will help lead a young team this season.
The 2007 squad finished 17-39 and was 1-20 in Atlantic Coast Conference play. With a new coaching staff and a new season upon the Cavaliers, Schmidt stresses consistency will play a big factor in the team’s improved success.
“Consistency is the main thing,” Schmidt said. “If we do the little things well, there is no way we are a 1-20 team. That includes fielding the routine ground balls, making the routine plays, moving runners when we get people on, and when they are in scoring position, getting them in. Pitching-wise, we need to hit our spots, get key strikeouts here and there, and alleviate walks.”
Virginia returns three of its four infielders from last year. Only Elea Crockett at second base has departed for Virginia, although Schmidt says with the addition of the newcomers, there will likely be some shifting.
First base will feature a mix of rookies and veterans. Second-year and All-ACC selection Kelly Haller started 44 games at first last season, but will likely be counted on more for her bat in the designated player spot this year. First-year Lauren McCaskey will spend some time there, as well as Holstun, when they are not being used elsewhere.
“We have a lot of people who can play first base,” Schmidt said. “Courtney Pettit, another first year, will probably see some time at first base as well.”
Kierstie Cameron will move from shortstop, where she started 29 games last season, over to play second base.
“She came in as a shortstop and had some shoulder surgery, and I don’t know that her arm as ever fully recovered to the strength as a shortstop,” Schmidt said of Cameron. “But she is such a smart player, and second base is a smart position. She really does a good job of running the field and knows the game very well. She might have a calling at second base.”
Replacing Cameron at short will be third-year Carly Winger, who transferred from Cal-Berkeley. Winger, who played mostly at shortstop as a Golden Bear, will be a nice addition to the Virginia defense.
“Carly started off a little inconsistently in the fall but really settled in nicely,” Schmidt said. “There is a big difference when you are coming in from a major program as a junior than there is if you are coming in as a freshman. So she was trying to find her way in the fall. But she has developed and I think being in the weight room has helped her a lot mentally.”
Second-year Abby Snyder returns at third base, where she started 38 games last year, in addition to seeing some time at short.
“Abby is solid,” Schmidt said. “She’s not flashy but she is very consistent. She makes the routine plays, which is what you need at third base, and she brings a huge bat to the lineup.”
The Cavalier outfield will be anchored in center by fifth-year captain Meghan O’Leary. O’Leary spent the majority of the 2007 campaign in center, while also seeing time at third base.
“Obviously Meghan has been in this athletics department for a number of years,” Schmidt said. “She is just so athletic out there.”
Joining O’Leary in the outfield will likely be second-year Sarah Tacke in right and fourth-year Lindsey Preuss in left.
“Tacke is very consistent in the outfield,” Schmidt said. She has a great arm and reads balls well. You really don’t have to worry about her in the outfield, she just gets the job done. Lindsey is the go-to girl in left because she can probably play anywhere consistently and confidently. She could start at a lot of spots but we always seem to move her around to the spots where we need her, which is a testament to her athletic ability. She works hard and hopefully this will be her breakout year. She’ll be in the lineup all the time, you’re just not sure where you are going to have her. Not many kids can handle that.”
Third-year Casey Steffan, in addition to first-years Jennifer Bowles, Chelsea Granville and Cynthia Javaras, will also see some action in the outfield. Second-year Nicole Koren is also listed as an outfielder and could see time there when she is not needed in the circle.
Virginia has experience in former UCLA standout Amanda Freed to help guide the Cavalier pitchers this year. Freed, a 2004 Olympic gold medalist, joined the staff in the fall and serves as the team’s pitching coach.
UVa returns two of its three pitchers from last season, including Koren and third-year Karla Wilburn. Newcomer Allee Rife is also expected to step up and figure into the mix during her freshman campaign.
“What we are looking for is consistency,” Schmidt said about her pitching staff. “We have some upperclassmen on the mound that can handle that. Karla has been hurt the last couple years, but she had a really great fall. She was consistent both physically and mentally, and that is really going to be a key for her. Whitney also had a great fall. Allee is a lefty, but she is a freshman and will step in and learn the system. We are looking for Karla and Whitney to hold down most of the innings for us.”
With the departure of starting catcher Michelle Salmiery, the duties behind the plate will be passed down to a group of youngsters in Alison Pitman and Lauren McCaskey.
“We are young, which makes the battery interesting because we have an older pitching staff,” Schmidt said. “Both are first-years. Alison is very steady back there. She is very good defensively and is learning how to call the game herself. Lauren, right now, is her backup and has never caught before. But she had a really good fall, as far as the learning experience. I wouldn’t say that is the easiest position to make something into but she is a really good athlete. She came from a great summer program so I don’t think it’s that difficult for her.”
After an eighth-place finish in the conference last season, UVa is definitely looking to improve its record against ACC teams this year. The league tournament begins postseason play and is slated for May 9-11 in College Park, Md.
“The league has gotten better and better each year,” Schmidt said. “Each year it has gotten more teams into the NCAA Tournament. You have to look at Virginia Tech with Angela Tincher. She is a national team-level pitcher. I know NC State swung some bats but they also graduated a bunch of people. Georgia Tech and Sharon Perkins, their coach who came from Georgia, I know will swing a big bat and they will be super tough and scrappy. North Carolina was good when I was here and they are consistently toward the upper half of the pack. Florida State is going to Regionals every year. So it’s a tough conference, but I don’t think it’s one we can’t excel in.”
Virginia will play in preseason tournaments in Arizona, Florida, a two-game conference series with Georgia Tech, then onto events in Tennessee and Kentucky before returning home to The Park for a 16-game homestand March 12-30.
“We are on the road a lot,” Schmidt said. “You break up your season into three parts: the preseason, the start of the conference season and the end of the conference season. And really our focus is to do well in the conference. The preseason is pretty tough between the travel and who we are playing. We just have to get through it and take it one game at a time. We need to keep preparing for the conference season.
“We are home the entire month of March. It’s not spread out. We have to make sure our priorities stay in a line and keep a good perspective on it.”