Feb. 1, 2005
Santa Clara Softball's annual goal has always been to advance to the postseason. The past few seasons have moved the program closer to making this a reality. In 2002, SCU joined the Pacific Coast Softball Conference and finished second in league standings during the 2003 inaugural season. The Broncos did that one better in 2004, winning the PCSC Championship and watching the NCAA Selection Show as a "bubble" team, hoping to make it in. That didn't happen, but the upcoming 2005 season will offer incentive that the league was unable to provide its first two years of existence: an automatic bid into the tournament.
"At the end of the past two seasons we really felt like we earned that bid and to not make it has been a disappointment," said Jaime Forman-Lau, the Broncos' first-year head coach. Forman-Lau was a player on the last two Bronco squads, taking the team to 30 wins each season as a two-time PCSC Pitcher of the Year. "It feels a bit more within our reach, within our control, because we have won our conference and have the confidence to do it again. We are familiar with the teams in our conference, and although it will be a challenge to win again, we've been at the top before and fate is in our own hands to make it a reality again this year."
In addition to winning the conference and advancing to the NCAA Regionals for the first time in program history, Forman-Lau is also working on more processed-oriented goals, helping the team gel, learn what the program is about and develop leadership. One aspect the coach is focusing on is winning the close games against winning programs.
"There are a lot of games we've played against tough teams in the past that we've come up just short," she explained. "On paper it looks like a loss, but we know we were right in that game, winning that game, or should have won that game. Learning how to get through those tough games goes along way toward building confidence and toward how other programs view our team. We have out-performed strong teams in the past couple of years, even if we fell just a little bit short. So we've lined up a challenging preseason once again this spring, with teams ranked in the top 25 and top 50 in the country; getting through those contests will build our confidence going into conference play."
"It's always beneficial to see teams from other parts of the country and to gain experience playing a variety of opponents," Forman-Lau added. "It's almost like a form of preparation for a Regional."
Her excitement continues with the Broncos' next two tournaments, hosted by Fresno State and San Jose State. Santa Clara will play the defending national champions, UCLA, in Fresno and follow with the preseason-ranked favorite, California, at the NIST in Sunnyvale.
The Broncos will host eight teams at Marsalli Park, including local rival San Jose State and regional opponent Cal Poly. Santa Clara will host Sacramento State, Loyola Marymount and San Diego in PCSC competition.
"We're excited to see our conference teams again and defend our title," Forman-Lau added. "We're building up rivalries with all of them from one season to the next."
A key to retaining the PCSC crown will involve team leadership. Forman-Lau said she feels that leadership within the team has wavered back and forth the past couple of season and there isn't one consistent teammate that steps up and helps guide the squad through the tough times.
"We've lacked some mental toughness without that strong type of leader, so I'm interested to see who, in this particularly important season, emerges as a leader. I think they all have the desire to win the conference and do well, but to see who's going to push themselves a little bit further and identify the leadership or take responsibility for the leadership. We need someone to just step up the level of the program in terms of discipline, in terms of toughness, in terms of getting us over the hump to win those games we've lost in the seventh inning or those tough games we've lost by one run. We need somebody to help us reach that little bit of extra."
Forman-Lau's challenge will rest mostly on the shoulders of a quartet of student-athletes that make up the senior class. Vanessa Werner is a fifth-year member and anchors the infield at third base. A dedicated player who is one of the fastest team members, Werner has a great ability to reach base and challenges the offense. She has shored up her defensive skills and may also see time in the outfield in order to better capitalize on her speed.
Kelley Johnson will return to the lineup after missing most of last season due to a knee injury. A first baseman, Johnson finished her sophomore season strong as a clutch hitter and will be looked upon as an offensive threat. Keri Reisinger rounds out the trio of returning players. A competitive outfielder who has made annual improvements in her game, Reisinger's speed and experience will bring leadership to the outfield.
Transfer Daisy Mettlach rounds out the senior class. A catcher from Missouri who can hit with power, the newcomer also could see time in the outfield. Forman-Lau said she looks forward to the different perspective Mettlach can bring, and sees a good work ethic, attitude and renewed commitment to the sport.
The five juniors that comprise the rest of the upperclassmen all have been starters at some point in the last two years and included All-PCSC honorees Jenny Brown, Shannon Linerud and Jessica Clee. Brown is the Broncos' returning second baseman and lead-off hitter. Forman-Lau said "Jenny is not a typical lead-off hitter, but her ability to get on base lends her to that role. She has a great eye at the plate, is really patient and can wear down pitchers. She also very smart in her knowledge of the game and leads us both offensively and defensively."
Brown plays side by side with Linerud, who has been the team's starting short stop the past two seasons. "Shannon is a quiet player, and leads by example. She has a solid arm and is pretty clutch at the plate. She's not a flashy player, but definitely well-respected by everybody in our conference."
Clee will also be a third-year starter, in left field, and brings a "ton of power to the bat," Forman-Lau said. "We're hoping that she will continue to be an anchor in the middle of our lineup, batting three or four."
Goethals has grown from a bullpen catcher to a part-time starter. Her strong glove, knowledge of the game, and ability to work with pitchers will be key aspects as she becomes a leader behind the plate and gains confidence in running the team's defense.
The sophomore class is led by the team's Rookie of the Year, Angela Kabanuck. A natural outfielder, Kabanuck started every game she played in at center field. Forman-Lau said Kabanuck can get a great read off balls, and is very aggressive and competitive. Her strong bat keeps opponent defenses on their toes. Valerie Mock started a majority of the games for the Broncos at first base last season, and could be joined in the infield by Sara Overmier, who will look for more pitching time this season. Overmier is versatile enough to also compete for time in the outfield with fellow sophomore Jillian Cassel. Both are described as having some of the best attitudes on the team, in regard to being positive and selfless and always bringing a strong work ethic. Forman-Lau added that Cassel has deceptive speed that could hopefully catch opponents off guard as she's running the bases.
Five freshmen will join the program this season. Jerrica Castagno of Redwood City was named the San Jose Mercury News Player of the Year after leading Carlmont High School to a 28-1 record with a 0.19 GPA last season. She showed composure in the Broncos' fall season, struggling in her first collegiate outing and then returning the next afternoon to throw a no-hitter.
"I've been impressed with Jerrica," Forman-Lau said. "She's got good velocity and pretty good movement. We're looking to refine her control and hopefully have her become a really strong presence in the circle and one of the leaders in terms of pitchers in our conference."
Maggie Godfrey of San Lorenzo is the team's third catcher and missed fall play due to injury. She did however make an impact with her attitude. Forman-Lau said Godfrey possesses strong mechanics and fundamental skills on defense, and has more pop in her bat than most would expect from a player her size due to incredible bat speed.
Infielders Ashley Blier of Woodinville, Wash.; Meghan Chavez of Burlingame; and Sabrina Franks of Phoenix, Ariz.; round out the incoming class. Blier is described as a versatile infielder who is a strong third baseman, and is transitioning to first for additional experience. Forman-Lau said Chavez has such a love for the game that, "she'd be taking ground balls all day if we'd let her." Franks brings a lot of pop to the bat with her power hitting.
"This team has been so focused on our goals of continual improvement, repeating as conference champs, advancing to Regionals, that we've been challenging ourselves every day in preparation for the spring season," Forman-Lau concluded. "They've transitioned really well to a new coaching style and we're really looking forward to taking this program to the next level."