Feb. 7, 2006
Santa Clara, Calif. - The Santa Clara softball team is done coming close. In 2004, the Broncos the captured the PCSC title but fell just short of an NCAA at-large berth. In 2005, the Broncos came within a single out of knocking off defending national champion UCLA. This year the Broncos are ready to show that they are a program capable of taking out some of the top teams in the nation and making a name for themselves in NCAA softball. And the Broncos enter the 2006 season armed with some key components of success: a promising new coach and a roster of solid returners.
First-year head coach Steve Rianda is confident that the Santa Clara program is capable of winning big games, and gaining national recognition. "I think Santa Clara definitely has national potential, given its location and strong reputation," Rianda said. "There are just steps that need to be taken." And Rianda has wasted no time outlining these key steps and putting them in motion.
The Broncos will start by focusing on the win column, namely in pursuit of the Pacific Coast Softball Conference title. "Our main goal is going to be to win our conference." Rianda said. "On top of that, with the tough schedule that we have, I want to make sure that we are competitive in every game."
The Broncos' tough schedule offers them the opportunity to notch wins over some of the best competitors in the nation. In the non-conference season, SCU will face six programs which ended 2005 with a top-25 national ranking and ten that qualified for last year's NCAA tournament. Santa Clara travels to No. 2 UCLA, No. 7 Stanford, No. 13 Washington, and No. 20 Fresno State during the course of the season. Additionally, the softball team will host No. 8 California, No. 25 Arizona State and No. 15 Oregon State at Marsalli Park.
"I think our non-conference games are going to be the toughest part of our schedule" Rianda commented. "But by no means are we intimidated. I think we're going to shock a lot of teams."
Santa Clara opens the 2006 season with a doubleheader with Pacific this Saturday up in Stockton, Calif. Following another doubleheader against UC Davis, the Broncos will participate in three consecutive tournaments hosted by top-25 programs. In late February, Santa Clara will take part in a tournament at Stanford University, which includes the seventh-ranked Cardinal as well as PCSC rival Sacramento State, Birmingham-Southern and Drake. The Broncos will then make appearances at the University of Washington Tournament and the UCLA Tournament.
The Broncos will also face a tough PCSC conference battle, in which all six teams will vie for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The conference schedule begins in San Diego on April 8 with a double-header against the Toreros.
Santa Clara will rely on a key group of returners to lead the team on and off the playing field. However, Rianda is quick to make it clear that the entire team is stepping up this season. "I throw a lot of responsibility on the team as a whole. They know what's expected of them. I don't necessarily believe in a true team captain, but leaders definitely stick out in the bunch," Rianda explained.
Listen to head coach Steve Rianda on the Broncos All-Access talk about his team and their prospects for the upcoming year.
The five seniors on the roster, however, will be instrumental in providing key experience and leadership on the Bronco squad. "A senior like Jenny Brown is a big spark-plug for this team. You can just feel her presence, her motivation, her enthusiasm, whether it's at practice or in a game. She's motivated for success and keeps the team positively flowing," stated Rianda about his returning All-PCSC Second Team performer.
In addition to Brown, the Broncos will rely on the athletic leadership of seniors Jessica Clee, who earned All-PCSC Second Team honors last season, Liz Courter, Kate Goethals, and Shannon Linerud. Santa Clara also returns nine additional letterwinners to the roster.
"There's a good nucleus of student athletes coming back," declared Rianda. "They know how to win. Two years ago, these seniors that are here now were on a winning team. I think they have it. I think they just need to get reorganized and refocused."
In the pitching circle, Santa Clara brings back three strong players to the line-up. Courter, who earned All-PCSC honorable mention in 2005, will contribute powerful pitching and key maturity. "The experience that Liz has is going to be very valuable. She's learning some new pitches, changing up some speeds. We expect some big things from her," mentioned Rianda.
The Broncos also return sophomore Jerrica Castagno, who will build on a successful freshman season, in which she started 24 games and led the Broncos in the ERA column. Additionally, junior Sara Overmier brings "finesse" pitching to the circle and sophomore transfer Jackie Morales will contribute controlled pitching and a competitive attitude. Assistant coach Lisa Mize will bring her knowledge and experience to this staff and hopefully bring out the best in each of them.
Behind the plate, the Broncos welcome back Goethals and sophomore Maggie Godfrey. Both bring experience and strong bats to the Bronco line-up. Additionally, Brown has stepped into the catching position and will likely see some time there in 2006. "Jenny's ability to communicate verbally is great," said Rianda. "She really takes a great leadership role as a catcher."
Clee, a second team All-PCSC performer and the Broncos' Most Valuable Offensive Player in 2005, will also take on a new role this season, moving to first base from the outfield. The importance of Clee, both offensively and defensively, cannot be understated. She currently holds the Bronco career and season marks for both homeruns and RBIs.
"Jessica has a lot of talent and a lot of experience," said Rianda. "She is very much an offensive threat. She hits well, plays defense well and runs the bases well. She's definitely the whole package".
Linerud, a senior from nearby San Jose, Calif., will anchor the Broncos at shortstop and likely hit in the clean-up hole. "Shannon is a very consistent player," commented Rianda. "She does really well at shortstop because she has great arm strength. She reads the ball well. She hits. She does everything. She's very quiet but leads by example. She'll be a staple that we need at shortstop. Shannon might even see some time in the circle as a relief pitcher."
Junior Angela Kabanuck, who missed part of 2005 due to a hand injury, will return to stabilize the Broncos in the outfield. "Angela is one of our most aggressive players offensively," said Rianda. "Defensively, she's been solid in the outfield. She'll definitely be the staple in center field."
Other outfielders include freshmen Brittney Pucci and Noriko Kamada as well as returning junior Jill Cassell. Overmier and Courter, when not in the pitching circle, will also contribute in the outfield and use their experience to their advantage.
Additionally, in the infield, the Broncos return junior Valerie Mock who will see time at first base and will add power to the Bronco lineup. Sophomores Meghan Chavez, Ashley Blier and Sabrina Franks will also return for the Broncos to complete the infield. "They are young sophomore players but I think they will do a good job," said Rianda. Walk-on Noelani Hoopii and freshman Meghan Notti will see time in the infield for the Broncos.
Rianda is confident that the experience of his team and the versatility of players will be important assets this season. "The team as a whole is good," said Rianda. "We definitely have some depth in most of the positions."
With firm goals, high-level opponents and an experienced group of players, Santa Clara softball is equipped to make a name for itself this season. "I see us being number one in the conference," said Rianda.
And the Broncos are ready to make that happen.