February 10, 2006

Softball Team Believes in Inspirational New Coach

Feb. 10, 2006

By Jason Cohn
The Santa Clara

After hiring its third coach in three years, suffering countless injuries and playing in exile from school facilities, this year's softball team believes that this will be the season that Santa Clara puts its mark on the national softball map -- and they have good reason.

The Broncos have a new head coach in Steve Rianda who spent the last four seasons as head coach at Notre Dame de Namur. Santa Clara is also returning five seniors to the starting lineup this season, led by two of the biggest offensive threats in school history, Jessica Clee and Jenny Brown.

Clee, an outfielder, holds the school's all-time career and single-season records for RBIs and home runs. With a career 86 RBIs, 21 home runs and a .497 slugging percentage, the team will look to Clee to provide the thunder needed to compete in a very tough non-conference schedule.

"It's my senior year and I want to go out with a bang. I want to play better than I did last year, and as a team, we want to play in the postseason for the first time ever," Clee said.

Clee should have the chance to bang in a lot more RBIs this season, thanks in part to one of the team's most consistent hitters, Jenny Brown. While scoring more runs than any other player on the team last season, Brown also set career records for walks and doubles while hitting a solid .280.

Yet this season, with the team plagued by injuries, Brown will probably make less noise with the bat and more with her glove. Both catchers, senior Kate Goethals and sophomore Maggie Godfrey, have suffered injuries to their throwing arms and Brown volunteered to give up her starting position at second base in order to lead the defense from behind the plate.

"Jenny has a great knowledge of the game and a really good work ethic, and I think she thrives on being someone that can drive the team and keep them positive. She's not a cheerleader, but she's very vocal," Rianda said.

Unfortunately for Rianda and his team, the injuries are not limited to the catcher position. Veteran senior pitcher Liz Courter has suffered a broken wrist on her glove hand and will be spending the next three weeks in a cast.

Courter is coming off a monster season, in which she compiled 14 wins, led the team with 94 strikeouts, threw three shutouts and held her opponents to a .263 batting average. Courter also swings the bat well, ranking second on the team with a .288 batting average last season.

While Courter will be missed, the team is looking forward to the return of their sophomore ace, Jerrica Castagno. Castagno posted a team-best 2.67 ERA last season before a line drive to the knee caused a severe bone bruise on her tibia.

Castagno says she's looking forward to a fresh start this year after the tumultuous season the Broncos had last year under head coach Jamie Forman-Lau. After leading the Broncos to their first conference title as a pitcher in 2004, Forman-Lau took over as head coach following her graduation. However, the team's record dropped from 30-23 in the 2004 season to 26-31 in 2005.

Because of the difficulty of the Broncos' schedule this season, the team will be working hard to overcome injuries so they can compete against eight of the top 25 teams in the country, including No. 2 UCLA and No. 7 Stanford.

Yet Rianda is not at all intimidated by this schedule and he's passed that attitude down to his players.

"He's pushing us harder than I've ever been pushed and he believes that we can win every game. To have a coach who really believes that we can beat Stanford or Cal, and mean it, is inspirational," Clee said.

With all that the team has been through, inspiration is perhaps what they need most. In addition to a dismal season last year, some on the team are further bothered by the lack of facilities provided for their program.

While the Broncos are provided practice space on Bellomy Field, the lack of dugouts and bleachers means that the softball team has to play its games off campus at Marsalli Park on the corner of Lafayette and El Camino Real.

For students who want to come and root the Broncos on, the softball team is waiting with open arms.

"We don't get as many fans because students don't want to walk or they don't even know where or when we play. I think it would help a lot if more people came out to get us pumped up," Clee said.

The softball season opens this weekend at Pacific. Home games begin March 9.