Willadsen hopes new hitting technique will help
The Buena Vista University softball team that takes the field this weekend will look remarkably different from the squad that posted a 13-23 record last spring. Gone from last year's club are the team's top four hitters and one of the team's top pitchers. It is the players who remain that have Coach Marge Willadsen excited for her 25th season leading the Beavers.
"We have great leadership from Sarah Dirx and Katie Onken, our team's two captains," stated Willadsen. "I think the intensity with which we have been practicing is a direct result of their leadership. The team has been more focused in practice and has, as a whole, worked harder than they have in previous years during the off-season."
Dirx posted a 9-10 record last year while leading the team in wins, earned run average, strikeouts and innings pitched. "Dirx's confidence level is increasing every day," Willadsen commented. "I think her pitching will be one of our real strengths."
Onken started 35 games last season playing second base. Her .964 fielding percentage provided Buena Vista with a steady presence in the infield. Onken, who will be backed up by Ashley McCool, will be looking to improve upon her hitting after registering a .218 batting average a year ago. Onken and the rest of the Beavers are learning a new hitting technique that Willadsen has introduced to the team this year.
The squad will be attempting to implement a hitting technique used by Team USA at the 2004 Olympics. The mechanics focus on weight transfer and creating a more more power. Willadsen says the swing more closely resembles a baseball swing than a traditional softball swing.
"It is a more linear motion, and the team is hitting the ball harder in practice. However, it is a new idea to all of the players, and it is going to take time to adjust to it."
A new hitting technique may be just the answer for a team that finished in the bottom half of the conference in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, and runs scored in 2004.
Outfielder Molly Luchtel is the only returning regular who hit over .240 last spring. She registered a .257 batting average and led the team with five stolen bases. Luchtel figures to be one of seven players competing for playing time in the outfield.
Trisha Porter returns in right field after starting 35 games last season. She hit .237 and belted a team-high two home runs while driving in 13 runs. Porter's .376 slugging percentage was third highest on the squad.
Greta Lichtenberg is battling Luchtel for the starting spot in left field while Jennifer Schnoes and Amy Kamies are jockeying for playing time in center field. Adrienne Scott and Miranda Podoll could figure in the mix as the season progresses. Willadsen points out that all seven of her outfielders have their own unique strengths and weaknesses, which could make her job of filling out the lineup card a challenging one.
Brooke Bousum returns at first base. Bousum hit .234 last season and is expected to log time at catcher as well. When Bousum is catching, Ali Bahlmann and Alissa Hopkins will pick up the slack at first base. Ashley Partlow, Robyn Johnson, and Lindsey Weirich have also spent time in practice behind the plate and will share time at catcher with Bousum.
The left side of the infield is entirely gone from last year, leaving freshmen Amanda Armstrong, Melissa Putney, and Monica Tucker to fill the void. Armstrong appears to be the front-runner at shortstop with Tucker taking most of the repetitions at third base.
Putney, a member of the BVU basketball team, just joined the squad for practice this week and will likely see more playing time as the season progresses.
Newcomer Brandi Sykora and Lindsey Siemonsma will be picking up the innings that Dirkx doesn't hurl. Sykora, an all-state high-school thrower who can play almost any position on the field, has looked very good in practice. "She throws the ball hard," reported Willadsen. "(Pitching coach) Rusty (Mohler) has gotten her to gain some movement on the ball, so she should be tough to hit.
Siemonsma is throwing better than she has the last two years. She keeps the batters guessing as to where the ball is going. I think we will surprise a few people with our pitching this year."
Kim Johnson and Courtney Berg join Mohler on Willadsen's staff. Johnson has a great deal of experience in coaching high-school ball and is in her first year coaching the Beavers.
Berg is back for her second season assisting Willadsen. Mohler is the program's long-time pitching coach who Willadsen credits with Buena Vista's success on the rubber.
"Having the young assistant coaches adds enthusiasm, new ideas, and experience to go along with Rusty and me," Willadsen said. "I feel confident in their abilities to make suggestions for practices because they really know the game.
It makes coaching more fun when you have somebody you can discus team strategy and team drills with."