After a 52-7 record in 2012, the Golden Bears softball team is eager to get back in the field and prove they deserve the third place ranking they received in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division II rankings. With a slew of returning seniors, the team looks tough again this year. However, one key loss could have Head Coach Judy Lawes fearful for the outcome of the rest of the season.
Last year, KU was a mere two wins away from becoming Division II National Champions. Making it to the national semifinals was a first for the Golden Bears. En route to the National Championship, KU won the Atlantic Region I and the Atlantic Super Regional titles.
The unprecedented 2012 campaign inspired a team to break records that KU has sustained for many of years. KU’s 52 win season is now a school record and winning 33 games straight was also the longest winning streak in school history.
Around the country, the Golden Bears are being revered as one of the powerhouses of Division II softball. The NFCA Division II rankings have them behind the two teams in the finals last season: Valdosta State and UC San Diego. As far as the PSAC division is concerned, KU is bar none the best in the conference. Not only are they number one overall, but not a single other PSAC team is ranked nationally.
In regards to last year’s team, Coach Lawes said this on the website, “We set a goal to get here, and they did it. They’re a great group of athletes, and I believe that this experience will push them to get to this point again in the future.”
Unfortunately for Lawes, this is not the team from last year. First of all, three crucial players graduated. Alumnae Kelly Fitzgerald, Nicole Colineri and Heather
Hannum all had substantial contributions last season. Fitzgerald led the team in batting average. Hannum scored the most runs with 42, just one more than Fitzgerald. Losing keys players, especially batters, is tough, but replaceable with the right players.
Losing a solid swing and a strong pitching arm is an even more detrimental. Sophomore Samantha Derr was expected to return after an extraordinary 30-win season, more than half of the team’s wins. With an ERA of .89 and a batting average of .376, Derr will be missed for her bat as well as her devastating arm. It is speculated that she has transferred to Lebanon College, a Division III softball school to compete.
This season, much of the batting responsibilities will be placed on senior catcher Katie Lynch’s shoulders. Her presence in the lineup last season was unforgettable as she led the team with 10 homeruns and finished the season with a .327 batting average.
“She’s always been a presence for us,” Lawes said in the Lancaster Intelligencer. “She knows the game so well. We expected a lot from her and she’s given it to us.”
Pitching to Lynch this year are sophomore Mary Kocienki and freshman Dominique Ficara. Kocienki was a dominant starter last season with 14 wins and just a single loss to her name. While filling in the number two roll last year, her production this year must be right on point to return to the NCAA Division II. Though it’s early this season, Ficara seems to be filling in Kocienki’s spot in the rotation. Thus far, the young right handed hurler is 1-1 with a deceiving ERA that doesn’t quite represent her performance. At a solid 5.00, this number is only bound to drop.
A huge relief for Coach Lawes is the return of Nicole Henninger. In the first inning of the first game of last season, Henninger broke her foot and was out the rest of the season. In 2010 and 2011, Henninger was awarded First Team PSAC honors. In 2011, she even won the PSAC East player of the year. Her presence on the hot corner is essential for a good season.
Other notable returning players are senior Brianna Knipe and junior Jackie Hetzler. As far as batting average is concerned, Knipe was fourth best on the team and Hetzler was fifth respectively. Knipe was second in RBIs and Hetzler was third in runs. Offensively speaking, the team is returning quite a few standout players.
The season is still young, having only competed in five games. The Golden Bears are 3-2, and there are many games to go, so it’s tough to read how the season is going to go. Even so, with the returning talent, anything is possibly. The next time KU will see action is Feb. 22 in Salisbury, NC at the Catawba Invitational. Last season the Golden Bears went undefeated, winning five matches in a row.
By Frank Lippincott