Feb. 6, 2008
WASHINGTON, DC - The George Washington University softball team opens its 2008 season this weekend, at the three-day Carolina Classic in Chapel Hill, NC, Feb. 8-10. The annual tournament hosted by the Tar Heels also includes East Carolina, Kent State and North Carolina Central. All five teams are opening their season at the Classic.
GW opens the tournament with Kent State on Friday, Feb. 8 at 10:00 am and will follow up with North Carolina at 12:30 pm. The following day, the Colonials will first go head-to-head with North Carolina Central at 12:30 pm, and then take on East Carolina at 5:30 pm. The third day pits the fourth and fifth seeds in the consolation game, with the winner of the no. 2 vs. no. 3 game, taking on the first seed in the Championship game. The first seed receives an automatic berth in the Championship game.
North Carolina enters its own tournament as the likely favorite after receiving votes in the NFCA Preseason Poll and being tabbed second in the ACC Preseason Poll. Fourteen letterwinners return for UNC in 2008, including its entire pitching staff that accumulated 46 wins a year ago. Head coach Donna J. Papa will also return the services of All-Southeast Region selection Breanna Brown (.343, 18 SB) in the outfield and seniors Cassie Palmer (.280, 7 HR) and Jennifer Jacobs (.291, 7 HR, 39 RBI) on the infield. This is the first meeting with the Tar Heels in the sixth year of the Colonials softball program.
Kent State returns its top four hitters from 2007: Jamie Fitzpatrick (.367, 13 HR, 42 RBI), Jessica Toocheck (.345, 4 HR, 21 RBI), Corey Houk (.329, 5 HR, 25 RBI) and Kim Hamilton (.305, 3 HR, 17 RBI) join pitcher Gabrielle Burns to form a senior class that carries a tremendous amount of game experience. Also returning is sophomore Kylie Reynolds (14-7, 1.30 ERA, 254 K/BB), who was named MAC Freshman and Pitcher of the Year. This is also GW's first meeting with the Golden Flashes.
East Carolina is another first time opponent for GW, and marks the first time the Colonials play a team from Conference USA. The Pirates are the eighth-winningest program in NCAA Softball history with 967 in just 22 seasons. ECU returns seven starters and 15 letterwinners from last year's 40-20 squad. Among the key returners are junior infielder Jessica Johnson, and sophomore outfielder Charina Sumner. Both of these players were named to the Preseason All-CUSA Team.
North Carolina Central competes in its first year as a Division 1 program after many successful years in Division 2. Last year's 31-11 squad which made the NCAA Tournament returns three first team all-CIAA members including juniors Sophia Blue, Stacey Greene and Francheska Pittman. Also returning is Michelle Ishida, the 2007 CIAA Rookie of the Year.
Despite returning 10 letterwinners and seven starters from last year's team that advanced to the first Atlantic 10 Tournament in the history of the program, the 2008 George Washington Colonials will have a much different feel. GW's roster only consists of 13 players, however all of the returnees played a significant role last season. Regardless of a short bench, head coach Kim Staehle remains optimistic that the Colonials will not just return to the conference tournament, but advance even farther in hopes to gain their first A-10 title. "In our fall season we certainly experienced a lack of depth in many areas, yet our returnees really stepped up and provided some much needed leadership," Staehle said. "We will definitely have our work cut out for us and will need to stay healthy this spring, yet I feel very positive with our new additions and returning experience which should propel us a bit farther in the tournament."
Sophomore right-handed hurler Amanda Gabriel (13-10, 2.49 ERA) anchors a pitching staff, which will go four deep, along with senior Katie Miller (2-10, 6.81 ERA), junior Carrie Higdon (4-3, 6.24 ERA) and freshman Ali Pardo. Gabriel recorded the best single-season pitching performance in GW history as she set season records in virtually every pitching category. The Fullerton, CA, native is also tied for the career wins mark after just one season at GW. Gabriel earned her first A-10 Pitcher of the Week award on April 9 after recording a pair of complete game shutouts over Saint Joseph's. Despite leading all A-10 rookies with five shutouts and 169 innings pitched, Gabriel was snubbed from the all-rookie team and she will use that as motivation to mow down every batter in the box this season. Miller and Higdon both played pivotal roles in GW advancing to its first conference tournament last season and both will be heavily relied on to provide some solid innings of work on the mound this spring. "They both have some strengths in the circle and realistically could be used more in closing innings to help keep batters off balance. We really need their offensive bats when not pitching, so both will certainly push for starting positions." Pardo was one of the top pitchers in the state of Florida and will be looked upon to make several quality starts for the Colonials this season. "Pardo threw pretty well this fall for us. She mixes her pitches very well and will certainly push for a No. 2 starter role this spring. I anticipate Pardo getting stronger and learning the importance of hitting her spots early in each count to stay ahead of her batters."
BEHIND THE PLATE
Redshirt sophomore Elisa Van Kirk (1 HR, 2 RBI, 29 AB) and senior Jackie Yaniga (.294, 9 HR, 20 RBI) will command the pitching staff behind the plate. Van Kirk only received 29 at-bats last season as senior co-captain Colleen Kegler (.250, 5 HR, 12 RBI) got the bulk of the duty from the catcher position. Van Kirk has tremendous power to all sides of
the field and her first career base hit was a home run at Fordham. "VK has improved over the summer getting in better shape and handling the bulk of the catching duties this past fall," Staehle said. "We were very impressed with her improvement over the summer. Again, we need to keep her healthy and truly get her bat going as our hopes are to see her produce at the plate." Yaniga is making the transformation behind the plate from centerfield last season. "Jackie is very athletic and truly has the strongest arm on the team. We are hoping she can sharpen her glovework and provide some solid depth behind the plate." Kegler will miss the 2008 season as she suffered a career-ending injury in the fall.
The Colonials return all but the hot corner at third base on the diamond. The three returning starters on the infield include senior co-captain Caroline "CJ" Howe (.279, 7 HR, 25 RBI) at shortstop. Howe will anchor the position that she switched to midway through last season and drove in a team-high 25 runs with 10 stolen bases. "Caroline is our catalyst on the field. She has a tremendous work ethic and is seldom outhustled, which pushes everyone around her to be that much better. I'm confident that she will perform even better and with that type of play hopefully everyone will again follow her lead." Manning the right side of the infield are a pair juniors who received their first extensive playing time last season: Tori Sensi (.269, 1 HR, 16 RBI) at second base, and Carrie Higdon at first base. Sophomore Amanda Holst (.217, 1 HR, 7 RBI) has shown improvement with her glove work and will serve as a backup on the right side of the diamond. "All three of these ladies have tremendous experience from last year and will be pushed to produce more at the plate this spring. We need them to step it up a notch and stand out offensively." Stepping in at third base is freshman Katie Terrazas (Murrieta, CA) who played for the same club team as teammates Caroline Howe and Amanda Gabriel. "Katie had a solid fall season and has really made a significant impact in a very short time. Our hopes are for her to keep working hard and act as if she is a seasoned veteran."
Seniors Chrysanthi Halkiotis (.287, 1 HR, 18 RBI) and Yaniga are the two leading returning hitters from last year and will return to their respective positions in the outfield this season. Halkiotis moved up to the leadoff spot midway through last season and batted .304 from that spot in the order. The local product possesses good speed and patience at the plate as evidenced by her nine stolen bases and the highest on-base percentage of any returning Colonial. Yaniga is GW's all-time leader in all of the major power categories and will look to continue where she left off at the end of 2007. The two-sport athlete batted .377 with six home runs in the final month of the season to help guide the Colonials to the A-10 Tournament. The slugger is also a threat to run as she stole eight bases last season. Yaniga could see split times between catching and the outfield as well. While two of the three outfield spots are intact, right field will be platooned by at least four players. Sophomore Amanda Holst should receive the most playing time as Miller (.222, 0 HR, 4 RBI), Gabriel (1-15, 2B, 3 RBI) and Pardo will split time between the outfield and the circle. Holst can play all three outfield positions and has tremendous speed. She will most likely see most of her time in right with Miller, Gabriel in left and Pardo in right when not in the circle. Sophomore walk-on Laura Feigin will also add depth to the outfield. "We have been pleased with Laura's improvements this past fall. She certainly has worked hard to catch up with our ladies and we hope to use her knowledge and foot speed this season on the bases."
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