Coming off yet another winning season, the Louisiana Tech Lady Techster softball team will face some challenges heading into 2011 after graduating a ton of experience including three of the top offensive players to ever don the uniform.
However, head coach Sarah Dawson and Co. have built a winning mentality over the past three years as the Lady Techsters will be searching for their fourth straight winning season and another trip to the NCAA Tournament like the one the program took in 2008.
"The 2011 season will be one of new faces," said Dawson. "We graduated four girls last year that had started nearly every game in their career and were pillars on our team. I am excited to see what this new generation of players has to offer.
"We have a solid group of sophomores and juniors who are excited and confident that they are ready to take on the larger roles that have been left by graduation. With just three seniors on the squad and a smaller roster, it is even more imperative that everyone pull their weight. The offense has shown it can score runs in bunches, and with a deep pitching staff, I see us ready to take on the challenging schedule we have ahead of us."
Dawson will also have the luxury of relying on one of the top pitchers in the Western Athletic Conference in senior Meghan Krieg, who earned first team all-league honors last year while setting the program record with 260 strikeouts.
The Lady Techsters schedule is challenging as well, including tournaments at LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Mississippi State as well as a home doubleheader against Big 12 foe Baylor.
However, despite the challenges that come with personnel losses and a highly-competitive schedule, the LA Tech softball team has its sights set on another winning season.
Meghan Krieg will serve as the ace of the LA Tech staff but Dawson should have the same type of depth in the circle that the Lady Techsters boasted in 2008 when they won the WAC Tournament title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
"Meghan Krieg returns with the most experience and accolades to her name," Dawson said. "Meghan really proved she was one of the top pitchers in this conference last season. We will look for her to carry the majority of the pitching responsibilities again this year. It was great to see her look even stronger this fall than where she left off last season."
Krieg, who was named first team all-Western Athletic Conference as a junior, posted an 18-16 record last year with a 2.24 earned run average. While logging 222.1 innings of work in the circle, Krieg broke a 25-year-old record by registering 260 strikeouts on the year.
The key for Krieg to improve on her numbers from a season ago is to cut down on the free passes as the Sonora, Texas native walked 141 and hit 25 batters.
Jones sported a 5-4 mark with a 4.86 earned run average working 59.0 innings as she made 15 appearances in the circle during her rookie campaign while making 11 starts. The Texas native posted complete-game victories over Southeastern Louisiana, Alabama State, Southeast Missouri and Grambling State.
However, she will have to improve on an 0-3 mark in Western Athletic Conference play although she did end the season with a solid six-inning effort in a 4-0 loss at Fresno State.
"Michelle Jones went through some growing pains as a freshman, but she returned this year ready to produce in a number of ways for this squad," Dawson said. "Over the course of last season I saw great growth in Michelle and I look forward to seeing her apply some of those lessons she learned last year."
Frandrup saw the majority of her innings in a relief role last season as she recorded a 3-1 record with a 4.65 ERA in 37.2 innings. Frandrup saw 10 appearances in the circle while making only three starts.
However, her most impressive performance of the season came in a 3-1 complete-game win over Top 25 Fresno State in the regular season finale.
"Janna has a lot on her plate this year," Dawson said. "She is another sophomore who is really looking to make great strides this season. She has proven herself as one of our top offensive performers and will be asked to help in the circle. She also has the flexibility to play a number of infield positions. Janna was a great compliment to our starting pitching, and I look for her to play a similar role again this year."
Kipp is a true freshman who was very impressive during LA Tech's fall exhibition season. In four appearances during the fall, Kipp worked 14.0 innings while allowing only six hits and two walks while striking out 15 batters. She didn't allow a single run during the fall.
"Erin had a strong fall for us," Dawson said. "She was really consistent from start to start. She continues to show improvement on the pitches she came to us with and is working hard at adding others."
Louisiana Tech will have to replace 60 percent of its starting infield this year with the graduation of shortstop Amberly Waits, first baseman Kylie Bassett and catcher Jessica Kirby who all leave the program ranked in the top four in home runs and numerous other offensive categories.
"We did have a lot of questions heading into the fall as to where people would fall in the infield this year," Dawson said. "It's great to have Heather (Doiron) here with her three years of experience to really anchor our infield. Plus Meghan Knowles got a lot of valuable playing time last year, including some key time in the field. She was steady."
Behind the plate, junior Allie Geisler will join true freshman Tricia Van Winkle to share the catching duties. Geisler, who has seen only very limited playing time her first two years, showed some promise this fall, batting .300 with a team-high three home runs and 10 RBI.
"Allie returns as our most experienced catcher," Dawson said. "She works well with our pitchers and has been a real threat behind the plate throwing out runners. At the plate Allie was a great power hitter for us this fall as she led us in home runs and RBI. We always knew Allie had great power potential, and with a few adjustments she has made, we are starting to see it more consistently."
Van Winkle is a true freshman out of Coppell High School in Texas where she helped lead the program to three straight district area championships. She was named the District 6-5A Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman and first team all-district her final two years. She was named first team all-state as a senior.
"Tricia will help with the catching duties as well as play some third base for us this season," Dawson said. "I am really excited about Tricia's future with this program. She loves the game and is a tireless worker. She is a real competitor and when the game has been on the line, she has been the one who has come through."
Although Bassett is now gone, sophomore Meghan Knowles saw plenty of action at first base during her inaugural season, making 35 starts on the year. Knowles, who will see the majority of starts at the position this year, ended her freshman campaign with a .287 batting average with three home runs and 19 RBI.
"Meghan Knowles will see the majority of starts at first base," Dawson said. "She was an everyday starter as our DP last year and as a freshman she was very consistent at the plate. She will again be in the heart of the order and gives us both a high average and power."
A duo of Techsters will vie for playing time at second base, including senior veteran Heather Doiron and Frandrup.
Doiron has been a starter at second base for the majority of her career although she missed some significant time due to injury last season, struggling to a .167 batting average during her limited action.
However, the Slidell native showed her potential as a sophomore when she tied the LA Tech program record by belting a home run in four straight games. She has also shown a strong glove as Dawson will rely heavily upon her for veteran leadership in an otherwise young infield.
"Heather was sidelined about half way through the season last year with a back injury," Dawson said. "She is back to full strength and we look for her to reclaim her starting spot at second base. Heather provides us with versatility at the plate. She can be a threat with both her speed and her power. I look for her senior season to be her best."
Frandrup batted .268 as a freshman and recorded the highest batting average on the team this fall recording nine hits in 19 at bats. The versatile Arizona native could see playing time at all four of the infield positions during the year.
"Janna worked in at second when Heather was down with her injury and she may still see some time at second this year," Dawson said.
Shortstop will also be handled primarily by Michelle Jones and freshman Emma Eichmann.
Jones got only one at bat as a true freshman but the Tech coaches feel that she has the opportunity to turn into a solid contributor offesnsively.
"Michelle is a great all around athlete and although she pitched exclusively for us last year, she was always working at shortstop at practice," Dawson said. "With the graduation of Amberly Waits, she will be given a chance to show off her skill on defense in addition to her pitching duties."
Eichmann comes to Tech out of Fossil Ridge High School in Texas where she was named all-district in three different sports as a senior, including first team in softball. Eichmann, who earned a total of 11 all-district awards in softball, volleyball and basketball, should get an opportunity to see plenty of action this season.
"Emma will also vie for starts at shortstop," Dawson said. "The one thing that really impressed me about Emma was her consistency during games. We worked hard on improving her fielding mechanics, and with her arm, she will be able to make a number of plays that might surprise you. She has made great strides on offense and is hitting to all fields and her confidence continues to grow."
Senior Molly Goza should shoulder the load of work at the hot corner for the Lady Techsters this year although Frandrup and Van Winkle could also see some playing time.
Goza made 33 starts last year and possesses one of the most powerful swings on the team as she hit three home runs during the year, including two against College World Series opponent Hawaii.
"Molly Goza led our team in starts at this position last year," Dawson said. "I see her being even more of a leader for our defense this year. As a senior we look for her to be a spark plug for us. At the plate Molly has as much power as anyone on our team. She had a number of clutch hits for us last year, and we will need her to be a consistent performer for us this year."
Louisiana Tech returns only two experienced outfielders this year in juniors Kendra Harmon and Christina Gamboa as the duo will be joined by freshmen Cassie Krieg, Katelynn Hill and Rachel Allday, junior college transfer Charday Wilson and junior Allie Geisler.
However, despite the lack of a plethora of experience, Dawson feels her stable of outfielders possess the talents to give Tech a solid group.
Harmon was Tech's most consistent outfielder last season as the versatile speedster batted .287 with three home runs and 17 RBI while scoring 27 runs. Harmon made 46 starts on the year and saw time in all three outfield positions while making only two errors during the season.
"Kendra went from pinch runner to leadoff hitter for us last year," Dawson said. "We will look for her to anchor the top of our line up again this season. She has really bought into what we teach and it is great to see her get the results. Kendra played both right and center for us last year. I look for her to slide over to left this season."
Gamboa struggled a little at the plate batting .162, but showed great range and an impressive glove in the outfield making only one error. Gamboa made 26 starts during the year while seeing significant time in both the leadoff and No. 2 spot in the lineup. She ranked second on the team with five stolen bases.
"Christina really came on strong for us at the end of last year," said Dawson. "Christina has impressive speed and covers a lot of ground for us in the outfield. She has worked to be a more consistent performer at the plate. She and Kendra will be a tough combination to defend at the top of the lineup."
Cassie Krieg, younger sister of Meghan, is a true freshman out of Sonora, Texas who helped Sonora High School to a pair of District 8-2A titles during her career. The three-time first team all-district member was named all-state by the Texas Girls Coaches Association four straight years.
During her career, she batted .510 with 100-plus hits, 23 doubles, 13 triples and six home runs while scoring 83 runs and recording 89 RBI.
"Cassie shows great promise as an outfielder," Dawson said. "She has good instincts on defense and great potential at the plate. She is committed to learning and adjusting to what it takes to be successful at this level. She is a fierce competitor who wants nothing more than to win."
Hill was recruited as a second baseman but has been moved to the outfield due to necessity and the fact she has shown the skill set needed to succeed in that area. Hill lettered at Hebron High School in Texas where she batted .350 as a senior while leading the Hawks to the state semifinals. She was a four-time all-district honoree.
"Katelynn came to us primarily as a second baseman but with our limited depth in the outfield we are looking to her to give us more options on defense," Dawson said. "She has good foot speed and a solid glove. As the fall progressed she began to make adjustments at the plate and we are seeing her hit to all fields now. For her size she has surprising power. Katelynn has a lively personality and I am excited about her future with us."
Wilson comes to Tech out of Bossier Parish Community College where she stole 17 bases while scoring 23 runs last year. Prior to her time at BPCC, Wilson lettered at Logansport High School in Louisiana where she was named all-district as a junior and senior.
"Charday comes to us as a junior college transfer," Dawson said. "Her speed is her No. 1 weapon. She put in a lot of work this fall, and she continues to improve all aspects of her game. At the plate she puts a lot of pressure on defenses with how quickly she can get down the line. I look for her to be a key pinch runner for us as well."
Geisler, who will see the majority of her playing time at catcher, worked much of last season in the outfield during practice while seeing limited action.
"Allie Geisler will also get some starts in the outfield," Dawson said. "We had her split time in the outfield last year and she has really come along. She has a great arm and gets a good jump on the ball. It's quite a change from her duties behind the plate, but this will give us some flexibility when it comes to our lineup."
Allday is a true freshman out of Atlanta High School in Texas who has made the team as a walk-on after her performance this fall.
"Rachel will add depth to our outfield as well," Dawson said. "She is a raw athlete who has really responded to the coaching she received this fall. She has good speed and is a heads up base runner. In addition to her outfield duties, Rachel will be a pinch runner off the bench."