Jan. 23, 2012
After playing the majority of last season with only one catcher due to the injury to now-sophomore Tricia Van Winkle, Dawson has the luxury heading into this year of having three legitimate backstops on the roster.
"Last year our catching depth was very shallow and after one major injury we were down to one body to do all of the work," Dawson said. "This year we have a number of girls who are able to manage the game and lead the defense behind the plate."
Geisler took a beating behind the plate last year after Van Winkle went down with an ankle injury just over a month into the season as the Leander, Texas native caught 44 games, including 27 straight to close the year.
Despite her incredible workload, Geisler was solid all season, recording a .264 batting average with a team-high six home runs and 23 RBI. Geisler showed a great eye at the plate, walking 24 times while striking out only 18.
She hit two home runs and drove in four in a win at Nevada on April 1 and then set the program single-game record with five hits in the Lady Techster's 3-2 extra inning loss to Boise State in the WAC Tournament.
"Allie is one of three seniors and last year she had a break out year," Dawson said. "She earned herself a spot in the four-hole in our lineup and really grew into the role of the leader we needed. In her last season we will continue to rely on her leadership on defense and her experience with this young pitching staff. Her offensive production will be critical to our success as well. With the additional depth at catcher, Allie may see some time in the outfield as well."
"Tricia served as a backup to Allie last season until an injury finished her season prematurely," Dawson said. "I expect Tricia to see most of her playing time at third base or as our designated player."
According to Dawson, Kipp, who is the younger sister of sophomore pitcher Erin Kipp, brings all the God-given tools to be the next great Louisiana Tech catcher. The former Bullard High School star helped lead the Panthers the past four years while earning District 17-3A Offensive MVP honors as a sophomore and senior.
She earned first team all-state honors as both a sophomore and a senior (she did not play softball her junior year).
"Alayna has all of the tools to be a really great catcher," Dawson said. "She has a great senior to learn from, and we will be able to bring her along this season as she is ready for more responsibility. Alayna rivals her sister's strength, and it is exciting to have that kind of explosive power in our line-up. She may also see time at third base."
"There were two holes in the infield to fill this fall," Dawson said. "We have a great mix of experience as well as some talented newcomers. This group's depth has really brought out the best in each other, and they have jelled well as a unit. I look for these girls to make major strides in us becoming a better defensive team."
One area that the Tech infield will have to improve on is defensively where the Lady Techsters combined to make 49 errors in 2011.
First base is one of the most experienced positions on the Tech team as Dawson returns juniors Meghan Knowles and Janna Frandrup, who have both seen significant playing time during their first two seasons.
The duo split the 56 games last year with each one starting 28 contests at first base (Knowles started 28 at DP while Frandrup started 23 at DP).
Frandrup could see action all of the Tech infield, including first, second and shortstop while also seeing plenty of innings in the circle. The second team all-Western Athletic Conference honoree batted .292 with eight doubles, five home runs and 22 RBI last season. Her .455 slugging percentage and .421 on-base percentage both led the team as she walked 30 times while only striking out 18 times.
The Phoenix native started the season by hitting safely in eight of the first nine games and ranked second on the team with 10 multi-hit performances. She finished the season registering hits in five of her last seven ABs.
"Janna split time at first base last season," Dawson said. "She is one of our vocal leaders on our team, and she makes her presence known when she is on defense. We look for Janna to be in the heart of our order again this year. She is a very consistent hitter who continues to get stronger at the plate."
Knowles will look to return to her form of her freshman campaign after struggling at times during her sophomore season. After batting .287 as a freshman, Knowles hit only .224 last year with eight doubles, four home runs and 20 RBI. However, her struggles at the plate didn't affect her defense as she committed only one error and recorded a .995 fielding percentage.
"Meghan also split time at first last year, and she also gives us a left-handed glove at first," Dawson said. "She had surgery in the off-season and is back to full strength. She has worked diligently on her hitting and has made great strides in becoming a more complete hitter."
Knowles led Tech with seven multi-RBI games and recorded the longest hitting streak of any Lady Techster during the season with an eight-game streak in the latter half of the year.
Lost to graduation is four-year starting second baseman Heather Doiron who started all 56 games last year and 193 during her LA Tech career.
Thus, the Lady Techsters will now rely on junior college transfer Amanda Krueger and Frandrup to anchor the position.
Krueger comes to Ruston after playing the past two seasons at the College of the Siskiyous in California where she led the program to the league championship both years. She was named first team all-Golden Valley Conference twice while batting .390 with 57 hits, 51 runs and 22 RBI in 2011.
"Amanda is another one of our transfers and we look for her to be the same type of mainstay at second that Heather was the last four years," Dawson said. "Amanda has great range and a solid glove on defense, and we look for her to fill our two-hole in the lineup. Amanda is a fighter who gives you everything she has until that final out is made."
Krueger was a two-time all-state performer during the prep career at Scappoose High School in Oregon and was named the Cawapa League MVP as a junior and senior.
While Krueger will see the majority of the time at second base, Frandrup could also provide quality depth at the position.
"In addition to her role at first, Janna also has the flexibility to play second base," Dawson said.
Another experienced position in the Tech infield will be at shortstop where both starting junior Michelle Jones and sophomore Emma Eichmann return this season.
After not seeing any time at the position as a freshman, Jones made 43 starts at shortstop as a sophomore where she showed signs of a promising career at the position. Despite committing 15 errors in 176 chances (.921 fielding percentage), Dawson was pleased with the progress and growth she saw in Jones.
"Michelle was a real consistent performer for us at shortstop," Dawson said. "I look for her to continue to be a solid fielder for us. It was great to see her growth throughout the season. She has a nonchalant way about her, but don't let that fool you. When the game is on the line, she is the one I want to make the play."
At the plate Jones struggled, batting only .118 with nine runs and five RBI. However, she led the Lady Techsters with 13 sacrifices on the season, including a team-high in sacrifice flies (3) and sacrifice bunts (10).
As a true freshman, Eichmann saw limited action, making 12 starts while seeing action in only 16 games. However, with Jones' pitching responsibilities increasing this season, Eichmann could see significantly more time in the field.
Dawson said that she feels confident especially with the vast improvement that the youngster has made during the off-season.
"If we gave out this award Emma would be my most improved player returning from last year's squad," Dawson said. "She did a lot of work on the mental side of this game over the summer and is in a great position to contribute this season. She is a more consistent performer on defense, but I think her improvement at the plate even trumps that. It is exciting to see a player's hard work and dedication pay off. We look for Emma to contribute as Michelle's pitching role expands."
A couple of youngsters will look to solidify the hot corner this season as two-year starting third baseman Molly Goza graduated following her final season in a Lady Techster uniform.
Van Winkle saw her season cut short last year after an ankle injury just a month into the season. All 12 of Van Winkle's starts as a freshman came at catcher but she will see playing tie at both positions as a sophomore.
"During her shortened season last year, Tricia got a little time at third base," Dawson said. "With the graduation of Molly we will need someone to step in as the everyday starter at third. Tricia has worked hard at her range at third and continues to understand her swing better on the offensive end. She is a smart player and at a position that doesn't offer a lot of reaction time, this can be a real asset."
Van Winkle collected seven hits in 38 at bats but showed some power with two doubles and two home runs.
Winter signed with the Lady Techsters out of Marcus High School in Flower Mound, Texas where she played outfield and all four infield positions during her prep career. She was named the District 8-5A Defensive Player of the Year as a senior while earning all-district honors as both a junior and senior.
"Hailey brings a lot of life and energy to our squad and keeps things pretty light," Dawson said. "She has made a good transition to college softball. She is like a sponge that just soaks up as much information as possible in order to be the best she can be. I am excited about the offensive production we saw out of Hailey this fall. She seemed to really excel in pressure situations."