Depth and flexibility will be the greatest strengths this season for the Cornell women’s softball team. Loaded with skilled players able to play multiple positions, a strong-armed pitching duo, and solid defense, the Red will undoubtedly challenge for the Ivy League crown this spring.
Offensively, the Red will miss the contributions of four-year starter and second baseman Tracy Quinn ’00, who led the team in hits, runs, and batting average last season. A first team All-Ivy league selection in 1999 and 2000, she provided the team with timely hits that jump-started numerous late-game rallies.
While no single player will be able to replace Quinn, there are many key returning players as well as a slew of new faces that will contribute.
As head coach Dick Blood simply put it, “We’ve got strength in numbers this year.”
With parity having struck the Ivy League in recent years, Cornell will rely heavily upon its pitching staff in close contests. The quartet of gunslingers is led by returning ace, senior Nicole Zitarelli. Possessing a vast assortment of off-speed pitches and uncanny control, Zitarelli has dominated foes. She comes off a sterling 17-win season with a remarkable 1.99 earned run average. More importantly, she was a workhorse, pitching a team high 172 innings.
Although Zitarelli was successful last year, Blood will look to cut down on his best pitcher’s workload. Freshman pitcher Sarah Sterman will provide the Red with an able number-two starter and will take some of the pressure off Zitarelli. The right-handed rookie is a power pitcher with great stuff.
“At this point, I would expect [Zitarelli and Sterman] to see equal time,” Blood commented. “They’re very different pitchers. One’s a power pitcher and the other is a finesse pitcher. The great thing is that they can relieve one another.”
In addition to the two starters, sophomore Jamie Hamilton and freshman Nicole LePera will be counted on to take the mound for the Red. As a freshman last season, Hamilton gained valuable experience and will try to improve upon her 5.64 ERA. The baby of the staff, LePera has a good change-up and will provide a good change of pace.
“We’ve been working hard with Hamilton and LePera on specific pitches, so that they can step in and spot the starters. That way we can rely on two pitchers for the season,” Blood noted. “Right now, both of them are just trying to add more consistency.”
The pitchers will be throwing to a familiar battery-mate in junior Annette Sheppard. A second team All-Ivy selection last season, Sheppard possesses one of the league’s strongest arms behind the plate. She also swings the bat exceptionally well, hitting .316 with five homeruns last season, which were second most on the team.
Behind Sheppard on the depth chart, freshman Melissa Cannon will also receive a lot of playing time. Appropriately named by her parents, she has a canon for an arm and will be a defensive force. Junior Cristina ‘Dizzy’ Trout is perhaps the team’s best catcher in terms of her ability to block balls in the dirt. Not noted for her arm, however, Trout will likely see action against opponents that lack a strong running game.
One major concern is Cornell’s ability to shut down opponents’ running games. Last season, foes stole 36 bases in 46 attempts.
“We have worked a lot on catcher defense so far this spring,” Blood stated. “We have one of the strongest arms with Annette Sheppard, but we just don’t seem to get people out. Maybe we’re not accurate with the throws or our coverage.”
First base will be manned by the team’s top slugger, junior Kristen Hricenak, who led the team with eight homeruns and 33 RBIs last season. While she stars with the bat, Hricenak also plays a very good defensive first base, possessing soft fielding hands.
Team captain senior Charlotte Brombach will provide support for Hricenak. Brombach is a superb defensive first baseman with cat-like quickness. She plays the bunt extremely well, thus taking away a key component of opponents’ strategies. Also expected to play at first is sophomore Drew ‘Doogie’ Martin, who has impressed the coaching staff with her play in intrasquad games in the fall and spring.
Senior Katie Maggard, junior Julie Staub, and Martin will try to fill the void left by Quinn at second. Each player has different skills, and as a group, will ably patch the gap. While not spectacular with the bat, Maggard is a solid contact hitter. Perhaps her most important contribution to the team will be her defense. Although also a capable first baseman, Martin will most likely start the season as a second baseman. Staub is one of the most talented athletes on the team.
“Julie has great wheels, good range, and some pop,” Blood beamed. “She is also a very good bunter, so she gives us a lot of flexibility.”
There will be no controversy has to who will be the starting third baseman. Returning from a one-season hiatus, senior Allison Batten will receive the lion’s share of playing time at the hot corner. A slugging sensation, Batten broke the school’s all-time RBI mark in her first two seasons on East Hill.
“The team is really glad to have her back,” Blood noted. “She’s such a clutch performer, she has ice in her veins, a calm demeanor, and great mechanics.”
Returning for her fourth season at shortstop will be slick-fielding senior JoAnne Keck. Although Keck struggled at the plate last season, she did not allow the offensive aspect of her game to affect her defense, the proof being that she led the team with 102 assists.
As with the infield, there are numerous players that can play the outfield and the competition for playing time will be fierce. Only Brombach is penciled in as an everyday starter, with the remaining sports up for grabs.
Graceful like a gazelle, Brombach will spend most of her time patrolling center field. Her exceptional speed, great range, and strong throwing arm make her an ideal fit in the middle of the outfield alignment. At the plate, she hits for average and can hit the ball out of the park.
One of the X-factors for the team will be junior Eva Nahorniak. She was the 1999 Ivy League Rookie of the Year when she belted eight homeruns. However, last season, she struggled at the plate and could not duplicate the previous year’s performance. If Nahorniak can return to her freshman form, the Red will have a much more potent lineup in the outfield.
Other players fighting for time include freshmen Leah deRiel, Erin Sweeney, Sarah Zimmerman, Alvarez, Varde, and Cannon, juniors Shara Freeman, Trout, and Staub, and seniors Kelli Larsen and Sinclair.
With a fairly deep team, the batting order will be solid from one through nine in the lineup. The Red’s mix of power and speed and will certainly give opposing pitchers fits. However, the biggest question mark will be the top two spots in the order. The leadoff spot, vacated by Quinn, will most likely be assumed by Sweeney, while the team is still looking for a true number-two hitter.
“Erin is our fastest player. [She] can beat out ground balls and can bunt,’ Blood noted. “We really miss the two-hole hitter though. We need someone that can take pitches, get a walk, and slap the ball the other way.”
Opposing pitchers will find no easy outs in the remainder of the lineup, as sluggers Brombach, Hricenak and Batten form a lethal trio in the heart of the order. Also part of the nucleus of the lineup will b
e Sheppard and Trout.
Lack of speed was one of last year’s major weaknesses. The incoming freshman, however, have solved that problem, and the Red can be expected upon to run more. However, the team will not abandon its bread and butter, the long ball.
“We definitely have more speed. In the past, we’ve only had an occasional player that could do damage. This year we have several kids: Melissa Cannon, Erin Sweeney, Julie Staub, Charlotte Brombach, and Sandra Alvarez. They are threats to steal,” Blood said. “But, we’re a free swinging group and we can bop it. I’d rather see my hitters swing away and not have someone get caught stealing and have the bat taken out of a hitter’s hands.”
If the team stays healthy, the younger players emerge, and the veterans continue their excellence, the team has the potential for an Ivy League championship season.
Archived article by Alex Ip