Coming off an Ivy League championship season, the Red has an almost completely new look around the field. Some old staples and young talent should make for an interesting combination as head coach Dick Blood attempts to find just the right ingredients for that title mix. The strength of two returning starters on the mound will provide consistency, while a few positions around the horn remain up for the taking. The outfield is a melange of question marks and may be the biggest uncertainty surrounding Cornell’s squad. So let’s make the general particular, and get this show on the road:
With the departure of All-Ivy League second-team pitcher Nicole Zitarelli ’01, there will be questions surrounding the Red’s pitching staff. Fortunately, the squad boasts two battle-tested sophomore hurlers who can ably fill the void left by “Z.”
Second year player Sarah Sterman will be the ace of the staff. As a rookie last season, there were times when Sterman was the best pitcher on the team. The power pitcher from Geneva, N.Y. compiled a 14-7 record in her inaugural campaign and posted a sterling 1.84 ERA. Most impressively, she had an extraordinary strikeout-to-walk ratio (4:1) which was an indication that last season was not a fluke.
Sterman’s classmate, Nicole LePera, will be the second half of Cornell’s pitching tandem. LePera did not see much action early last season because of mechanical problems in her delivery. However, once she corrected her errors, she was arguably the team’s best pitcher down the stretch. She won all five of her decisions last season, including a 5-3 victory at Harvard in the year-end playoff series which catapulted the Red into the NCAA Tournament.
Blood believes that both players have the tools to succeed.
“They both have a three to five pitch arsenal with very good control,” he said.
Junior Kristen Hricenak and freshman Alyssa Brune may also see time as spot starters or relievers. Hricenak did not pitch last season but has ample experience, having thrown every inning for her former high school team. Brune’s action may be more sporadic and will ultimately depend on the team’s performance.
Co-captains and seniors Christina Trout and Annette Sheppard should share most of the time behind the plate. Their leadership on the field will be key in bringing together an otherwise eclectic defensive line-up for the Red.
Trout is a rally starter and gets hits when called upon in the fourth to sixth hitting positions. She hit just under .300 last year (.295) and will be expected to drive in important runs for the Red once again this season. She also has soft hands behind the plate and should not allow many passed balls from her sophomore battery mates.
Sheppard is a free swinger who had 50 total bases last season in just over 100 at-bats. She will most likely land somewhere between the five through seven slots in the lineup. She also has a gun for an arm and will prevent her opponents from getting free bases without a fight.
First year phenom Melissa Heintz, standing 6’1, will add an extra flare at the two position and is lauded by Blood as a future defensive star.
“[Sheppard] has always had the strongest arm in the league, but now it could well be Heintz,” said Blood, “she has a hose for an arm and can throw out just about anyone from her knees.”
The true challenge for the untested rookie will be how quickly she can find her comfort level behind the plate and perform up to expectations.
Sophomore Melissa Cannon will also add depth to the position and will be called upon as a defensive replacement.
When not pitching, Hricenak will most often get the call at first base while providing power at the plate. Hricenak is currently second on the Red’s all-time home run list and boasts a .521 career slugging percentage.
Junior Drew Martin will also see time at first and provides defensive stability at the position. She is a very capable first baseman and will be crucial to the Red as a defensive replacement in final inning situations.
Second base provides a smorgasbord of potential starters ranging from rookies to seasoned veterans.
“Our recruiting strategy this year was to bring in four or five righthanders who could play three positions on the infield,” mused Blood.
That strategy has paid off as the Red now have three legitimate first year contenders fighting for a home at second. Those include Billie Boles, Lindsey Crumbaugh, and Erin Kizer. Boles provides speed on the base paths, while Crumbaugh and Kizer provide pop at the plate.
Senior Julie Staub returns and will surely battle for her position coming off her 26 starts last season. Martin could also see time at second if called upon to do so.
“There will be a lot of competition,” summed up Blood, “and basically whoever hits will play the most innings because all of them are capable defensive players.”
The hot corner is sophomore Sandra Alvarez’s for the taking. Alvarez saw limited action last year, starting in only nine games her rookie campaign, but is being called upon by Blood to make an impact on this year’s title run. She can provide a consistent bat at the plate if given the chance (nine total bases in 28 plate appearances) and has shown signs of defensive stability in the field.
“If she can catch the ball she’ll play,” said Blood of his second year
player, “it’s as simple as that.”
Kizer may also see time at third base, should Alvarez’s fielding falter.
However, the freshman is a natural second basemen and will see the most action there.
Another potential great for the Red will fill the hole at shortstop this season. Rookie Lauren May is a flat out exciting player. She has good range, a strong arm and can provide highlight reel performances in the field. Maybe the only question surrounding May is whether or not she can maintain her consistency at the plate.
“She’s taken the position by storm and will allow Kate Varde to play her natural position in the outfield,” commented Blood.
Boles will share the majority of innings with May at short and could step into a starting role if May lacks offensive potency for any amount of time.
The outfield, which features two first-team All-Ivy performers, will undoubtedly be the strength of the team. Despite the loss of team leader and All-Ivy second-teamer Charlotte Brombach ’01, the Red will rely heavily on the outfielders for offensive production and defensive stability.
Sophomore Kate Varde headlines the group and will make the switch from shortstop to patrol center field, the position vacated by Brombach. In addition to her All-Ivy honors last season, Varde was the league’s Rookie of the Year. Originally recruited to East Hill for basketball, she unexpectedly became a star for the softball team. She led the squad in batting average (.333), slugging percentage (.695), runs scored (36), and hits (48). In addition, she led the Ivies in home runs (14) and broke the university’s single season record in that category.
Classmate and All-Ivy standout Erin Sweeney will play alongside Varde. Sweeney, a speedster, was the catalyst of numerous Cornell rallies last season. In her first collegiate year, she batted .313 and led the team with a .428 on-base percentage. She was also the squad’s best baserunner, leading the Red with seven stolen bases. Surprisingly, she also showed a great deal of power
, belting six homers and driving in 17 runs.
Two other sophomores, Melissa Cannon and Leah deRiel will also see plenty of time in the outfield. Cannon, the Red’s most versatile player, batted .295 last season, smashed five home runs, and drove in 24 runs. Like Sweeney, she also has the ability to snag a base, as she was 6-6 in stolen base attempts last season.
DeRiel saw limited action last year but will definitely see a boost in playing time this year. In just 21 at-bats, she had 11 hits, which included three round-trippers and three doubles.
“I didn’t start her. I must be an idiot,” Blood said after analyzing deRiel’s stats.
The final member of the outfield corps is senior Shara Freeman. Freeman will primarily be used as a late-inning defensive replacement. More importantly, she will be a guiding force for the multitude of underclassmen on a fairly young Cornell squad.
Archived article by Scott Jones