After winning the Ivy title two seasons ago for the second time in the program’s 10-year history, the women’s softball team finished a disappointing third in last year’s final league standings. The 2002 squad finished with a 31-22 overall record and an Ivy mark of 8-6.
This year, the Red will attempt to regain its old championship form as it returns a league-best three All-Ivy first teamers. With a solid core of talent already in place, head coach Dick Blood will count heavily on his much-anticipated freshmen class to bring the team the support it lacked last season.
The Red’s No. 1 starter is arguably the best the Ivy League has to offer. Junior Sarah Sterman broke numerous school records in 2002, en-route to one of the finest individual campaigns in Cornell softball’s brief history. The All-Ivy first team selection threw nine shutouts, struck out 146 batters and boasted a measly 1.24 ERA last year.
“The statistic I like to point to is that she faced 845 batters and only walked 17 of those the entire season,” said Blood.
Due to a lack of depth on the mound, Sterman was forced to pitch in 40 games last year and may be called upon to play a similar role again this season.
Whether or not such a situation will present itself, will be largely determined by how well No. 2 starter Kristen Landis pitches. The freshmen saw some innings on the mound during the team’s fall schedule but her team is confident that past experience will help Landis be successful at the next level.
“She played in 83 games and saw a lot of batters over the summer, so she’s ready to go for us,” said Blood.
According to Blood, the rookie throws a biting riseball, a solid fastball in the low 60s, a rollover change-up and a curveball.
“She’s currently really working on throwing that curveball for strikes, so right now we say she’s at three and a half pitches,” said Blood.
Another freshman, Whitney Smith, will most likely be the Red’s third starter and is also an experienced hurler.
“She has a keen knack for spinning the ball and really getting some nice movement on her pitches,” said Blood of the young gun.
While Sterman and Landis will see most of the innings on the mound, Smith and sophomore Alyssa Brune will be called upon in relief situations. Brune saw limited action her freshman year, appearing in just two games for the Red.
Sharing most of the time behind home plate will be two returning starters in sophomore Melissa Heintz and junior Melissa Cannon.
Heintz, bothered by numerous nagging injuries throughout 2002, started 13 games last year for the Red but will see more action in her sophomore campaign.
“She’ll get more and more innings this season. Her [summer] coach worked really hard to help her improve defensively and we’ll be looking for her to be more consistent,” said Blood of Heintz.
Cannon, a co-captain for this year’s squad, had a .357 slugging percentage last season and was third on the team with 130 plate appearances. However, it is her defensive abilities that particularly attract her coach’s attention.
“She is an outstanding receiver, technically our best,” says Blood. “She blocks the ball well and has a hose down to second.”
Backing up Heintz and Cannon will be freshman MacKenzie Ryan.
Competing for a job at first will be the Red’s other captain and lone senior, Drew Martin. Martin has been plagued by injuries her entire career and will be looking for her first complete season in a Red uniform.
“She’s healthy now and remains a tremendous defender,” says Blood of the veteran. “She simply won’t let the ball get through the infield. However, she knows that she has to hit in order to stay there.”
Martin’s competition will include yet another talented freshman in the person of Stephani Foster.
“She has outstanding defensive abilities, gifted hands and runs well. She’s played a lot of games at a high level and can immediately compete for a job,” said Blood.
Landis will also compete for innings at the position when she is not toeing the rubber.
One of the team’s most intense battles for innings will come up the middle at second base. Sophomore Erin Kizer and Foster will push Martin, currently recovering from a finger injury, for the spot.
“Second base is simple, whoever hits the most will play the most,” said Blood. “We have four or five players that can fill a number of positions, so a lot of the line-up will be determined by who’s hot at the plate.”
At the beginning of her sophomore year, Blood told Sandy Alvarez that the hot corner was hers for the taking. A year later Alvarez still has yet to let it go.
“She started 51 games for us last year and really came on strong at the end,” said Blood.
Giving chase to Alvarez this season will be freshman Chiaka Abara.
“Abara has very good speed and has really shown us some good, quick hands at the plate,” said Blood
Last year’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year and the second of Cornell’s three 2002 All-Ivy first team members is sophomore Lauren May. May broke many records at the plate last season, sporting a slugging percentage of .745, a batting average of .366, hitting 16 home runs, and piling up 52 RBI — twice as many as any of her teammates. The Long Island native is also a talented fielder — racking up 100 assists last season — and thus occupies one of the most important positions on a softball field.
“>No93She a gifted player and one of the very best in the league. Teams know who she is, and she comes to play everyday with an attitude that she just wants to learn and get better,” touted Blood.
Backing up the standout is freshman Caitlin Warren, who also plays hockey for Cornell. The athletic rookie could also vie for innings at second and third base.
Left field will be a toss-up, as innings will surely go to the hottest bat. Able to play the position with consistency are Cannon, Abara, freshman Leah Sutherland, Brune, and Alvarez.
Playing in center will be Cornell’s heart and soul, junior Kate Varde. Varde had a breakout year as a freshman and was named to the All-Ivy first team last season. However, her numbers dropped during her sophomore year as the star was forced to lead off for the offensively depleted team. Varde was still able to hit .333, with a .532 slugging percentage, 10 doubles and five homers.
This year, Blood hopes someone else can step into the leadoff role in order to allow Varde and May to hit next to each other in the line-up.
“We don’t need her to walk 26 times,” said Blood of his slugger, “we need her to drive in runs and drive the ball, not take pitch after pitch. We need to put her in a position to be as aggressive as possible at the plate.”
Much of the leadoff responsibilities will now fall on the shoulders of Cornell’s starting right fielder, junior Erin Sweeney. Sweeney stole four bases last year and racked up 25 runs, using the speed Blood is so heavily counting on this season.
“Much of our lineup depends on if Sweeney is healthy for us and if she can fill in for Kate,” he said.
With Varde and May finally getting the chance to bat farther down in the order and closer together, Blood’s team should be able to produce more runs than it did last season.
The Red was ab
le to win 31 games last year with its third best average falling below well the .300 mark. A little added pop from the bats of the incoming freshmen, along with more opportunities to get on base for Sweeney and the speedy Abara, should solve the offensive woes of 2002.
“Our defense and pitching held strong, but it’s tough to win without runs,” recalled Blood.
There are still many questions left unanswered by this team.
However, one big answer will come in the form of who will step up and be the third offensive contributor to May and Varde’s dominance.
“We need someone to come in and give us that added bonus on offense, we need that bad,” said Blood.
With a solid and flexible defense, a top-notch No. 1 starter on the mound and a highly touted rookie at No. 2, this team’s fate will most likely lie in whether Blood’s wish is granted.
Archived article by Scott Jones