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Feb. 4, 2003

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – The No. 16 Ohio State softball team will open the 2003 season in sunny Miami, Fla. as they take part in the Florida International Tournament Feb. 7-9. The Buckeyes will open with two games Friday as they face Florida Atlantic at 1:30 p.m. and Florida International at 6:30 p.m. Ohio State will then face No. 22 Alabama at 11 a.m. Saturday with the remainder of the tournament decided by seeding and bracket play.

The Tournament Friday, Feb. 7 Florida Atlantic vs. Alabama 11 a.m. Florida Atlantic vs. Ohio State 1:30 p.m. Florida International vs. Alabama 4 p.m. Florida International vs. Ohio State 6:30 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 8 Alabama vs. Ohio State 11 a.m. Florida Int’l vs. Florida Atlantic 1:30 p.m. No. 1 seed vs. No. 4 seed 4 p.m. No. 3 seed vs. No. 3 seed 6:30 p.m.

Sunday, Feb. 9 Consolation game 10:30 a.m. Championship game 1 p.m.

Quote From The Coach
“Our team is very anxious to play and face some very good teams in Florida,” Linda Kalafatis, OSU head coach, said. “We have had a good three weeks of practice and we’re right where we need to be at this point in the preseason. There is certainly no time for first game or tournament jitters as these teams are very strong and will be ready to compete. As a northern school, this is earlier than we would like to open our season up, but we’ll be ready to play hard.”

No Cupcakes
The Buckeyes are scheduled to face nine teams in the preseason USA Today/NFCA Top 25 including No. 3 and defending NCAA champion California Golden Bears March 1 at the Cal-State Fullerton/Worth Invitational in Fullerton, Calif.

After opening up the season at the Florida International Tournament in Miami, OSU will travel to the prestigious NFCA Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Ga. (Feb. 21-23) to face ranked foes such as No. 11 DePaul and No. 13 Arizona State. The following weekend the team will head west to the Cal-State Fullerton/Worth Invitational to compete against some of the top programs out west including No. 3 California, No. 6 Washington, No. 10 Cal-State Fullerton and No. 22 Oregon State. From there, Ohio State will return home to play host to the Buckeye Invitational March 15-16 then finish off the preseason tournament schedule at the University of Hawaii/Chevron Invitational March 20-23 where the Buckeyes will take on Tokyo, Nattaidai (Japan) and No. 21 Pacific.

Kalafatis Names Captains
Seniors Katie Chain, Jenn Link, Amy Ellis and Kristine Himes have been elected team captains for the 2003 season. All four are serving their first season as captains.

Strikeout, Home Run Queens
Seniors Katie Chain and Kristine Himes, OSU’s career strikeout and home run leaders, respectively, set the school mark for the most strikeouts and home runs in a season in 2002. Chain recorded 222 strikeouts to give her 531 in her career. Himes blasted 16 dingers in 2002, giving her 32 for her career.

Season Outlook
After a record-shattering 2002 campaign, the Buckeyes will try to ride that momentum into 2003 and strive toward a Big Ten Championship and a trip to the Women’s College World Series.

The 2002 season will go down in the record books as one the most productive and historic in the 32-year existence of the program. The Buckeyes went 55-14 on the year – their most wins ever – and attaining the program’s highest national ranking ever at No. 13. OSU closed out its season with a trip to the NCAA Regional tournament, its first since 1990. The 2002 Buckeyes shattered the record books, breaking 21 team records and 15 individual marks throughout the season.

Head coach Linda Kalafatis expects the trend to continue in 2003 with three All-Big Ten selections returning for the Buckeyes. Overall, seven starters or part-time starters return from last year’s squad to guide the Buckeyes back to the NCAA tournament.

“In sports you have to get used to change and turnover quickly,” Kalafatis said. “But what I like about our program now is that with each level of success that we achieve, this team gets more hungry because they know that they are not that far away from getting to Oklahoma City. I trust this senior class. I trust their commitment and determination to put us in position to compete for a Big Ten title, return to the NCAA’s and play for a spot in the Women’s College World Series.”

Infield
One of the strengths of this year’s team will be in the infield where two all-Big Ten selections return to lead a talented group of infielders. Jennifer Link, a third team All-America selection at second base, batted .349 with a team-high 215 plate appearances in 2002. Kristine Himes, OSU’s career home run queen, is the cornerstone at third base and at the clean-up spot in the batting order. Himes smacked a team-high 16 home runs and was third on the team in slugging percentage (.610). Link and Himes are the only two returning players to start all 69 games last season-also a school record.

Backing them up are a number of candidates. Elizabeth Kacsanek, who had shoulder surgery over the summer, will be moved over to second base.

Kristi DeVries, who will see most of her time in the circle, is solid candidate at first base. DeVries saw action in 41 games last season and showed significant improvement with the bat in fall competition.

“We will count on Kristi when she is not pitching to be in the lineup,” Kalafatis said. “Kristi has been swinging the bat with a lot of confidence and is very solid defensively. She might be our best defensive player.”

Also is the mix at first base is junior Beth McAbier, who saw action in 18 games last year, and Ashley Cutcliff, a sophomore transfer from the University of Florida.

Shortstop may be the most talented position according to Kalafatis. Three players, junior Breanna Pozzi, sophomore Jennifer Johnson and freshman Billie Jo Carder, who will also be used as a utility player, are three players that can play the position and play it well. Pozzi started 30 of 38 games in which she participated, batting .329 in 82 at-bats. Johnson showed signs of good things to come during her freshman season, starting 36 of 42 games at the shortstop position.

“Jennifer got some really good experience last season as well. We’re still waiting for “JJ” to assert herself as a hitter in our lineup and hoping this is the year she can do just that. The more confidence she gains, the more solid of a player she will become. We are also looking at “JJ” as a back up at second. B.J. Carder can play almost anywhere on the field. She could very well be the best athlete on the squad.”

Outfield
This season Kalafatis will have more depth than ever in the outfield. Only one starter returns in Rogeanna Hottinger, yet the Buckeyes have a numbers of players with valuable experience in the outfield.

“The play of our outfield during the fall led our team,” Kalafatis said. “Rogeanna has great instincts on the ball, moves well and has a great arm. I think she can be one of the top outfielders in the conference.”

Sophomore Meghan Rowlands is a solid candidate to start in left field. Rowlands saw action in 55 games last season and was third on the team with nine stolen bases in 13 attempts. She also demonstrated good speed in the outfield and showed excellent power potential with the bat in the fall.

“Meghan is very fast,” Kalafatis said. “We moved her from the infield after she had spent most of her career at shortstop and third. She is now starting to develop very good instincts as an outfielder. Her speed is a tremendous asset as a defensive and offensive player.”

Senior Amy Ellis is another likely starter in right field. After spending most of her career in the infield, she saw an opportunity for playing time in the outfield and has since adjusted nicely. Sophomore Karisa Evans, who also is making the adjustment to the outfield, will also be in the mix for the Buckeyes in 2003.

“Amy is one of the unsung heroes of this team,” Kalafatis said. “She doesn’t seem to expect a lot, yet she is always wanting to give more and always work hard to improve and do whatever it takes to help this team succeed. I look forward to Amy playing a bigger role this year.”

Freshman Nicole Lancaster will add even more depth to the outfield position. Practicing primarily as an outfielder, she may also see time in the infield.

Kalafatis also has said there should be no surprise if the versatile DeVries also sees some time in the outfield.

“We will do what ever it takes to keep Kristi’s bat in the lineup,” Kalafatis said. “If our lineup is stronger with her in right field or if a pitching change happens then that is what we may do.”

Catchers
Replacing All-American Stacy Roth at catcher will be a challenging task, but Kalafatis knows senior Annie Dedic is ready and willing to handle the responsibility. A part-time starter in 2002, Dedic appeared in 36 games, driving in 16 runs while committing zero errors from behind the plate.

“Annie does a nice job of knowing our pitchers and their strengths,” Kalafatis said. “She does a nice job of throwing out runners. Annie is no stranger to the starting lineup. We’re looking for her to be the leader of the catchers.”

Backing her up will be Natalie Hales, a transfer from Eastern Michigan, and Stacy Hibma, a freshman from Buena Park, Calif.

Pitchers
In the circle are two freshmen, but also two veterans pitchers to lead the Buckeye pitching staff. Senior and All-Big Ten selection Katie Chain enters the season as the apparent ace on the staff. Chain has already etched her name in the Ohio State record book and is looking to do even more damage in 2003. Chain won 21 games last season in 27 starts and is already OSU’s career leader in wins (56) and strikeouts (531).

“Katie is very hungry this year,” Kalafatis said. “I think we may be seeing Katie’s best year ever which is what you want from your senior players.”

Just behind Chain is junior Kristi DeVries who went 16-2 last season in 21 starts and led the team with seven shutouts. According to the coaching staff, DeVries, after being hampered by injuries most of her career, is throwing and swinging the bat better than ever.

“Kristi needs to step up and deliver this year in a way that we all know she is capable of,” Kalafatis said. “She is capable of being one of the best players in the Big Ten.

“We are very confidant with Katie and Kristi in the circle for us, we know they will lead us to some big wins this season.”

Chelsea Baker, a freshman from Gahanna, Ohio, brings a new face to the circle and another likely starter to the pitching staff. Baker also will be used as a utility player for the Buckeyes.

“We recruited Chelsea not only as a pitcher, but because of her ability to produce offensively and defensively in the outfield,” Kalafatis said. “Chelsea is a solid all-around player and a good athlete. She may not have the size that some of our other players have, but she makes up for that in her competitiveness.”

Also adding depth to the pitching corps will be another freshman, Andrea Tribuzi. Tribuzi showed signs of good things to come during the fall, causing problems at the plate for opposing batters.

Buckeyes Receive Highest Preseason Ranking
The Buckeyes are ranked No. 16 in the preseason USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division I Top 25 poll released Jan. 29. The ranking is the highest preseason ranking in program history. Ohio State garnered its highest overall ranking in program history last season, finishing the season ranked No. 13 after a trip to the NCAA Regional tournament, its first since 1990.

Scouting Florida Atlantic
Florida Atlantic is 1-4 on the year after opening the season at the Louisville Slugger Tournament in Tampa, Fla. Jan. 31-Feb. 2. The Owls fell to Arizona (2-0), Auburn (5-3), Northwestern (5-3) and South Florida (4-1). The lone win came against Sam Houston State, 2-1.

The Owls are coming off their best season in the history of the program and are the preseason favorite to win the Atlantic Sun Conference regular season championship in both the coaches and media polls. FAU has won the past six Atlantic Sun championships. Last season they recorded 62 wins which was a school record and were the most in the nation. FAU received its first no. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and was ranked as high as No. 10 nationally. Overall, FAU has participated in four-consecutive NCAA tournaments.

Joan Joyce is in her ninth year as the head coach at Florida Atlantic where she has compiled a record of 374-174.

Scouting Florida International
Florida International is 2-3 on the year after opening the season at home at the FIU Fun & Sun Classic. FIU defeated Illinois State twice, but fell to Georgia twice and Kentucky once.

The Panthers return nine student-athletes from last year’s 39-34 team that finished tied for second place in the Sun Belt Conference. First baseman Jennifer Owens and pitcher Amanda Nealer – second-team all-conference selections in 2002 – are expected to lead the Golden Panthers again in 2003. FIU is picked to finish second in the 2003 Sun Belt Conference Coaches Preseason Poll. Owens is batting .438 through five games with seven hits, three RBI’s and seven total bases. Marleah Stapf has belted one home run and recorded nine total bases for a .562 slugging percentage at the FIU Fun & Sun Classic.

Head coach Kim Gwydir, now in her fifth season at FIU, started the Golden Panthers intercollegiate softball program four years ago, and has a record of 133-110. Overall Gwydir has posted a 249-179-1 career record in eight years of intercollegiate coaching.

Scouting Report: Alabama
No. 22 Alabama is 3-2 on the season with wins over Cal State Fullerton (4-1), Cal State Northridge (3-0) and Loyola Marymount (7-4). The Tide drop its two games to Cal State Fullerton (4-3) and UCLA (5-4), all at the Stacy Winsberg Memorial tournament in Los Angeles, Calif.

The Crimson Tide is led offensively by Lacy Prejean and Ashley Courtney, both of whom are batting .467 with seven hits in 15 at-bats. Prejean has two dingers and 14 total bases, good for a .933 slugging percentage while Courtney has recorded one double, triple and home run for six RBI’s and 13 total bases for an .867 slugging percentage.

Patrick Murphy is in his fourth season as the head coach at Alabama and his 11th season as a college coach. Murphy has taken the Tide to three-consecutive NCAA tournaments, including an appearance in the 2000 Women’s College World Series.

Going Out Winners
The 2003 senior class has the opportunity this season to record more wins than any other class in the history of Ohio State softball. The Buckeyes need just 21 wins to help this senior class become the all-time winningest class to come through Ohio State. The 2002 senior’s shattered the mark last season, recording 149 wins over the last four years, breaking the old mark of 127 (class of 2001, 1995). The class of 2003 enters this season with 129 wins.

On Deck
Ohio State will travel to Columbus, Ga. to participate in the NFCA Leadoff Classic Feb. 21-23. The Buckeyes are scheduled to play No. 11 DePaul, No. 13 Arizona State and Liberty. The remainder of the competition will be determined by bracket play.

In The Hole
The Buckeyes will participate at the Cal State Fullerton/Worth Invitational in Fullerton, Calif. Feb 28-March 2. The Buckeyes will compete against the top teams out west including No. 3 and defending NCAA champion California.