Jan. 27, 2005

Head coach Linda Kalafatis and the Ohio State softball team are looking to an experienced squad and last year’s 35 wins and trip to the NCAA tournament to continue the tradition of Buckeye softball in 2005. With 14 returning letterwinners back, including eight starters, Ohio State is in a good position to face the challenging competition in and out of the Big Ten Conference and contend for a league title and what could be a third trip to the NCAA tournament in the last four years.

“We look to springboard off where we ended last year,” Kalafatis said. “I thought we showed tremendous maturity last year to bounce back like we did in the Big Ten and win all of those games on the road with three rookies in the everyday lineup and a fourth freshman in the mix every once in a while. As a young team we had to really grit it out and now we have to go a step further. We don’t want to just make it to the regionals, we want to be the team that comes out of there.”

The Buckeyes got the task of blending veterans and newcomers underway in the fall and proved up to challenge as Ohio State won its fourth consecutive Ohio Collegiate Charity Classic tournament title in October.

“We certainly saw some good things and some things we need to work on from the fall, which is what we set out to do each fall,” Kalafatis, who is in her ninth season in Columbus, said. “We have got as much versatility on our team right now as we have ever had.”

Versatility is no understatement in reference to this squad. From a sophomore all-conference pitcher who can play third base to a senior outfielder who can easily transition into the infield, the Buckeyes are loaded with players that can combine to create numerous lineups.

Providing the on-field leadership will be senior captains Karisa Evans, Natalie Hales and Meghan Rowlands. With Evans in right field, Hales behind the plate and Rowlands in center field, the Buckeyes have three anchors on which to build. The fall season was a good test for the team and it gave the staff an opportunity to see what combinations would be most beneficial.

“I think coming out of the fall, we got to see a lot of potential lineups,” Kalafatis said. “There are still a couple of positions that people are competing for, which I think is a good thing. Hopefully it makes those positions stronger and those players work hard.

“I think our offense has the potential to be very exciting because of the number of lefties in the lineup and the different things that they can do and also because of some other hitters in the lineup that are maturing and have good experience. It is going to be really neat to see what this team can do.

“I think that our freshmen have certainly added to that versatility, along with last year’s freshman class that got a considerable amount of playing time. To do well, we are going to need our upper classmen to be good leaders, to set the tone, work hard and produce.”

Four pitchers return for the Buckeyes as OSU looks to fill the void left by Kristi DeVries to graduation. DeVries, one of two players to notch over 600 career strikeouts, posted a 16-11 record last year on her way to being named second team all-conference.

Sophomore Jamee Juarez, juniors Chelsea Baker and Andrea Tribuzi and redshirt freshman Nicole Gragson are all looking to get the job done in 2005.

“I consider us to be fairly young on the mound,” Kalafatis said. “That was an area of focus in the fall and in the two weekends we competed and I thought we saw really great improvement in that area.”

A third team All-Big Ten selection, Juarez was named to the 2004 Great Lakes All-Region Second Team and the NCAA Region No. 4 all-tourney team. The Buckeyes’ rookie of the year, Juarez was 13-10 with a 1.72 ERA and batted .279 as a starter in all 58 games she played. The team’s leader in RBIs with 36, Juarez started at third base when not pitching.

“Jamee did a great job last year as a freshman and now she needs to take the next step and be the ace of the staff,” Kalafatis said. “She may have to throw more as we continue to see who can step up and compliment her in the big games. We never have to question Jamee’s work ethic and her drive to want to be the best and want our team to be the best. I hope that now as the ace, she can take on a little bit more of a leadership role and be more of a vocal person.”

Baker saw considerable time in the circle last season as the No. 3 pitcher and proved in the fall she is ready to become a full-time starter. Baker pitched 67.1 innings last spring with an ERA of 1.77.

“We are counting on Chelsea to step up on the mound,” Kalafatis said. “Last year, she stepped up and took more of a role with our team, most of which was in the outfield and in the lineup. Now we are really counting on her experience to be somebody opposite Jamee on the mound in the tournaments and in Big Ten play.”

Baker not only is someone to rely on for pitching, but she showed her offensive ability last season. After hitting .231 as a freshman, she improved her average to .297 last year with 19 runs, 27 hits, three doubles and three triples. Baker stole all 10 bases attempted in 2004.

“Chelsea hit her way into the lineup last year,” Kalafatis said. “There were a couple times she got really hot. She was really swinging the bat well and we got to see her in all three of the outfield spots, which is a possibility this year, as well. Chelsea is somebody that has some pop in her bat, runs pretty well, is a good base runner and has great instincts. Now, she has to go out there and play like an upperclassman.”

Gragson will be anxious to suit up in the scarlet and gray this year after missing the entire season last year because of injury.

“We are starting to get the answers about Nicole that we’ve been waiting to see for a year,” Kalafatis said. “This fall she had some good and some bad days, but I look at that as a positive. She had to rebound from the bad, which she did very well and the good days she had gave us a glimpse at what her potential could be. We know what we need to do to get her ready and it is good to see her being a functioning member of the team.”

Tribuzi will be a key component to the pitching staff. She made five appearances last year and tallied 11 strikeouts with a 0.78 ERA.

“Andrea spent some time rehabbing over the summer with some shoulder issues so we didn’t know how much she would be able to throw in the fall,” Kalafatis said. “She was a little more limited in the first fall tournament and we were able to give her a start in the second tournament. She came in and did a really good job. Knowing that we have her in relief and maybe some spot-starts is something that can really help our team.”

The Buckeye catching staff is an area that Kalafatis has a lot of confidence in this year.

“We may have the best catching staff in the conference,” Kalafatis said.

Natalie Hales is a senior with an incredible amount of experience behind the plate. Last year, she played in 51 games and started in 49 of those contests.

“This coaching staff is counting on Natalie to take her step this year to become more of a leader on the field and during the game,” Kalafatis said. “Natalie is another one who we never have to worry about how hard she is working. Nat is prepared every day to do her best in practice whether it is strength and conditioning or on the field.”

Ohio State has another competent catcher in junior Stacy Hibma. Hibma started 11 outings and played in 18 last year for the Buckeyes.

“As much as we trust Natalie, we are starting to trust Stacy equally as much to call the game,” Kalafatis said. “Stacy was similarly successful to Hales throwing runners out this fall. I thought Stacy had a really good fall. I feel very confident in either one of them if we were playing for a Big Ten championship tomorrow. Either Natalie or Stacy could step in and do a really good job.”

First Base
Two seniors – Kristi DeVries and Beth McAbier – have left a spot at first base that Kalafatis and staff will have to fill this season. The Buckeyes need look no further than two returners – sophomore Christina Douglas and senior Ashley Cutcliff – to fill the opening. Douglas, primarily an outfielder a year ago, played in 34 games and batted .216 last season, while Cutcliff, a designated hitter, was ranked No. 2 on the team with a .329 average.

“Christina showed some good potential at the end of last season, so we started to work her out at first base and focused on it over the summer,” Kalafatis said. “If you look at Douglas today, you would think she had played there all her life, she has transitioned there so well. We have all been pleasantly surprised how quickly and how well she has picked up first base.”

Cutcliff, who is perhaps the biggest deep threat on the squad, is likely to see time at first and as the designated player. Last season, she tallied 10 runs, 25 hits, four homeruns and 17 RBIs. Her .526 slugging percentage was the best on the Buckeye squad.

“Ashley is known as a hitter and that is her strength, but I think Ashley has shown moments of good play on defense,” Kalafatis said. “We would like both players (Cutcliff and Douglas) to drive in runs. These are another two kids who we do not have to worry about if they are working hard enough.”

Second Base
The Buckeyes are stacked at second base with two very talented underclassmen.

“It is probably our most up-for-grabs position,” Kalafatis said. “It is not because we don’t know who is going to step up and do it, it is because we have two excellent players there in Brittany Vanderink and Nycole Koyano. We’re in a really good spot at second base.”

Koyano was the only player to start all 60 games last year. A second baseman with exceptional speed and offensive potential, Koyano was Ohio State’s Defensive Player of the Year. A 2004 Great Lakes All-Region Second Team selection, Koyano had 11 multiple hit games, the second-most on the team, and batted .327. In 168 at-bats, Koyano racked up 33 runs, 55 hits, 13 RBIs and 58 total bases. Koyano tallied 75 assists and 120 put-outs with a .970 fielding percentage.

“CoCo is so solid defensively, Kalafatis said. “She is very quick and always can find a way to get on base. She is hard to throw out and sometimes a miss-hit from her is just as good as a solid hit.”

Vanderink, like Koyano, is a left-handed offensive threat and is just as talented defensively. A native of Hiram, Ohio, Vanderink led her Crestwood High School squad to the 2003 state championship and was named a 2002 ASA Second Team All-American after the 18U Gold National Tournament. She represented Ohio as one of 46 student-athletes invited to the Junior Olympic softball tryouts in Salem, Oregon.

“Brittany is a special player,” Kalafatis said. “We always try to get the best players from Ohio and there is no doubt about it that Brittany was Ohio’s finest softball player last year. She has always been the spark plug on her teams and we see her doing the same for us at either second base or in the outfield.”

A senior and a junior who both go by their initials are vying for the shortstop position again this season. Billie Jo “BJ” Carder and Jennifer “JJ” Johnson return with lots of experience. Johnson played the position most of the time last season and started 50-of-53 games. She had a .904 fielding percentage with 87 put-outs and 82 assists. Carder started in 13 games and played in 31 overall and batted .255.

“We are fortunate to have two veterans returning in JJ and BJ,” Kalafatis said. “They are two very capable players with different strengths. We are counting on their experience to anchor our infield. Our team needs positive leadership with solid and consistent play from our shortstop. We need each of them to have their best seasons yet.”

Third Base
Several players are available to Kalafatis and the Buckeye staff at third base. Juarez, who started at third when she was not pitching last year, led the team with seven multiple RBI outings and 36 total RBIs. A starter in 58-of-58 contests, Juarez racked up 25 runs, 48 hits, 12 doubles, one triple and four homeruns, not to mention a .979 fielding average.

Two upperclassmen in Carder and Evans also bring a plethora of infield experience to the Ohio State squad.

“This is another interesting spot for us,” Kalafatis said. “We have three different players that have experience at third. Either BJ (Carder) or Karisa (Evans) can fill in for Jamee (Juarez) when she is pitching and we have been experimenting with another two players.

“Karisa had really come in as a third base player, but she has not played there in a couple years. She has past experience and the ability to play there and BJ has spent her entire career in the infield, but at shortstop. What started as a question mark for us will really be a positive regardless of how we want to make our lineup.”

The Buckeye outfield is all about variety this season. With numerous players who can fill in at almost any position, the OSU outfield is in good hands. Chelsea Baker, Karisa Evans, Meghan Rowlands, Nicole Lancaster and Megan Schwab all return with an abundance of experience in the outfield. Rookies Liz Caputo and Stephanie Hill will also be welcomed additions to the Buckeye defense.

“This is another spot where there is a lot of depth,” Kalafatis said. “I think we have gotten to the place where any of our outfielders can play in any of the outfield spots”

Schwab earned the left-field starting position last season as a rookie. A member of the 2004 Big Ten All-Tournament Team, Schwab started in all 59 contests played last year and batted .295 with a team-high 13 doubles and 78 total bases.

“Schwab did a really nice job in the three spot in our lineup for the fall,” Kalafatis said. “She likes to be in situations where there are runners on. I would like to see her, especially as a sophomore, nail down that spot in the lineup. She is somebody that can come through in the clutch. As a lefty, it would be a bonus to have her anchor the left-field line.”

Evans, who led the team in 2003 as a sophomore with a .345 batting average, was tabbed the squad’s best offensive player and Most Valuable Player last season as a junior. She started 59-of-60 games played in 2004 in right field and batted .312 with 26 runs, 54 hits, 20 RBIs and had a .927 fielding percentage.

Rowlands started in 45 of 53 total contests and had a .959 fielding percentage. She batted .227 with 20 hits, 16 runs and nine RBIs.

“Karisa and Meghan are our seniors out there and we are counting on their experience and leadership,” Kalafatis said. “Karisa may be the best base runner on the team and Meghan is among our fastest kids.”

Baker is a player who will likely see time as a pitcher and outfielder.

“Chelsea hit her way into the lineup last year,” Kalafatis said. “We saw moments of really good production from her. The next step is to do it consistently.”

Lancaster saw action in 32 games last year and 38 games as a freshman in 2003.

“Nicole Lancaster had a really good fall and I have been saying for the last two years that she might be our best defensive outfielder,” Kalafatis said. “This fall she stepped up with her bat as well. I am certainly hoping that Nicole can contribute to the team in that way.”

Caputo, a freshman from Riverside, Calif., was a three-time all-conference selection and earned a spot on the LA Times All-Star Team.

“Caputo had a great summer ball experience and played at a very high level,” Kalafatis said. “She has good speed and is a lefty slapper. I think she had one of our best and most accurate arms in the outfield in the fall, so I can definitely see her in the mix.”

Ohio State’s 2005 schedule will once again be a demanding one for the Buckeyes. With teams from all over the country, OSU is sure to gain experience against an assortment of teams to prepare for Big Ten competition. The Buckeyes will be facing NCAA participants from last season in at least 18 games.

“We anticipate our schedule being very challenging once again,” Kalafatis said. “The Big Ten is always one of the Top 3 or 4 conferences in the country in softball and we will certainly need our preseason to prepare us for that part of our schedule.”

Ohio State begins the season with three tournaments in Florida, California and Georgia. The first is the Florida Atlantic Tournament Feb. 18-20 in Boca Raton, Fla. The Buckeyes will face Rutgers, Florida Atlantic, N.C. State and Pittsburgh with the remainder of the event based on seeding.

Next up is Palm Springs, Calif., where the Buckeyes will participate in one of the top tournaments in the country, the 2005 Palm Springs Tournament Feb. 27-29. The Buckeyes will play Pacific, UNLV, Washington, Oregon State and Long Island – all of those teams except UNLV played in the NCAA tournament last year and Washington advanced to the College World Series. The third tournament is the Georgia Tech/Buzz Classic March 4-6 in Atlanta, Ga. Ohio State will take on Gardner-Webb, South Dakota State, Middle Tennessee State and South Carolina. The end of the tournament will once again be based on seeding.

Ohio State opens up home play with a double-header vs. Evansville March 13 before playing host to the Buckeye Invitational March 18-20. Teams participating in the Buckeye Invitational include Ball State, Eastern Michigan, Notre Dame, Oakland and Marshall.

It is back to California for spring break and games vs. Cal State Fullerton, Loyola Marymount and Cal State Riverside March 22, 24 and 26, respectively. After the trip out west, Big Ten play begins for Ohio State.

“This is a solid schedule with no easy wins,” Kalafatis said. “The Big Ten is as competitive as ever with really good, young players to compliment some exceptional veteran players in the conference.”

April 1-3 is the first weekend of Big Ten play for the Buckeyes as they travel to play Wisconsin April 1 and 2 and Minnesota in a doubleheader April 3. Ohio State is back on the road with games at Michigan State April 8-9. Iowa will be the Buckeyes’ first home Big Ten opponent April 15 and 16, followed by a doubleheader vs. Illinois April 17 at Buckeye Field. A trip to Fairborn, Ohio, to face non-conference Wright State April 19 precedes games at Northwestern and Michigan April 22-24.

The Buckeyes will host Western Michigan April 26 and Bowling Green April 27 before playing Indiana April 29 and 30. Purdue will visit Columbus in a doubleheader May 1 before a doubleheader vs. Akron May 3. The final regular season games of the season for Ohio State will be May 4 at Pittsburgh and May 7 and 8 when OSU plays host to the Nittany Lions of Penn State to close Big Ten play.

The Big Ten tournament will be held May 12-14 at the site of the regular-season conference champion. Sites for the NCAA regional (May 19-22) and super regional (May 27-29) action will be determined in the spring. The 2005 Women’s College World Series is June 1-6 in Oklahoma City, Okla.

The Staff
Chrissy Fowler and Belinda Quisenberry will assist Kalafatis with the coaching duties this season. Both Ohio State softball alumnae, Fowler and Quisenberry bring a wealth of knowledge to the Buckeye squad. Fowler played for Kalafatis, while Quisenberry began her coaching career under Kalafatis’ direction.

“I am pleased to have two former Buckeyes on the staff,” Kalafatis said. “Chrissy played for me and while Belinda didn’t, her playing experience at Ohio State and the coaching experience we have shared over the last 11 years is invaluable.”

Quisenberry, formerly Belinda Cernava, was a standout pitcher at Ohio State and helped lead the Buckeyes to the 1990 Big Ten championship. She is in her ninth year at Ohio State.

“Belinda has been so much a part of the success. She has that deep care and concern about the girls and the program that you would hope a former player would have. She does something every day to help improve this program.”

Fowler was a senior captain on the 2002 Buckeye softball team that posted one of the most impressive campaigns in Buckeye history with a 55-14 overall record and runners-up finishes in the Big Ten, the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA Region 6 tournament. She was a three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection was an OSU Scholar-Athlete all four years.

“We are excited to have Chrissy on board,” Kalafatis said. “She always brought energy and a tremendous work ethic as a player and now she brings it as a coach. In the limited time she has been with us, she has done a good job on the recruiting and business side of things and her energy and excitement is contagious to the staff and players”

Rounding out the coaching staff are a pair of student-assistants that were seniors on the 2004 OSU squad. Kristi DeVries and Beth McAbier, a pitcher/first baseman and first baseman, respectively, played a big part in helping their class set the school record for wins by one class with 162.

“Krit and Mac have been extremely helpful and dedicated in their new roles as student-assistants,” Kalafatis said. “Their continued commitment to helping our program be at its best is so appreciated by our coaching staff and players.”