Feb. 10, 2004

Complete Release in PDF Format
Download Free Acrobat Reader

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio State softball team will get the 2004 season underway in Tempe, Ariz., at the Arizona State Fiesta Bowl Tournament, Feb. 13-15. The Buckeyes will play a pair of games Friday at 10 a.m. vs. Massachusetts and 2:30 p.m. vs. Cal State-Northridge, as well as Saturday at 2 p.m. vs. Texas and 4 p.m. vs. Oregon. Ohio State will conclude its trip against host Arizona State at noon Sunday.

The Buckeyes posted a 26-23 record in 2003 and return 13 letterwinners, which includes seven starters. Head coach Linda Kalafatis, who won her 500th career game last season, returns for her eighth season at the helm of the Ohio State program and is assisted by eighth-year assistants Belinda Cernava and Drema Neal.

Ohio State will begin the 2004 season away from home at four tournaments, three of which will be played in the South. In addition to their stay in Tempe, the Buckeyes will play Feb. 27-29 in Columbus, Ga., March 5-7 in Dayton, Ohio, and March 12-14 in Rock Hill, S.C.

Ohio State will see its first home action March 19-21 as host for the Buckeye Invitational. The Buckeyes will then spend a week in California for five games.

Among the participating teams at the Fiesta Bowl Tournament are 10 schools that are ranked or received votes in the two national preseason polls. Four of Ohio State’s five opponents in Tempe are among those nationally ranked schools, including Arizona (No. 3 Softball, No. 2 USA Today/NFCA), Texas (11/11), Oregon (13/16), Arizona State (19/20) and Massachusetts (RV/RV).

A total of 16 opponents on Ohio State’s 2004 schedule appear in at least one of those two preseason national polls.

“It’s hard to believe after all this time working out, and it’s been since September, that the 2004 season is right around the corner. I told the team today, I feel like they are prepared to go out there and compete and only they can control how well and how hard they are going to play. We’ll be playing some excellent teams and that’s what we want. There’s still a lot of work to and we may not be in mid-season form yet, but this tournament will offer us one more step to becoming the kind of team we want to be.”

Ohio State is not ranked but received votes in the Softball preseason poll. Three Big Ten teams were ranked among the Top 25 (No. 7 Michigan, No. 18 Iowa and No. 24 Michigan State), while three other Big Ten teams also received votes, including Northwestern, OSU and Minnesota.

Prior to the start of last season, the Buckeyes were ranked No. 16 in the USA Today/NFCA preseason poll, which marked the highest preseason ranking in program history. Ohio State finished the 2002 season ranked No. 13, the program’s best ranking in an inseason or postseason poll.

Ohio State has previously played four of the five teams its will meet while in Tempe, including one team, host Arizona State, it faced just last season. The Sun Devils topped the Buckeyes, 1-0, last season at the NFCA Leadoff Classic to improve their all-time record against Ohio State to 8-2. Cal State-Northridge also holds an 8-2 series advantage against the Buckeyes, though Ohio State took a 4-2 win vs. the Matadors the last time these two squads met, which was the season-opener of the 2002 campaign. Ohio State leads the all-time series against Oregon, 3-2, and Texas, 1-0, but has not met those two opponents since 1998 and 1997, respectively. When the Buckeyes meet Massachusetts in the 2004 season lid lifter, it will be the first contest between the two schools.

Seven starters return for the Buckeyes in 2004, including senior P/1B Kristi DeVries (.288, 15 RBI, 12-8, 1.33 ERA), junior OF Karisa Evans (.345, 13 2b, 17 RBI), junior 1B/DP Ashley Cutcliff (.280, 5 HR), sophomore SS Billie Jo Carder (.271), junior OF Meghan Rowlands (.192), senior 1B/DP Beth McAbier (.185) and junior IF Jennifer Johnson (.169). A total of 13 letterwinners return.

Senior P/1B Kristi DeVries and senior 3B Breana Pozzi have been selected as co-captains for the 2004 Buckeyes. DeVries is already near the top of most Ohio State pitching records and also has been a solid contributor at the plate for the Buckeyes, as well. Pozzi, who heads into the 2004 season as the starter at third base, has proven to be a spark at the plate for Ohio State. Nagging injuries hampered her junior season after she batted .329 with 12 RBI as a sophomore.

The 2004 senior class of P/1B Kristi DeVries, 3B Breana Pozzi and 1B/DP Beth McAbier has been a part of 127 victories while wearing scarlet and gray, which is 30 wins shy of the Ohio State-record of 157 wins collected by the senior class of 2003. Should the 2004 seniors break the wins record, it would mark the third-consecutive season the Buckeye senior class has broken the school’s wins record.

Ohio State has won three of its last four season-openers. The Buckeyes’ only loss during that stretch came last season by a narrow 3-2 margin to NCAA tournament participant Florida Atlantic. Ohio State’s previous three consecutive wins came against Cal State-Northridge, Northern Illinois and McNeese State.

In addition, during that same four-year span the Buckeyes have fared well in season-opening tournaments. Overall, Ohio State has a 12-8 record in its first tournament of the season during the last four seasons.

The 2003 season provided Ohio State head coach Linda Kalafatis with a pair of prestigious accomplishments. A 4-1 win vs. Toledo April 9 was Kalafatis’ school-record 221st while at Ohio State, surpassing the previous record of 220 set by Gail Davenport from 1989-1996. Then April 30 a 6-0 win vs. Marshall gave Kalafatis her 500th career victory as a collegiate head coach. Kalafatis is now 501-282-2 (.640) overall after 15 seasons as a collegiate head coach and 228-167-2 (.577) after seven seasons at the helm of the Ohio State program.

When the Buckeyes take on Texas Feb. 14 in Tempe, it will mark Kalafatis’ 400th game as the head coach at Ohio State.

Last season Ohio State began the season with a 14-6 record that included three wins over teams ranked in the Top 10 in the country. But the Buckeyes posted a 12-17 ledger thereafter to end the season with a 26-23 overall mark. Ohio State went 5-11 in Big Ten play.

“We were not pleased with the second half of our season (last year),” said Linda Kalafatis as the 2004 season got underway. “I think that really has motivated our team.”

The 2003 senior class left Ohio State as the winningest class in the history of the program. 3B Kristine Himes, 2B Jennifer Link, IF Elizabeth Kacsanek, OF Rogeanna Hottinger, C Annie Dedic and P Katie Chain racked up 157 victories while wearing scarlet and gray.

Chain set career records at Ohio State for innings pitched (677.1), wins (67), strikeouts (692) and shutouts (26). She and Link received All-America honors in 2002, while Himes belted a school-record 41 career homeruns.

“We will have more speed this year,” Kalafatis said. “Speed is going to be important and we are a pretty quick team. Conditioning and strength training has gone very well. Our kids are in shape and they are working very hard. I just like the personality of this team. I like the athleticism of this team and I like the competitiveness of this team. Now can we put all of those things together in every game? That is what we’ll work to do all season long.

“I think the freshmen will play a pretty large role with our squad. They make up almost one-third of our squad, so their contributions will most likely be significant.”

With a returning leader in DeVries and the addition of four underclassmen, the Buckeye pitching staff will use depth to their advantage this year. DeVries ranks second in career wins (44) and strikeouts (426) at Ohio State and will be joined in the circle by sophomores Chelsea Baker and Andrea Tribuzi and freshmen Nicole Gragson and Jamee Juarez.

The infield is perhaps where the most experience and the most versatility lies on the Buckeye squad. Returnees include DeVries, who doubles as a pitcher and first base player, Beth McAbier, who led the team with 211 putouts last year at first base, BJ Carder and JJ Johnson, who shared time at shortstop last season, and Breana Pozzi, who split time between third base and shortstop. Possibilities vary for combinations in the infield, as Karisa Evans could move from the outfield to the infield or Jamee Juarez could spend time at first or third. Junior Ashley Cutcliff and freshman Nycole Koyano will also figure into the mix early.

A pair of solid players return behind the plate in junior Natalie Hales and sophomore Stacy Hibma. Backups to senior Annie Dedic last season, Hales and Hibma played in 16 and 28 games, respectively, last year. Hales carried a .267 average and Hibma hit .230. Freshman Christina Douglas is another option for the Buckeyes.

Junior Karisa Evans, who started all 49 games last season and batted a team-best .345, returns in right field. Junior Meghan Rowlands, who started in left field last season, will shift to center field in 2004. The third outfield spot will be battled for by Baker, sophomore Nicole Lancaster and freshmen Megan Schwab and Koyano.

The Buckeyes open the season with two tough tournaments that include at least eight 2003 NCAA Tournament participants. In the Arizona State Fiesta Bowl Tournament all five teams – Arizona State, Cal State Northridge, Massachusetts, Oregon and Texas – were NCAA qualifiers last year. In the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Ga., Kalafatis’ squad will take on national runner-up California, Florida Atlantic and LSU.

“We open the gates very strong with our first two tournaments,” Kalafatis said. “In the Fiesta Bowl Tournament all five teams were NCAA participants last season and Texas finished third in the World Series, although they will be without their Olympic pitcher.

“In the NFCA Leadoff Classic, we start out playing three teams that went to the NCAA tournament. Cal finished runner up in the country and won the World Series the year before.”

Ohio State fashioned a perfect 9-0 record during the fall over two weekends of tournament play. Once again Ohio State hosted the Ohio Collegiate Charity Classic, which raised nearly $10,000 for breast cancer research. Kalafatis’ squad won the event with a 5-0 record for the third consecutive year. A week later, the Buckeyes were a flawless 4-0 at the Wright State Fall Tournament in Dayton, Ohio.

Ohio State will have a week off from competition before traveling to the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Ga. There the Buckeyes will face LSU and California Feb. 27 and Florida Atlantic Feb. 28, with the remainder of the tournament based on seeding.