May 20, 2010
ORLANDO, Fla. (Orlando, Fla.) - Convincing Tiffany Lane to play college softball at UCF some 3,000 miles away from her California home took a monumental leap of faith in Knights coach Renee Luers-Gillispie.
Now, Luers-Gillispie is trying to sway Lane into another big change for the good of the UCF softball team as it heads into NCAA Regional play this weekend in Gainesville.
Lane, UCF's standout shortstop, is Conference USA's all-time leader in triples and a former C-USA tournament MVP. But rather than Lane trying to drive the ball so much and ultimately become one of the NCAA's all-time leaders in triples, Luers-Gillispie wants her speedy shortstop to focus more on simply getting on base and generating offense for the Knights.
"She puts a lot of pressure on defenses, but we've had to change her mentality,'' Luers-Gillispie said. "She has the triples record, but it was like one every 10 at bats. We had to tell her that we needed her on base. Her freshman year her on-base percentage was something ridiculous like .500 and it was because she was keeping the pressure on the defense, putting the ball in play and beating it out. We're getting her back in that mentality."
The Knights (35-21) will need Lane, a junior, to be at her best this weekend when they face FIU (36-19) on Friday. To get to the Super Regionals and ultimately accomplish the team's goal of reaching the Softball World Series in Oklahoma City, the Knights will likely have to go through top-seeded Florida (43-8). The Gators edged UCF 4-3 in nine innings back on March 31.
"Our schedule prepared us for this. We're really confident going into this tournament," Lane said. "That loss (to Florida in March) stuck with us for awhile. They are beatable, but we just need to play our `A' game."
Lane has played her `A game' most of the season, ranking second on the team in hitting (.303) and stolen bases (13). She has nine doubles, six triples and a team-best 70 total bases. Her on-base percentage (.371) ranks third on the team, but it's risen of late as the focus has been shifted more to base hits instead of trying to drive the ball.
"I try to read my defenses because Coach Gillispie really wants me to be more of a slapper," Lane said. "I've been slapping the ball lately and it helps us get base runners."
Lane grew up in Moreno Valley, Calif., 65 miles west of Los Angeles. Luers-Gillispie first saw her play in a tournament in Colorado, and heavily recruited her to be the Knights shortstop. And she was a standout from the start, with seven triples and an 11-game hit streak to earn all C-USA Freshman honors in her first season on campus.
"My mom didn't want me to come to UCF because I'm the baby and she's real protective of me," said Lane, the youngest of three children. "There's no family here, so this team is my family."
Lane was a key figure in the 2008 C-USA title, earning tournament MVP honors after notching seven hits and 11 total bases in three victories.
She's been an All-Conference pick as a sophomore and junior as well, but Luers-Gillispie feels Lane has yet to hit her full potential as a hitter and fielder for the Knights.
"She's grown a lot, but she still has a lot of room for growth. She has so much God-given gifts in her that she hasn't even touched on yet," the coach said. "She's so fun to watch and so competitive. But she still has areas of growth. She has a tendency to step back and be thankful for what she's got. She has the potential to be so much better and she hasn't even hit her peak yet."
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.