2007 UCF Softball Season Preview

Jan. 19, 2007

ORLANDO - Spending its first four seasons in the Atlantic Sun was very beneficial for the UCF softball program. The Golden Knights immediately became contenders for the league title each year, which culminated in a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2005.

Switching to Conference USA for 2006, however, proved that UCF will have to earn every victory it can get. While the Gold and Black suffered some costly injuries, dealt with moving to a brand new stadium during the season and had 10 true freshmen on its roster, it finished at 4-20 in C-USA play and 19-37 overall.

With 2007 rolling around, the Golden Knights now have the experience of playing in a new conference as well as a new park. Motivation of returning to the NCAA Regionals happens to be an added bonus awaiting in the postseason.

"We are thrilled to be hosting the Conference USA Championships," said sixth-year head coach Renee Luers-Gillispie. "Being able to host the conference tournament is going to be huge. But we have to put ourselves in a good position to make it there. That is the drawing point of the entire season."

To qualify, UCF needs to finish in the top six in the league's standings. A key factor that will help that process is the Golden Knights' schedule.

2007 Schedule
Although they are not conference foes any longer, UCF and Florida Atlantic renew their rivalry on the very first day of the season at the FAU Tournament Feb. 9-11. The Golden Knights also face Miami (Ohio), North Florida and Pittsburgh during opening weekend. Their next trip should be the toughest of the year, meeting up with UCLA, UNLV, Colorado State, Seton Hall and Oklahoma State at the UNLV Louisville Slugger Desert Classic Feb. 16-18.

The Golden Knights open their first full season at the UCF Softball Complex Feb. 21 with a doubleheader against Hofstra, and two days later host the UCF Tournament Feb. 23-25. UCF also competes in the Altamonte Springs Tournament March 2-4 and then starts C-USA action at East Carolina March 10-11.

During the second half of the season, UCF welcomes Bethune-Cookman, Southern Miss, Dartmouth, Marshall, Stetson, Florida Atlantic, UAB and UTEP to the new field. Meanwhile, its road slate is highlighted by trips to 2006 C-USA champion Tulsa, Florida State, Florida and Houston.

"We've got a good schedule, and we worked hard to try and make sure we will be ready when the conference games begin," said Luers-Gillispie. "We are in two great tournaments at Florida Atlantic and UNLV, and are going to see good competition the very first weekend. And then we will go to UNLV and play some top programs in OSU, UCLA and UNLV. That will give the girls an opportunity to see where we are and what we need to work on early in the season."

Pitching Staff
Four unique pitchers make up the 2007 staff. In her first year at UCF, junior Allison Kime shined in the circle in 2006. A native of Brandon, Fla., she struck out a program record 222 batters while posting a 1.64 ERA in 226.2 innings of work. Lexi Gresham was forced to redshirt her first season due to an injury. In six appearances, she went 2-2 with a 1.57 ERA and 14 strikeouts. Sophomore Magon Paul saw time in 15 games and picked up two victories in 12 starts.

One of UCF's biggest additions will be Ashleigh Cole. Playing for Pace High School in Florida, the right-hander ended her career with 719 strikeouts and a 0.44 ERA. As a senior, she struck out 246 hitters in just 148 innings, all while collecting a 17-3 record and a 0.20 ERA.

"Ashleigh Cole will solidify our pitching staff," said Luers-Gillispie. "She is very intimidating, which I love, because she has presence on the mound. Allison Kime being healthy is a huge plus too. She went down early in the season last year, but threw very well this fall and we are looking for her to take the lead on the mound.

"Lexi Gresham is coming back stronger this year. She redshirted last year and I am looking for her to get a lot of innings for us. Magon Paul will close a lot of games for us and even start a few. She will pitch in relief and come in for a few innings to throw batters off a bit. We have a stronger pitching staff this year and we will be in good shape if we can stay healthy."

Junior Cat Snapp and sophomore Lindsay Dean split time behind the plate last season. They combined to throw out 13 baserunners and in 361 combined chances, they made just five errors.

"Both looked very good in the fall and they will help us out in the lineup offensively," said Luers-Gillispie. "They are very solid behind the plate. I think they are going to do a good job with the pitchers."

First Base
Breanne Javier played all 56 games at first base as a freshman, and finished with a .240 average and a .983 fielding percentage. She led UCF with 23 RBI and 171 at-bats.

"Breanne is returning at first base, and she is very solid," said Luers-Gillispie. "We have a lot of confidence in her due to how well she played in her first season."

"Being able to host the conference tournament is going to be huge. But we have to put ourselves in a good position to make it there. That is the drawing point of the entire season." Head coach Renee Luers-Gillispie

Second Base
A new face could see most of the time at second base in 2007. Freshman Hillary Barrow takes over in the middle infield and brings with her some impressive credentials. Hailing from Miami, Fla., Barrow was a second-team all-state honoree as a senior for Felix Varela High School. She earned Miami Herald's Hitter of the Year award and was the offensive player of the year in Dade County in 2006.

Junior Jennifer Tomasetti will back up the middle infield positions. She made a combined 22 starts at second and shortstop a year ago.

"We are looking at Hillary Barrow to anchor second base," said Luers-Gillispie. "She had a great fall and I see her being a big contributor at the plate. She is the kind of kid who loves to play, and she proved in the fall she can start.

"Jennifer is extremely versatile in the middle. We are definitely going to need her to fill in at second or short whenever the situation calls for it."

Amber Lamb enters her senior season after making 51 starts at short in 2006. She had a .274 average at the plate with three homers. Lamb stands at sixth all-time at UCF with a .285 career mark, and she ranks in the top 10 in numerous other categories.

Third Base
Another senior patrols third base as Cici Alvarez has played in 195 games in her time at UCF. She needs just 11 stolen bases to get to 75 for her career, which would set a new school record. As a junior, Alvarez led the Golden Knights with a .313 batting average and 30 runs scored.

Junior Megan Murphy may see some time at third as well. She made the short trip from Daytona Beach Community College and brings a muscular bat with her.

"We have seniors in Amber and Cici at short and third, and it's nice to have some continuity there," said Luers-Gillispie. "We finally have some infielders who have been there at least a year together. We haven't had that in awhile. Cici was one of the only returning starters we had last year, and it was a brand new position for Amber. They work great together on the left side of the infield."

UCF's other two seniors, Kacie Feaster and Nicole Balogh, return to the outfield for their final season. Feaster played in every game last year in center, and recorded a .271 average with a team-best five home runs. Balogh got the start 32 times in left and did not make an error in 22 chances. To complete the outfield, junior Ashley Van Ryn makes the move from second to right field. The Atlanta, Ga., native has played in 67 games with three career round-trippers for UCF.

"Kacie was very solid in center last year and is captain of the outfield," stated Luers-Gillispie. "She will be able to help the newcomers a lot. Van Ryn has the speed, agility and arm strength to do unbelievable things for us in the outfield."

Also seeing playing time in the outfield will be freshman Morgan Bullard. She concluded her senior year in high school in South Carolina with a .364 batting average and 39 RBI.

"Morgan has a lot of gifts at the plate: speed, slapper and thus gets on base a lot," said Luers-Gillispie. "Her joining us has given the team an arsenal in the outfield."

Designated Player
A total of 10 student-athletes earned at least one start at the DP spot in 2006, with Shelly Frick receiving 24 during the year. Murphy will join Frick at the DP spot, and additionally, three pitchers - Kime, Gresham and Cole - will contribute to the position as well.

"Having Shelly and Megan at DP is key for us, but also Lexi Gresham is coming back and she probably has one of the better sticks in the lineup," explained Luers-Gillispie. "So when she isn't throwing, we could look at her being in the DP spot. When Allison Kime isn't throwing, she could even get in there too. Ashleigh Cole showed a solid stick this fall as well. We have three pitchers who we could put in since they have had a lot of production at the plate."