Ferris State University softball coach Keri Becker is counting upon a blend of talent and versatility to help the Bulldogs defend their 2000 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) Championship title.
"The challenge for us will not really be with the new players or the veteran
players," said Becker, the winningest coach in the program's 28-year history. "I believe the challenge is going to be with all of the players on our roster -- one through 17.
"We're as athletic as we have ever been. We also have a lot of players who can play at multiple positions," added Becker.
Ferris State, which compiled a 33-18 overall record last season, will enter this spring
without six starters from last year's team due to graduation. Pitchers Nadine Crowl and Brandy Coe, infielders Anne Bentley and Cathy Boichot along with and outfielders Jaymee
Kent and Kris St. Andre have departed.
Becker will be primarily relying on a four-member senior class to help the Bulldogs stake a claim to a potential second straight GLIAC title and a possible return to the NCAA Championship Tournament after being denied a berth last year. The group consists of senior pitcher Teresa Sutermeister, catcher Anne Koltvedt, first baseman Mila Prieur and outfielder Melissa Carrick.
If recent history repeats itself, Ferris State should once again be competing in post-season play for the fourth time in the program's history. Along with three consecutive 40 or more win seasons (1997-99), the Bulldogs have made two appearances in the NCAA National Championship Tournament (1998 and 1999) after capturing back-to-back NCAA Great Lakes Regional Titles.
"Our youth and veterans make for an excellent mix. This team will have a totally different personality from last year's, but we're focused on winning the conference again and getting back into the NCAA Tournament," said Becker.
An important key in achieving those lofty goals will be the performances of those individuals comprising the Bulldog pitching corps.
Certainly this area proved to be crucial in Ferris' success last spring as the Bulldogs tied for 28th nationally in earned run average with a team 1.39 ERA.
With the losses of Crowl and Coe, the responsibility of taking the lead on the mound will fall on the shoulders of senior Teresa Sutermeister. The veteran pitcher posted a 4-3 record with a 1.30 earned run average in seven appearances last season after going 8-1 with a 1.94 ERA the campaign.
She will be joined in the starting rotation by junior Jennifer Colvin and sophomore Amanda Opbroek. Both right-handed hurlers will receive considerable action this spring as a result of losing the two starters. Both turned in notable performances a season ago as Opbroek was 1-0 with a 0.72 ERA in three contests and Colvin totaled a 4-0 record along with a 0.86 ERA in five outings. Colvin, who tossed a pair of three hitters in those five games, has compiled a 7-0 career mark with an 0.87 ERA in 32.1 innings pitched.
Returning for her third straight season behind the plate is senior catcher Anne Koltvedt, who could be a legitimate all-conference performer this season. Koltvedt, the recipient of last year's FSU Diamond Dawg Award for hustle and effort, has played in all of the Bulldogs' 115 games over the past two seasons. The team co-captain placed second among the squad's top fielders last year with a .985 fielding percentage and threw out an impressive 38 percent (17-45) of runners attempting to steal a base.
Supplying depth again this season will be sophomore Tracy Pieprzyk, who received playing time in five games last spring.
At first base, Mila Prieur returns for her senior season at the corner after getting the starting nod there 23 times a season ago. Prieur, who provides steady defense and has a fine career .977 fielding percentage, will begin the 2001 campaign as the starter with highly-regarded freshman Courtney Grady waiting in the wings.
A large void to be filled is in the middle where second baseman-shortstop Anne Bentley, a third-team All-America selection by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association and an All-GLIAC First-Teamer, has graduated. Sophomore Emily Butkus, who played 27 games at second base last season, will be the regular there this time around while fellow sophomore Jessica Baars will occupy the starting shortstop position. The 2000 FSU Rookie-of-the-Year Award winner started all 25 games played in last year there before being sidelined the remainder of the campaign due to an injury.
The third base job is up for grabs with a number of candidates vying for the starting
nod. Junior Casey Scully, a transfer from Grand Rapids Community College, has the inside track following a productive season in the juco ranks last spring. Sophomore Laura Elder appeared in 15 games at the "hot corner" last year, but an off-season injury could hamper her return this season.
Incoming first-year players Nicki Merchant and Dana Peuler possess the versatility to play at a number of positions. Peuler may also garner playing time behind the plate.
Versatility perhaps best describes the personnel who will occupy the three outfield positions. Senior co-captain Melissa Carrick is the lone returning starter from a season ago and will be moved to center after playing extensively in right field last year. Carrick registered a .907 fielding percentage en route to attaining FSU Most Improved Player honors.
Unlike in seasons past, the starting left field spot is wide open with Scully, Opbroek and redshirt freshman Krista Johnson among others battling for the starting job.
Moving to Carrick's former position is sophomore Rebekah Stoutenburg, who was utilized primarily last season in a pinch-runner capacity. She's equipped with the quickness and speed to cover a lot of territory in the outfield.