Feb. 8, 2005
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The No. 10 Florida State softball team hits the field under 27-year head coach Dr. JoAnne Graf Wednesday evening, opening the 2005 season with a doubleheader at 5:00 p.m. against cross-town foe Florida A&M. The game will be played at FAMU’s Lady Rattlers Complex and the second game will begin shortly after the conclusion of the first.
“I’m very much excited and ready to start the year,” said Graf, who owns a sparkling 1276-367-6 career record at Florida State. “I’d like to see how we react under pressure considering it’s an environment away from home because the fans are pretty much against you. I want to see who’s going to come out ready to compete and who’s going to stay focused because doubleheaders can get long. I think opening the year at Florida A&M will be a good test for our squad.”
The Lady Rattlers perhaps own a slight edge heading into Wednesdays games, as they will have already played six contests. FAMU participated in a four-game tournament over the weekend and will play a doubleheader against Mercer tonight.
“It definitely helps when teams have already played and you haven’t,” Graf said. “It’s different because our team has not played with a starting lineup and they haven’t been in that kind of competitive situation. I would say that clearly gives them a little bit of an advantage.”
The Seminoles come off a 62-12 season in 2004 that saw the club advancing to the Women’s College World Series for the seventh time in the program’s illustrious career. Despite returning seven starters, including two NFCA All-Americans, FSU will be without last year’s USA Softball National Player of the Year and Honda Award winner, Jessica van der Linden (P/CF), and All-ACC standouts Elisa Vasquez (C) and Beth Wade (1B), who were lost to graduation. However, the squad does welcome back one of the nation’s top pitchers, Casey Hunter, who just recently landed on the 2005 USA Softball National Player of the Year Watch List along with fellow teammate, Veronica Wootson. Wootson, a sophomore second baseman, enjoyed nothing short of a spectacular freshman campaign in 2004 as she became the first Seminole to garner All-American honors during her rookie season.
Hunter will start in the circle for the Seminoles during the first game. Last year’s pitching staff won the 2004 ERA title, but according to Graf it may be the one true challenge for the team this year as Hunter is the only hurler with a lot of experience. She finished with a 33-4 record and the nation’s third-lowest ERA in 2004, so she’ll need to continue to establish herself as one of the all-time Seminole greats in the circle.
“Casey Hunter is one of the best pitchers in the country and she will be our main go-to player,” said Graf, “as our pitching will focus around her this year. I expect a big season out of Casey in the circle. I think she’s ready for the challenge.”
In the preseason polls, the Tribe initially entered the season ranked No. 11 in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association rankings and No. 10 in the newer ESPN.com/USA Softball poll. However, since Oklahoma started the season at 2-3, the Sooners dropped out of the No. 10 spot, which allowed the Seminoles to move up, thus landing them in the Top 10 in both rankings.
The two-time defending ACC champion Florida State softball team has been chosen to win the 2005 ACC softball title according to a preseason poll of the league’s seven head coaches, released last week. The Seminoles captured back-to-back ACC crowns in 2003 and 2004 after posting an 8-0 and 9-1 league mark. Last season, the Seminoles also won the NCAA Region 4 Championship title before moving on to the WCWS.
FSU brings back seven starting position players, including Wootson, senior shortstop Tatiana George, senior third baseman Lesley Palmer, left fielder Natasha Jacob, center fielder Carly Brieske, right fielder LaShaun Davis, and utility infielder Kim Hoffer. Hoffer, although she was a utility player last year for an injuried Palmer or George, is technically considered a returning starter since she started 61-of-71 contests in 2004.
“You can expect different combinations in the second game and some lineup changes. We will probably pitch our freshman Tiffany McDonald and have our other freshman Melissa Wood catch her behind the plate. Whoever doesn’t start in center field will probably start in center the second game. We have a lot of options and early in the season we try to play different athletes. You want to give everyone the opportunity to earn their way into or out of the lineup.”
New starters include true freshman Brittany Osmon at first base and junior catcher BillieAnne Gay. She and freshman Melissa Wood might split time behind the plate and freshman Whitney Buckmon, perhaps the most natural athlete on the team, will see time in center.
“Brittany is basically the only player we signed at first to replace Beth Wade,” said Graf. “My philosophy is to give a freshman a chance to start and they have to continue to earn their position.”
Other veterans back include senior outfielder Katie Fricke, junior outfielder Carey Galuppi, and sophomore pitcher Amy Harrison. The two other freshman newcomers are pitcher Tiffany McDonald and second baseman Robyn Petrovich. McDonald, although a freshman, has already accomplished a lot this year after severely injuring her arm last summer, which required her to practically relearn to pitch. She missed the fall season but she’ll be the No. 2 pitcher for FSU.
Graf will be joined on the sidelines by seventh-year assistant coach Louie Berndt, who was promoted to associate head coach by Graf at the end of last season. The two of them will work with first year assistant and pitching coach, Megan Matthews Buning, who was a former standout at South Carolina.
Offensively, the Seminoles will be sparked by speedy Wootson in the leadoff hole, followed by Jacob, George, and Palmer most likely.
Florida State opens the home season Friday and Saturday as it hosts the 2005 Seminole Classic and welcomes Missouri and Nicholls State. First pitch for the Tribe is Friday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. against Missouri, followed by a 5:00 p.m. competition versus Nicholls State. The squad plays Saturday at 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. against Nicholls State and Missouri, respectively. Live stats are available for the Seminole Classic at www.seminoles.com.
Saturday is also Fan and Media Day and free prizes, posters, and inflatable games will be available. Following the 1:00 p.m. contest, the team will hold an autograph session and fans of all ages will have opportunities to take photos and meet the players. .
“I like fan day because it’s a great way to get the season started,” Graf said. “It’s great for the children because they look up to our players as role models. It’s not something I had when I was growing up, so I think it’s neat. I think are players like it because they get to interact with everyone that supports them the entire season. Fan day is one of my favorite events for both young and old. You have to have great fans to win.”