Feb. 7, 2007
2007 Season Outlook
Showing she still has the coaching chops that has made her the winningest coach in NFCA history, Dr. JoAnne Graf turned around a Florida State softball team that was coming off a lack-luster 2005 season and put the Seminoles two wins away from the 2006 Women’s College World Series. With a solid core of offensive talent returning and a much more experienced pitching staff, the 2007 season has all the makings of a special one in Tallahassee.
Last season Florida State had plenty of veteran players, but very few that had starting experience as previous role players were moved into a starting spot. This year is quite the opposite as 75 percent of last year’s starting line-up returns, including all four starters on the infield dirt. Also putting FSU a leg up on last year is a seasoned pitching staff with every hurler having at least 10 starts and 75 innings of work.
As good as the Seminoles were one through nine last year there was significant drop off on the bench as no reserve hit over .225. That will not be the case in 2007 as Florida State has brought in nine talented position players who will vie for starting spots. In addition, bolstering the pitching staff will be Atlanta Journal Constitution Player of the Year, Terese Gober.
To put a historical outlook on the 2007 season, prior to the 2005 campaign, the last time Florida State dipped below 40 wins was 1989 when it went 39-14. The following year the Seminoles improved to 47-16 and the year after that they posted a then school record 62 victories behind junior hurler Leslie Malerich. Following that trend, FSU improved by nine wins last year and with staff ace Tiffany McDonald in her third season, this year has the opportunity to be extraordinary.
Going around the horn, the Seminoles have the strongest infield in the Atlantic Coast Conference and one of the best in the country. Leading the way for this group is two-time All-America second baseman Veronica Wootson. A three-year starter, Wootson had her best season at FSU last year, posting a .360 batting average with seven home runs, 44 runs, 49 RBIs and nine triples to rank second in the nation. The Fontana, Calif., native is poised to finish her career in the top five of virtually every offense category and is eight home runs and 12 triples away from breaking school records.
Wootson’s double-play partner had almost as good of an offensive season last year and senior shortstop Yuruby Alicart has the potential to put up some big numbers at the plate. The highly touted NAIA National Player of the Year did not disappoint last season, breaking school records with her 12 home runs and 19 doubles on her way to NFCA First-Team All-Region accolades. Alicart may have had the biggest hit of the year as her solo home run against Georgia in the Athens Regional finale proved to be the game winner and put the Seminoles in the Super Regional.
Despite missing part of the 2006 season, junior fi rst baseman Brittany Osmon still managed to have her best offensive year. The lefty San Diego native upped her batting average by nearly 60 points and virtually doubled her RBI total. Sophomore third baseman Michelle Snyder started her rookie campaign on fire with a .321 average through the first month of the season, but cooled off as the season progressed. As one of only three players to start all 74 games last year, Snyder got plenty of experience and has the capabilities to bounce back for a productive sophomore season.
The Seminoles only have one returning reserve on the infield, junior Robyn Petrovich, but have four talented newcomers. Senior Brittany Krbec transferred from Troy where she was the Trojans’ second-leading hitter and she will split time between the infield and catching. Kelly Langston, from nearby Sopchoppy, was the top hitter at Tallahassee Community College the last two seasons and could see time on the infield or as designated player. Freshman Camille Garcia from Sandia Pueblo, N.M., could spell Snyder at third from time to time and Sugarland, Texas, native Courtney Rosen can fill in at second base or shortstop.
Coming into the 2006 campaign, no area of the team had more questions than the pitching staff as the veteran of the staff was only a sophomore. Right-hander Tiffany McDonald answered the bell by ranking second in the country with 329.1 innings pitched and 57 appearances. The 329.1 innings set a school and ACC record and the 57 games were second. In addition, McDonald’s 312 strikeouts are third in Seminole lore and her 30 wins were tenth in the NCAA last year and tied for sixth on the FSU charts.
As the Seminoles got hot down the stretch last year, McDonald was the go-to pitcher as she collected eight of FSU’s final 11 victories. In the ACC Tournament she silenced the league’s top hitting team Georgia Tech, 10-1, then shutout top seed NC State, 6-0. She got FSU its first two wins of the Athens Regional, including a 3-2 win over No. 8 Georgia.
As freshmen tend to do, lefthander Melissa May and righty Kayla Collins had their ups and downs during the season. May started the season strong with several non-conference wins before she was sidelined for the majority of the second half of the year. Luckily, Collins got better as the season progressed and she got some key league wins at Virginia and Maryland.
This year McDonald shouldn’t have to carry as much of the load. May went from not pitching for two months to unsung hero as she threw a two-hit, 2-0 shutout against Georgia to get the Seminoles into the Super Regional and gave up two unearned runs versus Arizona State. Also battling for a spot behind McDonald will be freshman right-hander Terese Gober. The AJC Player of the Year, she was a two-year All-State selection with a 48-11 record and 553 strikeouts her last two seasons.
Last year’s most experience platoon has turned into an area of uncertainty, but just like every year at Florida State, there are numerous talented athletes ready to answer the bell. The Seminoles lost All-Region selection Natasha Jacob, who set the school and ACC record for at-bats (252), and finished her career in the ACC Top Ten for hits (6th – 271) and stolen bases (9th – 69), in left field as well as starting center fi elder Carly Brieske, who played her way onto the ACC All-Tournament team.
Anchoring this year’s outfield will be senior right fi elder LaShaun Davis, a 2006 Second-Team All-ACC selection. A three-year starter, Davis had her best season as a Seminole last year, hitting a career-high .342 with 27 runs scored. Her .342 average was ninth in the league, while her six triples rated third in the ACC, 30th nationally.
After spending the majority of last season as the Seminoles’ everyday designated player, junior Whitney Buckmon will compete for the starting duties in center field. The chance to play everyday last season helped the left-hander up her average by nearly 40 points while she more than doubled her hits and runs. Buckmon was a terror on the base paths for opposing catchers as she ranked sixth in the ACC with 19 swipes.
There are several strong candidates to fill Jacob’s spot in left field. Sharpsburg, Ga., native Carly Wynn was a four-year All-State selection, while Monica Montez earned All-Area honors in Corona, Calif. Both are left-handed hitters who can provide valuable speed on the bases and in the field. A former member of the US Junior National Team, sophomore Jessica Gilmore transferred to FSU after starting her freshman year at Georgia. Amanda Moore played at Niceville with Kayla Collins, earned Third-Team All-State honors as a senior and will see time as a pinch runner and as a reserve in the outfield.
The graduation of BillieAnne Gay and the departure of Melissa Wood left a void at catcher, but just like in the outfield there are several players ready to take their place. Stillwater, Okla. native Robin Ahrberg turned down her hometown team Oklahoma State to come play for the Seminoles. She was one of the most talented high school catchers in the country last year as she hit .407 with 27 RBIs to earn First-Team All-State honors.
After three years at Troy, Brittany Krbec wanted to play her last season closer to her hometown of Orlando. Primarily an infielder, Krbec was a starter all-three years for the Trojans. Last season was her best as she posted a .284 average with 21 RBIs and earned a spot on the Sun Belt All-Tournament team.
In addition to her talents in the outfield, Gilmore is versatile enough to see time at catcher.
As long as Dr. JoAnne Graf is in the dugout, Florida State is going to be one of the top teams in the country and 2007 won’t be any different. Last year she became just the second coach in NCAA history to amass 1,100 fastpitch victories and Florida State became the fi rst program to post 100 ACC victories. She starts her 29th campaign in Tallahassee needing 45 victories to become the fi rst coach in NFCA history to reach 1,400 wins. For the third year in a row, Graf has the same coaching staff together as Louie Berndt is back for her ninth season as associate head coach and Megan Matthews Buning is in her third season as pitching coach.
Every season Florida State’s schedule is dotted with someone of the best teams in the country and 2007 will be no exception. The Seminoles are scheduled to play 13 teams that appeared in last year’s NCAA Tournament, including fellow Super Regional squads Washington and Michigan. In addition, during the various tournaments it’s traveling to and hosting, the Seminoles have the potential to play 20 other teams that made the Big Dance last year.
For the second year in a row, Florida State will play host to 2005 National Champion Michigan on February 28 and the two teams are matched up in the same bracket at the Judi Garman Classic. This year Florida State goes on the road to a pair of perennial NCAA Tournament teams from the SEC as FSU visits Florida on April 4 then wraps up the regular season May 6 at Auburn.
The Seminoles return to two of the premier tournaments in the country, the NFCA Leadoff Classic and the Judi Garman Classic. Florida State takes on Nebraska, Mississippi State, Seton Hall and Tennessee Tech during the last weekend in February in Columbus, Ga. Washington awaits the Seminoles in the opening game of the Judi Garman Classic, followed by Michigan and Cal State Northridge.
As always Florida State hosts a collection of top tournaments. After opening the year with the Seminole Classic, the Sunshine State Tournament will feature Kansas, South Carolina and Memphis. This year’s FSU Invitational has the potential to feature a rematch of the Athens Regional as Georgia comes to town, as well as Southern Illinois and Syracuse.
Not that you need any more evidence that the ACC is a much stronger softball conference, but last year a record five league teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament and four teams won 40 or more games. NC State became the fourth different team in the last six years to win the ACC Tournament and with nine starters returning the Wolfpack will be one of the top contenders for the title. The entire league should be just as tough as 17 of 21 All-ACC selections from last year are back.
Florida State will have a good idea of where it stands early in the year as it opens conference play at NC State (March 3-4). The Seminoles are home for weekend series versus Virginia Tech (March 24-25), Maryland March 31- April 1), and Virginia (April 21-22), while traveling to Georgia Tech (April 7-8), Boston College (April 14-15) and North Carolina (April 28-29).
One big advantage for the Seminoles is that they will be the hosts for the conference tournament, May 10-13. Florida State has won the league title eight of the 10 years the conference tournament has been played in Tallahassee, including the last two in 2003 and 2004.