Jan. 26, 2006
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Not that the Florida State University softball team needed any more incentive for the 2006 season, but the Seminoles got a little bit more bulletin board material this week when the preseason polls were announced.
Florida State will start the year outside of the Top 25 in both the ESPN.com/USA Softball and USA Today/NFCA polls. The Seminoles are 28th in the USA Softball poll, having received 22 votes while the NFCA list puts them at No. 30 with 36 votes.
“It’s probably where we belong with our inexperience and our pitching staff,” FSU head coach Dr. JoAnne Graf said. “I think coaches look at that a lot because they key on important returning players. I think it’s a good place for us; it’s something for us to build on and use to get the kids to realize we need to be ranked a little bit higher.”
The Seminoles are scheduled to play seven ranked team, including top-ranked and defending national champion Michigan at home on March 2 at 5 p.m. The Wolverines will also play in the Sunshine State Tournament. All three of the teams in FSU’s pool at the NFCA Classic are ranked – Tennessee (No. 3), Iowa (No. 19) and Louisiana-Lafayette (No. 21) as well as five more teams in the tournament. Nine of the 12 teams at the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif., are ranked as well. Georgia Tech, ranked No. 24 & 25, is the only ACC school in the poll, while Virginia Tech, NC State and North Carolina all received votes.
Continuing the countdown to the Seminoles’ first tournament of the season, the Early Bird Tournament, Feb. 10-11, here is a preview of the FSU outfield:
If there was any more speed in the outfield for 2006 the players might be across campus at Mike Long Track instead of at JoAnne Graf Field. By her own admission, this year’s starting three might be the fastest coach Graf has ever had. Keep in mind that the 1996 FSU outfield featured Myssi Calkins and Shamalene Wilson, who rank one and three in career stolen bases.
Anchoring this platoon for the third year in a row is left fielder Natasha Jacob (Coppell, Texas). A finalist for ACC Player of the Year honors last season, the senior looks to cap her career as the fourth Seminole to win the award in seven seasons. Last year she certainly had the credentials with a .359 batting average – third highest in the league – while ranking in the top ten of five other categories.
The First-Team All-ACC selection played her best when the team needed her the most in 2005, hitting .545 with three runs scored during the Auburn Regional. Jacob has a career .390 average in the NCAA Tournament and has seen her overall career average rise by 80 points since her freshman season.
Then there’s that little matter of the hitting steak. Tenth in school history with 44 stolen bases, Jacob starts the 2006 campaign ridding a 24-game hitting streak, the 19th longest in NCAA history and the longest in more than two years. She broke a 0-for-19 streak with a single against Virginia Tech on April 3 and hasn’t stopped since. During the streak she had 10 multi-hit games and saw her average increase by 57 points.
Patrolling right field for the third-straight season will be junior LaShaun Davis (Marietta, Ga.). A starter in 61-of-62 games last year; she upped her average by 38 points and improved in every offensive category. Davis showed flashes of greatness throughout the year, including a seven-day span in which she hit .417 to earn ACC Player of the Week honors.
The three I’s – illness, inexperience and inconsistency – could easily describe the rookie season of centerfielder Whitney Buckmon (Stone Mountain, Ga.). Just when a hot and cold season was starting to balance out, she came down with and illness and missed all but one game during the month of April. Florida State had a 60 percent winning percentage when Buckmon started in centerfield, who knows what would have happened if she had been in the line up for those extra games.
Besides having one of the best outfields in the country, the Seminoles have a top-notch set of reserves just looking for their chance to start. Senior Carey Galuppi (Boca Raton, Fla.) was Florida State’s top reserve in 2005 and classmate Carly Brieske (Safety Harbor, Fla.) is looking to repeat the success of her sophomore season. Freshman Melissa May (San Diego, Calif.) could see some time in the outfield when she’s not on the mound and walk-on Kim Petrovich (Plantation, Fla.), an All-State selection and sister of sophomore Robyn Petrovich, may get some time in the field and as a pinch-runner.
Associate Head Coach Louie Berndt:
On the benefits of a fast outfield:
“It’s very beneficial, especially when you have a young pitching staff. I think the reason we’re going to be a lot stronger is the year that they have under their belts so we have a lot older kids in the outfield so that should work to our advantage.
On the outfielders’ role in the offense:
“It sets the tone when your speed gets on base because you can let your power hitters do their job. We talk about what their role is and the opportunities they need to take. If one’s not doing it, with the people we have on the bench they can come in and step up.”
LaShaun Davis, Junior Outfielder
On the speed in the outfield:
“It’s huge benefit; we can cover a lot of ground. Not too many balls should drop in our outfield. We have the ability to take really good angles and cover a lot ground.”
On offensive speed:
“The outfielders are an important part of the offensive because when we get on base it causes things to happen. Usually speed creates errors and errors allow us to manufacture runs.”