Feb. 2, 2006
GREENSBORO, N.C. –
Death, taxes and Florida State University softball being picked to win the Atlantic Coast Conference. Some things you can set your watch to every year and 2006 is no exception. For the ninth-straight season, the Seminoles were picked to win the ACC in the preseason coach’s poll.
Despite only garnering only one first place vote, the Seminoles received 54 total points to edge 2005 ACC Tournament champion Georgia Tech by six points. The Yellow Jackets and Virginia Tech (47 points) each received three first place votes, while North Carolina (41 points) received the remaining first-place vote.
“I don’t think it puts any increased expectations on us because that’s where we want to end up,” Florida State head coach Dr. JoAnne Graf said. “It’s a little generous right now, I don’t know if we’re quite there yet, but that’s where we want to end up and our goal is to win the conference. It’s nice that the coaches did that, but it’s just a poll, it doesn’t mean anything. You have to do it on the field.”
Florida State will open the 2006 campaign next Friday (February 10) as it plays host to the Early Bird Tournament. The Seminoles kick off the season at JoAnne Graf Field against Louisville at 4 p.m. followed by a 6:30 p.m. contest with Samford.
Senior outfielder Natasha Jacob (Coppell, Texas) will be on www.seminoles.com at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, February 8 for a live chat. Fans can submit questions in advance by logging onto the school’s official website and clicking on the live chat link.
Preseason ACC Softball Coach’s Poll:
School (1st Place Votes) Points
Florida State (1) 54
Georgia Tech (3) 49
Virginia Tech (3) 47
North Carolina (1) 41
NC State 37
Boston College 11
In the final installment of the countdown to the season opener, here’s a preseason outlook for the Seminole pitchers and catchers:
Apart from the outfield, the most consistent spot at the plate and on the field was the catcher position. Sophomore Melissa Wood (Lilburn, Ga.) and senior BillieAnne Gay (Tallahassee, Fla.) will continue to split time behind the dish as they make up half of one of the best batteries in the league.
The graduation of All-America catcher Elisa Vasquez left big shoes to fill in 2005, but Wood was more than an adequate replacement. She finished second on the team with a .285 average as she started 42 games at catcher with another 17 at designated player. A Second-Team All-ACC selection, all over her offensive numbers were better than Vasquez’s freshman campaign and she fell two home runs short of the FSU rookie record with six round trippers.
Gay’s play may not warrant the same headlines that other players get, but without it, the Seminoles wouldn’t have nearly the same success. Last season she threw out double-digit runners for the third season in a row. She had her best offensive season with a .247 average and ranked third on the team with nine multi-hit games. Given the chance to play, Gay has proven that she can be a serious contributor to the team.
No area is a bigger question mark, but at the same time offers the most potential as the Seminoles’ pitching staff. For the first time since 2002, the staff doesn’t feature at least one returning pitcher with 20 wins from the previous season. Second-year pitching coach Megan Matthews Buning has her work cut out for her, but she has the talent that can be molded into one of the best staffs in the league.
Returning to the history theme, the 2003 pitching staff was built around an ACC Freshman of the Year and a rookie hurler with tremendous upside. All that staff did was lead the Seminoles to the ACC Tournament title. Funny how history repeats itself.
Playing the role of the “veteran” of the staff this year will be sophomore Tiffany McDonald (Belfair, Wash.) after earning ACC Co-Freshman of the Year honors in 2005. Her 14 wins as a rookie are more than All-Americans Jessica van der Linden and Casey Hunter produced during their freshman campaigns. McDonald logged an FSU freshman record 158.2 innings and ranked in the top ten in the ACC of eight pitching categories.
One advantage Florida State has from that 2003 season is the benefit of two strong freshmen pitchers to mold. Kayla Collins (Niceville, Fla.) was all-everything at Niceville with a pair of 5A First-Team All-State selections by the Florida Sportswriters Association after producing a 57-5 record her last two seasons as the only pitcher for the Eagles. Her junior year she set the state record with 35 strikeouts in a 17-game against Ft. Walton Beach.
Battling Collins for that number two spot in the rotation will be left-hander Melissa May (San Diego, Calif.). She earned First-Team All-State honors in California last year for the first time in her career. A three-time 2005 Player of the Year, she posted a 17-4 record with 255 strikeouts and three no hitters as a senior. During her junior year she produced an 18-1 mark with a miniscule 0.30 ERA.
Quotes on the pitchers & catchers:
Pitching coach Megan Matthews Buning:
“The thing that we’ve stressed to them is making the right adjustments. They’re going to make mistakes, but the important thing is what adjustments they make for the next pitch. We’ve also worked a lot on being mentally focused and tough. I’ve told them that pitching to batters is going to be easy compared to what they’ve had to do.”
“All three of them have put in a tremendous amount of work; I’ve definitely seen improvement of all of them. They’re coming along nicely, but we’re definitely going to have to play as a team this year. I couldn’t ask for a better group of athletes to work with. They’ve done everything I’ve asked them in more. They want to be coached, they want to learn and they want to win.”
Senior catcher BillieAnne Gay:
On working with the young pitchers: “We have a big challenge this year, but I hope to help pace them during games, and keep the loose. Experience gives you a different perspective, but unfortunately they haven’t had time to gain that experience, so I hope to help bring them a long a little quicker.”
Freshman pitcher Kayla Collins:
On the difference from high school to college: “The biggest change for me from high school to college has been the coaching. I’ve never had a real pitching coach so having Megan has been a big help for me. She’s improved a lot of my techniques. I’m very excited for the season to start and can’t wait to get on the field.”