Jan. 12, 2004
Tallahassee, FL – The 2004 Seminole softball team took the diamond Monday for the first spring practice of the year. The Tribe is 26 days away from opening its season February 6 at home against Minnesota and Florida A&M in the 2004 Seminole Classic Tournament. Florida State returns six starters in the field and both pitchers from the nation’s fourth-best staff in 2003. The Seminoles enter the season defending ACC Champions for the first time since 2001 and made their fourth straight NCAA Tournament last season.
“It feels great to be out here,” said first team NFCA All-American Jessica van der Linden. “Obviously this is my last season and I want it to end on the right foot. I am excited to see what we can do. There is a lot of talent and we’ll see how quickly we can put it all together.”
The senior outfielder/pitcher is coming off one of the all-time great single seasons at FSU. Van der Linden was not only an NFCA All-American but she was a top 10 finalist for USA Softball Player of the Year, ACC Player of the Year and an Easton First Team All-American. She and junior Casey Hunter combined for the nation’s fourth-best ERA and will be counted on all season long to carry the squad. The Tribe staff was the only staff in the nation in 2003 to have two pitchers finish in the top 16 for ERA in the NCAA statistics.
“I think pitching is going to be a big factor early on,” said Hunter. “Hitting sometimes takes a while to come around but our coaches are very pleased with where the team is at from that standpoint so I think we have a chance to get off to a quick start. We are a confident staff after how we preformed last year but we know we need to pick up from there and build on that. The pressure will be on us and we will try to block the expectations out and just pitch up to our capabilities.”
Two-time All-American Brandi Stuart has graduated and that will leave a hole at second base where highly recruited freshman Veronica Wootson is scheduled to step in. Another sought after freshman, LaShaun Davis, will take over as the starter in right field. Those positions are the only two that were left open due to graduation and freshmen are slated to be manning both holes. Wootson, Davis and four other newcomers have had all fall to work with the team and Davis thought that time spent together will be a key to the newcomers success.
“The fall gave me (and our class) time to adjust and get acquainted with my teammates,” said Davis. “It helps younger players feel more a part of the team and start to develop chemistry that is so important during the season.
“Personally I am really excited to start officially. It is even more exciting to come out now knowing the season is right around the corner. I am looking forward to go out there, work really hard and try to earn my spot.”
With Stuart’s graduation senior first baseman Beth Wade and junior shortstop Tatiana George will lead a somewhat inexperienced infield. Including back-ups, only one other player has any starting experience and that is 2003 ACC Tournament MVP Lesley Palmer at third base and this is just her second year starting at the Division I level.
“I feel like I need to lead by example and keep everybody energized through out the season,” said George. “This is a new role for me. I have always been with a group of veterans in the infield but now Beth (Wade) and I have to take charge and get everyone heading towards the same goal.”
The Seminoles recaptured the ACC Title last season but many players are still motivated by a 0-2 performance in last year’s NCAA Regionals. Just a year removed form the College World Series, the Tribe was ousted in two games at last year’s Gainesville Regional.
“The way last season ended is definitely a motivator for us,” said van der Linden. “We don’t want to go two and out again in the NCAA’s especially when we know we have the talent to do so much more.”
“Once you have been to the World Series recently, and we have been to six but just one in the last few years, that taste is always there. Getting beyond regionals and really kind of stepping up at the NCAA Tournament is really the focus we want to have this year,” said head coach Dr. JoAnne Graf. “I think last year’s showing in the regional will add fuel to the fire because I think they will remember what happened. There are enough players on the team that have been to the series and didn’t go back that they know what that feels like and I think that will fuel them.”
For more information on the 2004 Seminole softball team or any of Florida State’s athletic teams, please log on to the official athletic website for Florida State University at www.seminoles.com.