Jan. 26, 2004
The goal for the New Mexico softball team is to win the Mountain West Conference regular season or tournament title. Looking at last year's fifth place finish, normally this goal would seem unattainable. But the 2004 team is certainly not the same as last year's.
"Our pitching and defense are under control and will take us to the next level," head coach Kim Newbern said. "Coach Thacker is doing trememdous work with pitchers and all the girls worked extremely hard all year. They lifted harder, ran more and were just more committed than they ever have been."
Even though the Lobos return 10 players from last year's team, they lost seven and gained eight which significantly changes the composition of the team. Also working in the Lobos favor is they are now completely familiar with coach Newbern, who begins her second season.
If the fall is any premonition of what the spring holds, then the future is definitely bright to say the least. The Lobos hosted Eastern New Mexico State and New Mexico Highlands, playing four games at home in October, winning 3-0, 4-0, 14-0 and 7-1, respectively. The women also played at the University of Arizona Fall Invitational, coming home with a 4-2-1 record and ending the fall season 8-2-1. Every Lobo saw action at least once last fall.
The Lobos will look to senior Amy Dumas for leadership on the mound this year. She led the pitching staff in almost every category including ERA (2.24), wins (14), appearances (47) and innings pitched (215.2). Heading into her final year, Dumas is already in the top seven of every career pitching category and poised to take over the top spot in most of the records.
The other returning pitcher is sophomore Iraina Ogas. "She has improved a lot from last year," Newbern says. "She got rid of her freshmanitis, had a great fall and was very consistent." Last year Ogas went 8-12 in 39 appearances and 15 starts. In the fall, she compiled five wins in six appearances. Offensively, look for Ogas to perform well following her strong showings last year and in the fall. Her .308 batting average was the team's third highest, and this fall she had two perfect appearances at the plate that resulted in at least one RBI and one run scored in both contests.
Junior transfer Ashley Perkins brings her excellent change-up to the Lobos this season after spending her first two years at Washburn University. Newbern expects Perkins to pitch a lot of innings for the staff. Newbern also predicts that Perkins will be very effective in conference play since none of the teams in the Mountain West have seen her.
Rounding out the New Mexico pitching staff is freshman Irene Weik who will provide depth that was lacking from last year's two-woman rotation. Newbern said that Weik will use much of the season to develop under the experienced pitchers in Dumas and Perkins.
Behind the plate, the Lobos find themselves extremely deep. This will be a major reason behind the team's success this year because, according to Newbern, it is one thing they were not strong in last year.
Senior Kim Korsak returns to the catching position. Newbern said, "Kim is very consistent and strong behind the plate. She will ground the infield and run the defense which are her strengths." Last season Korsak had a .977 fielding percentage and a team-leading 336 putouts. She also picked off six baserunners.
Also seeing time at catcher will be freshman Robyn Hutson. Newbern describes Hutson as " a very strong player with all the tools and skills; she just needs to settle in." Hutson is also expected to bring a lot of pop to the lineup.
The infield is also really strong this year according to Newbern, who predicts that the entire group will contribute defensively, which is key to their success. "We had a lot of errors last year but this fall we had only a handful," Newbern said. "The girls showed that they can play solid defense."
Junior Ashley Shartzer will return to first base. Newbern describes Shartzer as "a mainstay at first. She has been absolutely phenomenal with her glove; nothing gets by her. The infield trusts that and look to her to bail them out if mistakes are made." Shartzer had the second most putouts last year with 243, made just five errors in 63 games and had a .984 fielding percentage. She did make 16 appearances on the mound last year but is not expected to pitch this season.
Splitting time at second base will be senior Ora Hensley and sophomore Stephanie Kennedy. Both are extremely strong defensively and will be looked upon for leadership. Last year Hensley was a constant presence in the Lobos' lineup, starting every game. Kennedy saw action in 44 games last season including 38 starts. With Kennedy at second, it is also likely that Hensley will see time in the outfield.
Playing shortstop is junior transfer Kelli Edelbrock. "She is very consistent with a great glove," Newbern said. "She is starting to really run the infield." Freshman Amy Ray will also see time at short.
Returning to third base after a year off is junior Cassie Chavez. Her mighty bat was greatly missed last season but, it is expected to return in full force this year. As a freshman, Chavez held the fourth best batting average (.293), starting in 43 games. She led the team in runs scored (29) and home runs (7) and had the second highest RBI total with 24. Newbern said Chavez "brings intensity to the game and it infiltrates into her teammates." This will help the young team stay positive and focused on their goal.
Key utility players are freshmen Becky Dover and Amy Ray. They will provide depth in the infield and Ray will see time in the outfield as well. Newbern claims both will bring some power to the lineup and Ray will bring lots of speed to a team that had only two Lobos steal more than three bases last season. Newbern also says both are very mature players who can contribute right away.
Seniors Sabrina Sandberg, Jen Sena and sophomore Jamar Bynum all return to the outfield for the Lobos. "It is nice having three returners with a lot of experience," Newbern said. "They are an extremely fast outfield who get to the ball well and get it in really quick."
Freshman Ryanne Hodgins brings more talent and speed to the loaded outfield. "Ryanne is a great addition with a strong arm," Newbern said. "She does a great job of getting the runner out at first when playing right field. She will most likely hit in the leadoff spot, and will manufacture a lot of runs with her speed."
When asked to describe the strength of the schedule, Newbern immediately answered "brutal." She then explained that the purpose of the tough schedule was to go out and face the best competition to prepare for conference play. Their philosophy is if "they have seen the best out there, hopefully that will help them compete better in conference," when they are battling for postseason.
The Lobos play approximately 19 games against ranked opponents or teams that went to a postseason tournament last year. They start the season Feb. 6 at the Arizona Pepsi Classic where they will play the University of Arizona which made its 16th consecutive appearance in the College World Series, finishing tied for fourth. The Wildcats were also ranked in the nation's top five throughout the entire season and were No. 1 for six weeks.
New Mexico was also invited to the Fiesta Bowl Tournament, hosted by Arizona State. The Fiesta Bowl hosts 16 teams, including eight that won at least 35 games last year. The competition features big schools like Arizona, Cal State Fullerton, UMass, Texas and Washington.
With the Lobos competing in six tournaments before conference play starts, they will spend the first six weeks of the season on the road. They open at home on March 18, with a doubleheader against UTEP. New Mexico will also play two games against Texas Tech at Lobo Field on March 19, and host New Mexico State March 20.
Mountain West Conference play will kick off April 3 when UNM host's Colorado State. "CSU is one of the better teams in the conference, but after that it is pretty open," Newbern said. "I believe if we play the way we did in the fall, we will vie for a top spot."
New Mexico will play Utah at home April 16, BYU on April 17, San Diego State on the 23rd and UNLV the 25th to round out its home conference schedule.
The conference tournament will be hosted by Colorado State, May 13-15. Last year the women posted a 1-2 mark in the tournament that included a 14-inning loss to the No. 1 seed and host San Diego State. UNM was eliminated by UNLV with a 3-1 loss the next day.