Jan. 24, 2006
Redefining University of New Mexico softball will be the mission for the 2006 Lobos. As the program enters its fourth year under head coach Kim Newbern, UNM now has the pieces in place to become a remarkable organization that will bring UNM softball back to prominence and revitalize its proud tradition.
"The new facility will allow us to compete in recruiting on a national level," said Newbern. "Now we have an indoor locker room, indoor cages, new pitching pits, and sunken dugouts that are state-of-the-art. We already received a warm reception from our recruitment this fall regarding the facilities."
Eighteen players will fill the new facility this spring, including six starters and 11 letterwinners back from the 2005 squad. Seven newcomers have also been added to the roster.
While a solid core of experienced players return to lead New Mexico, Newbern said this season does feature a large group of young talent.
"I would describe our team as young, but one of the most athletic and talented teams that we have ever had," said Newbern. "We are extremely athletic and we have added power, speed and versatility to our lineup. The weight room has become a huge focus and that will also show up on the field."
Seniors Cassie Chavez (shortstop) and Kristina Schmallen (second base), and sophomore Lindsey Elcess (first base) will provide the power in the Lobos' lineup this season. Newbern also said she sees freshman Samantha Hughes (first base/catcher) as a force at the plate.
Chavez, who is entering her fifth season with the Lobos, led the team in RBIs last year. She currently ranks among the best all-time at UNM in several hitting categories, including career home runs, slugging percentage and career doubles.
Schmallen transferred to New Mexico last year from Pima Community College and immediately made an impact in the Lobos' lineup. As a strong left- handed hitter, she led the team in batting average and on base percentage, and was honored on the all-Mountain West Conference team. Newbern said Schmallen's ability to adapt to any situation, as a hitter, is one of her greatest strengths.
"Kristina is always thinking a play ahead," said Newbern. "She is capable of so many things at the plate. She can drop bunt, slap, or hit for power, which makes her a true offensive threat."
Elcess, another left-handed power hitter, led the team in slugging percentage and home runs in 2005, and was named to the Division I All-West Region team despite missing nearly two months of play due to a broken foot. The Lobos will look for her late season power surge to carry over into 2006.
Hughes could also be an extra boost to New Mexico's power at the plate. The Albuquerque, La Cueva product was an outstanding high school hitter and proved during the fall season that she has the potential to bring that success to the college level.
Speed will also play a huge factor in the Lobos' scoring opportunities this season. Newbern said Chavez and Hughes will bring quickness to the base paths, in addition to their power, but the team also has speedy base runners in juniors Ryanne Hodgins (outfield) and Jennifer Deitrich (outfield), and freshman Marsha Taylor (outfield).
"We will have the physical ability to use both speed and power as weapons this year," said Newbern. "I do think that our pitching and defense is what will win us games though. If our pitching and defense is solid and consistent, and we can manufacture runs with our speed, then we will have a great deal of success."
The pitching staff this season is a mix of two returning players and two freshmen. The Lobos only lost one starting pitcher, Ashley Perkins, to graduation last season. Senior Katie Gregg and junior Caley Peterson return this season to give New Mexico the veteran experience needed on the mound, but fresh faces Jen Mendenhall and Brittany Crail will also see plenty of action.
"We don't have a true rotation. All of them will be called upon to contribute, but the experience from Katie and Caley will be crucial this season," said Newbern.
Gregg, who transferred from Washburn University last year, pitched 125.1 innings in 14 appearances, and compiled an 8-6 record (2.51 ERA), including one shutout in her debut season. As one of the three seniors on the team this year, Gregg will be counted on to bring the kind of leadership New Mexico needs in the pitching circle.
"Katie leads by example," said Newbern. She is extremely poised on the mound and is one of the toughest pitchers I have coached. Her strength is her consistency and her continuing drive to get better every day. She is a definite threat on the mound and has the ability to frustrate her opponent."
Peterson was also a new addition to New Mexico in 2005, transferring from Arizona Western Junior College. The Eugene, Ore. native made 16 appearances last season and pitched 82.2 innings in her first Division I season.
Freshmen Mendenhall and Crail will add height to the pitching staff with Mendenhall checking in at 5-11 and Crail at 5-9. Newbern says that both freshmen will add a new twist to the rotation that hasn't been seen before at New Mexico.
"Jen Mendenhall especially has shown that she will provide a completely different look than what we have ever had here," said Newbern. "She is completely different from the other pitchers. This versatility will give us many options and weapons to use in competition."
Returning for her second season after transferring from Kent State is junior Liz Young. Young was New Mexico's primary catcher last year with 49 appearances behind the plate and will continue her role as starting catcher this year. With plenty of game appearances in 2005, Newbern says Young will be an even better leader behind the plate this season.
"Liz will provide more leadership this year now that she has had time to settle in," said Newbern. "Her role is to be solid behind the plate and her relationship with the pitchers on the field continues to be great. She works very well with them and is continually trying to find ways to make herself and the pitchers better."
Another option at catcher is freshman Samantha Hughes who gained some experience during the fall. According to Newbern, Hughes has tremendous physical tools and a strong arm, and should improve as she learns the game at the collegiate level.
The Lobos will have to make a few adjustments to the infield after losing two starters from 2005. Cassie Chavez will shift from third base to shortstop, while freshman Analise Rubalcava will be called upon to fill in the third baseman role. Teaming up with Chavez in the middle infield will be either fellow senior Kristina Schmallen or junior Ashley Allen at second base. Lindsey Elcess and Samantha Hughes can both play first base when needed.
New Mexico's infield has always been one of its strengths. In 2005, UNM led the MWC and ranked 28th in the nation for double plays turned per game. In 50 games played last season the Lobos turned 19 double plays, averaging 0.38 per game.
Schmallen was responsible for turning 15 of the double plays in 2005 as a second baseman. With her skills in the middle infield alongside Chavez's agility and glove at shortstop, New Mexico's middle infield will be among the best in the country again in 2006.
Newbern said Chavez will be the go-to leader in the infield and her fearless presence at shortstop will be very beneficial to the team.
"Cassie is an amazing leader," said Newbern. "She runs our infield and will do that from shortstop this season. She is the type of player that will run through a brick wall to make a play. She is one of the hardest workers on the field. She has a great glove and she leads both verbally and by example."
Juniors Amy Ray and Ryanne Hodgins are the two position starters returning from last season with Ray in centerfield and Hodgins in right. The left field spot was shared among several players last season including returning juniors Ashley Allen and Becky Dover. Sophomore Kayce Danna, who worked as a utility player for the Lobos her freshman season, could also find her way to a position in the outfield.
The 2006 schedule offers up plenty of tough non-conference games along with the competitive Mountain West Conference slate. The Lobos will play six teams that earned NCAA berths last season (Wisconsin, Stanford, Arizona State, Arizona and MWC schools, UNLV and BYU) and two teams that were ranked in the 2005 final USA Today/NFCA top 25 poll (Stanford - 10th and Arizona - 4th).
The Lobos open with a road trip to Tempe, Ariz. (Feb. 10-12) for the Kajikawa Tournament hosted by Arizona State. While at the tournament, New Mexico will face Cal State Northridge, Wisconsin, Stanford, Arizona State and Arizona. UNM then heads for the Louisville Desert Classic in Las Vegas, Nev. (Feb. 17-19) where the Lobos are scheduled to play Purdue, Hawaii, Central Michigan, UTEP and Cal Poly.
New Mexico also travels to El Paso, Texas for the UTEP Invitational (Feb. 24-26) to play non-conference games against San Jose State, in-state rival New Mexico State, Northern Colorado and host UTEP.
The Lobos are on home turf the entire month of March, kicking off the home schedule with a weekend doubleheader with Utah Valley State (March 4-5). The following weekend, New Mexico will see New Mexico State one last time with a doubleheader at Lobo Field on March 11.
March 17-19 brings the Airport University Inn Lobo Classic to Albuquerque. New Mexico will host UC Riverside, South Dakota State and Texas Tech.
Northern Colorado will make the trip to UNM for a two-day doubleheader (March 25-26), marking the end of the non-conference schedule.
"We always try to play a challenging non-conference schedule to help prepare for our conference schedule," said Newbern. "We play several top-25 teams and we also play every weekend up to the start of our conference season. We hope that this will allow our young team to settle in and gain plenty of experience before we begin conference."
New Mexico launches into MWC competition on April 1 at home against Colorado State. Then it's back on the road for games against San Diego State (April 7) and UNLV (April 9).
The Lobos close out the home schedule against BYU (April 13), Utah (April 16), UNLV (April 21) and San Diego State (April 23), followed by road trips to Utah (April 28), BYU (April 29) and Colorado State (May 6). The Mountain West Conference Tournament will be hosted by UNLV in Las Vegas, Nev. May 11-13.