2008 Softball Outlook
Jan. 8, 2008
The University of Memphis softball team continued to reach program firsts last season, qualifying for its first Conference USA Championship and finishing the year with a 36-25 record. But the one first that will have the biggest impact on the 2008 season is the loss of the team's first seniors at the end of last year.
Memphis lost six seniors in 2007, including three starters and all of its starting pitching. As a result, the biggest question mark in 2008 will be how a freshman rotation with three talented newcomers will handle the pitching duties.
Thees said she is excited in the talent of the newcomers as well as the leadership and ability of the returning players.
"We don't have experience (at pitching)," Memphis head coach Windy Thees. "That is the one thing we're going to lack, but we have great pitching. It's just a matter of when they mature. I'm really excited about the pitching staff that we have.
"We have great juniors on this team and a couple of great seniors who are taking care of the youngsters. Our freshman class is quite large and we're going to have some impact players on there, not just on the mound."
Right-handed freshman Rayna McClinton comes to Memphis after playing three years as a pitcher and outfielder for Spring Valley High School in Columbia, S.C. She played her freshman season at Woodward Academy in Atlanta, Ga., and holds the school's record for most strikeouts in a season with 197. As a senior, McClinton hit .323, while sporting a 1.04 ERA.
Freshman Janelle Valle lettered three years at Temescal Canyon High School in Lake Elsinore, Calif. The southpaw holds the all-time win record at the school and was named a 2007 Riverside County All-Star player. Valle struck out six and allowed just two hits in a fall 2-1 victory against cross-town Christian Brothers University.
Juniors Lyndsey Sterling and Leila Dolfo are the only returning players with collegiate pitching experience on the roster. Sterling has pitched five and a third innings the last two seasons and had two appearances in 2007. Dolfo has pitched 40 and two-thirds innings in two years with seven starts, but had only two appearances last season and is expected to primarily play in the infield in 2008.
Competing for starting time at third and first base will be senior Melissa Nance who begins her first collegiate season as a softball-only athlete. Nance played the last four seasons on the Memphis volleyball team and served as the team-captain the last three years. On the softball field, Nance has a career .292 batting average with nine home runs, 11 doubles and 33 RBI and sports a .515 slugging percentage. She played in 31 games last season with 19 starts with five coming at first base.
Junior Tori Gross returns to play second base after starting 113 of the school's 115 games the past two years at the position. The San Diego, Calif., native has a career .971 fielding percentage with 30 RBI and 33 runs scored.
Shortstop Heather Mott returns to complete her freshman season after starting the first 10 games in 2007 at the position. Mott broke her leg early in the year and received a redshirt for the season. In last year's opening tournament at LSU, Mott belted four home runs and had eight RBI, seven hits and six runs scored in the six games.
Competing for playing time in the infield will be freshman Maddie McKinley. The Chickamauga, Ga., native played four years at Gordon Lee Memorial High School and is a four-time Chattanooga Times Best of Preps.
The tag-team catching duo of senior Lindsay Kelso and junior Kimmi Hayden return in 2008. The two split starting time at catcher and designated player. Kelso started 50 games last season with 28 coming behind the plate. The Phoenix, Ariz., native threw out seven runners and had two pick offs, while hitting four home runs with 21 RBI and 29 runs scored.
Hayden made 32 of her 54 starts at catcher and hit .299 with five home runs and 22 RBI. In two seasons, the El Cajon, Calif., native has a .283 career batting average, eight home runs, 52 RBI and 36 runs scored. Her .993 career fielding percentage also ranks first all-time in school history.
Competing for playing time at catcher and first base is freshman Kailey Kassner. Kassner lettered four years as a first baseman and catcher at Conant High School in Elk Grove Village, Ill.
Junior Brittany Gooch started 33 games last season primarily in right field before suffering a leg injury on April 18 and missing three weeks. Gooch hit .275 on the season and committed just one error. The Nashville, Tenn., native was also a perfect six-for-six in stolen base attempts.
Rowan filled in for Gooch during her injury and made enough of an impact to be voted to the Freshman Team by the league's coaches. The Marietta, Ga., native started 20 games and ended the season with 17-straight starts in right field. She led the team with a .317 batting average and also had seven pinch hits off the bench. Rowan could also see time in the infield at third base.
Freshman Kim Sirman will compete for the starting job in center field to replace last year's senior starter Lindsey Pridgen. The Sugar Land, Texas, native was a four-year letterwinner at Clements High School. Also competing for playing time is sophomore Sara Schneider who scored five runs in 2007 and was primarily used as a pinch runner.
The Tigers begin the year at a tournament hosted by former C-USA member and current Big East affiliate, USF, in Tampa, Fla., from Feb. 8-10. Memphis will open the first day against Illinois before facing the tournament host. The U of M will also face Florida, Florida Gulf Coast and Bethune Cookman in the invitational.
Memphis will then travel to Tempe, Ariz., to compete in Arizona State's tournament with a game scheduled against the nationally-ranked Sun Devils as well as Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Nebraska and Idaho State. The Tigers will also play in tournaments hosted by Oklahoma and Winthrop.
From February 22-24, Memphis will host its second annual Blues City Classic. The tournament will be held at Greenbrook Park in Southaven, Miss., due to the facility's capability of hosting multiple games simultaneously. The Tigers will host five teams in the round robin style tournament.
Memphis opens its conference schedule at home against Marshall with a doubleheader on March 8. Other home conference series will be played against UTEP, Southern Miss and East Carolina, while the Tigers will travel to UAB, Houston, UCF and Tulsa. Houston will host the C-USA Championship from May 8-10.
Last season, the Tigers won its final six conference games of the season to earn its first trip in the program's two-year history to the conference championship tournament. This year, teams will not need dramatic finishes to earn their spot. The league's coaches approved a tournament format that includes all of the league's nine teams instead of the six slots open in the past.
"That will make the conference tournament so much more meaningful," Thees said. "Anybody can be hot, and if you get hot, you could win it. If everybody went, everybody's going to be playing to be at their peak at that time. In the past, I think some teams had fallen off knowing they weren't going to get to the tournament. You've got to give something for your players to play for even if you're having a bad year."