Young softball team readies for 2008
March 7, 2008
Dave Beyer, Sports Information Director
Benedictine University head coach Kate Keller – who has spent most of her adult life as a member of the Eagles’ softball program - knows that everything is cyclical. After several seasons of enjoying veteran leadership and talent on her team, she knows that 2008 is going to be different with a roster that sports just three seniors (along with three sophomores and seven freshmen).
“Sometimes when you ask a coach how their team will be the standard answer is ‘oh, we’re very young’,” said Keller, in her 11th season at the BU helm. “But we really are (very young). One day in practice we were doing a drill and I looked at the infield and it was all new players.
“And with our annual trip to Florida on the horizon the reality has set in. We could have a lot of first-year players seeing significant playing time. The problem is that they don’t have college experience. It has nothing at all to do with being good or not being good. It’s just their lack of experience at this level that may be an issue for awhile.”
The most glaring void in the Eagles game is in the pitching circle. Not only did Benedictine lose four-year starter and all-region player Melissa Kennedy to graduation, but sophomore Lisa Rybak – last year’s No. 2 hurler – was put on the shelf just after spring drills opened for the entire season due to a shoulder injury.
“That’s life,” philosophizes Keller on the loss of Rybak. “You need to move on. Her teammates will need to step up and cover for her. It may actually hurt us worse at the plate, where she was our number four hitter and a real presence on the field by her leadership.”
Keller’s pitching corps will likely be composed of a trio of freshmen: Sam Corban (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield Central H.S.), Caitlin Shaw (Crestwood, Ill./Marist H.S.) and Brittney Carnell (Elburn, Ill./Kaneland H.S.). Keller feels all three are very gifted pitchers, but just “untested” yet at the intercollegiate game.
The one solace for Keller is that she will have junior catcher Kristin Bonk (Woodridge, Ill./Downers Grove South H.S.) handling the bulk of the receiving chores. Bonk hit .244 with seven doubles and a homerun last season. She had a .989 fielding percentage and threw out four runners in nine steal attempts against her.
Starting thirdbaseman Nikki Schlagel (Glendale Heights, Ill./Glenbard East H.S.) returns to man the “hot corner” and will also back up Bonk. Schlagel had a very creditable .960 fielding percentage and hit .235 as a junior. She also drew 13 walks and was hit by a pitch twice. Freshman Cindy Daggy (Midlothian, Ill./Bremen H.S.) can also play third when Schlagel goes behind the plate.
At firstbase, Keller will have several options with freshman Cassie Cappetto (Oak Lawn, Ill./Marist H.S.), along with returners senior Kate Kleinwachter (Warrenville, Ill./Wheaton-Warrenville South H.S.) and sophomore Sara Sutherland (Rockford, Ill./Winnebago H.S.). Kleinwachter appeared in 28 games last season and hit .324 in 71 at-bats.
Veteran secondbaseman Sara Sanchez (Plainfield, Ill./Glenbard West H.S.), a junior, will anchor the middle of the Eagles’ defense once again. Sanchez had a .947 fielding percentage and hit .223, lacing seven doubles and one triple.
The shortstop position will likely fall in the hands of sophomore Lisa Hodges (So. Holland, Ill./Thornwood H.S.), a converted high school catcher who filled in at short last season after some injuries. “We do not have a true shortstop,” said Keller about the left side of her infield. Hodges hit .266 and slapped eight doubles, driving in 11 runs. Freshman Kaitlin Mitchell (Renton, Wash./Hazen H.S.) will provide depth at the position.
The outfield sports several “vets” with all-region player Aimee Mahoney (Gardner, Ill./Gardner-So. Wilmington H.S.) tops among those players back. Mahoney hit .311 and led the Eagles team in runs (32), sacrifice hits (6) and triples (6) as a freshman. She also drove in 15 runs and was eight-for-13 in stolen base attempts.
Juniors Blair Erickson (Sheridan, Ill./Serena H.S.) and Kim Bakota (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew H.S.) have both seen ample time in the outfield entering this season. Bakota, who can also pitch when needed, hit .220 in 59 at-bats last year, while Erickson had started the first 12 games before a season-ending ankle injury cut her year short. Corban and fellow freshman Steff Rybarczyk (Chicago, Ill./St. Francis de Sales H.S.) will both vie for time roaming the Eagles’ outfield, as well.
A difficult schedule – both in and outside the Northern Athletics Conference – may be a double-edged sword for the Eagles. With Benedictine’s youth movement, Keller must strike a delicate balance.
“It works both ways,” said Keller of her difficult slate of games on her Florida trip. “By playing the tough teams it will show the girls where we want to be. But I also don’t want them to make mistakes and then get down and not play well when we return home. The bottom line is that we just need to get on the field and play and see what we have.”
Formulating what would constitute a “successful” season is also an area where Keller has had to take a more realistic approach with such an inexperienced roster.
“Hopefully we will be successful,” said Keller of he goals for the season. “Not just in terms winning, but just in doing the things we want to do. We want to give ourselves the best opportunity to win. We want to always do the best we can, no matter who we play or what the situation.
“I want us to learn to play as a team and to become consistent in what we do. We don’t want to have our players just do things right the first week or just in practice; we want the work we do to carry over into games. With a young team, if we can master the fundamentals, in two or three years we should be unstoppable.”
Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois, and Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls nearly 10,000 students in 56 undergraduate and 19 graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the sixth consecutive year in 2016. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (hlcommission.org). For more information, contact (630) 829-6300, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ben.edu.