Feb. 7, 1998

1998 Softball Preview

There is reason for excitement this season for the University of Virginia softball team. It starts with the hiring of an entire new softball coaching staff. Coach Cheryl Sprangel, previous head coach at the University of Toledo for 14 seasons, was named the head softball coach at Virginia in August. Sprangel added two new assistant coaches to her staff, Meshia Caswell, who was Sprangel's assistant at Toledo the past three seasons, and JoAnne Ferguson, a graduate assistant from Shippensburg.

"I'm very excited about this year because we have a very strong foundation of young players to work with," says Sprangel. "In the fall we started by throwing a totally new system at the players, and it's been great because the players were open to try new ideas and they worked very hard on improving their techniques."

There has already been positive results, as the Cavaliers participated in three fall tournaments, posting a 11-1 record a*nd winning two of the three tournaments. "The fall tournaments gave us a good idea of what the players were capable of, and what areas we need to improve. It's exciting to know that we have the potential to take ourselves as far as we want to go this season. The control is in our hands."

Pitching

The foundation of the team starts with the solid pitching duo of Stacey Zagol and Christina Quinn. Both pitchers throw hard, and have shown Sprangel in the fall that they are capable of keeping the team in games for a chance to win. Combine Zagol's mental toughness with her great drop ball, and she is tough to beat. Quinn's greatest strength is keeping batters off stride with an excellent change-up and pitch location. Both pitchers worked very hard in the fall to add different pitches to their arsenal, and are ready to be leaders this season.

Third-year pitcher Cory Bolkan made excellent strides in the fall as well. She improved her technique and pitches, and will be uOsed for relief work and non-conference games.

Infield

Defense will definitely be one of Virginia's strengths in 1998, anchored by shortstop, Lori Reese. She has an excellent glove and an arm to make big plays when needed. Reese has a powerful swing, and she looks to provide Virginia with many runs this season.

A shortstop is only as good as the second baseman, and Stacy Holmes fills the spot at second for the Cavaliers superb infield duo. Holmes is coming off a great season, earning All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors and a spot on the All-ACC Tournament team. She has a steady, consistent glove and a quick, powerful bat.

Third base is one position that Virginia will have a luxury of depth. Amy Peay returns at third base after an impressive fall and winning the position last season. Karen Breshears, a transfer from the University of Toledo, joined the team in January and will add power to the offensive lin*eup and depth in the field.

First base will be solidified by the trio of Cristy Chiappe, Julie Amaon and Christina Quinn. Chiappe will most likely anchor the position, however, there is no drop-off with the return of Amaon to the mix. Quinn is able to step-in at first when she is not in the pitching rotation.

Utility players Michele Justice and Sadira Furlow will make their bid for open positions for Virginia.

The Cavaliers return two experienced catchers with Beth Crimi and Mariruth Graham. Crimi is the lone senior on the 1998 squad, and supplies one of the most powerful swings on the team. Graham looks to build upon the success she had last season, and first-year player Gina McCabe rounds out the catchers. She will try to pi ckup as much experience as possible.

Outfield

The strength of the Virginia outfield in 1998 will be speed. The Cavaliers return four true outfielders with excellent speed to track down hits. The outfield consists of players who can cover a lot of ground on the field, and provide speed while running the base paths. Meaghan Young and Corinne Good will supply the offense with power hitting, and Tish Tablan and Kelly McCabe will provide the slapping techniques and speed to turn singles into doubles. Jen Krill rounds out the outfield, and could see extensive action at designated hitter or in pinch-hit situations.

Outlook

The success of the 1998 Virginia Cavaliers will rely on the pitching and defense. It is imperative that the Cavaliers stay healthy, since depth at certain key positions may become a factor.

Offensively, the Cavaliers will have a very good balance of speed and power in the lineup. Sprangel feels it is good to be able to look down the lineup and know anyone of the players on the 1998 roster can contribute offensively at any time.

Sprangel has keyed in on trying to be more aggressive offensively and make things happen with hit and runs, steals and suicide squeezes. The team has responded well thus far and has shown Sprangel that they can execute in almost every situation. Sprangel feels that the 1998 squad will be a much stronger offensive team than in the past.

With 11 returning players and a new style of play, the Virginia Cavaliers will definitely be a team to keep your eyes on in 1998.