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January 15, 2009

2009 Season - "Older and wiser" Viking softball team optimistic heading into 2009

Perhaps the best statement as to the strength of the Augustana softball program is the fact that the 2008 season was considered a “rebuilding” campaign. All the Vikings of veteran head coach Kris Kistler accomplished last year was a 26-18 overall record, seventh straight season with at least 26 victories, a second place finish in the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin and a ninth consecutive winning record. That’s monumental success on some campuses but Kistler has built quite a program at Augustana and she thinks her players are hungry to do better.

“I think there is a hunger among our players after last year,” said Kistler who has compiled a record of 264-127-2 (.674) in her previous nine years at the Viking helm. “We finished strongly last season and making the championship game of the CCIW tournament and coming within one game of making the NCAA tournament again was certainly an accomplishment. We were very young last year and it will be nice to take the field in 2009 with those same players a year older and more experienced.”

The Vikings return 10 letterwinners from a year ago and six players who started at least 30 games. However, this is a program that won 132 games in a four year span from 2004 through 2007, won three CCIW tournament titles, two CCIW regular season championships and participated in three NCAA tournaments. The sting of sitting home last May for the NCAA regional will not be something that will be forgotten.

“There were a few times last year when we just didn’t play very well and hopefully our players can learn from that,” said Kistler who has been the CCIW “Coach of the Year” four times in her career (2000, 2004, 2006 & 2007). “Our strong finish gave our players a taste of what they can accomplish.”

Augustana went into the CCIW tournament as the fourth seed but knocked off number one Illinois Wesleyan 4-2 in the first round and later eliminated a Carthage team that had won both meetings in the regular season. The Vikings lost a pair of games to North Central by scores of 9-8 and 11-10 to finish second.

A year older and wiser, the Vikings are extremely optimistic heading into 2009. Three all-conference performers are among the returning players and Kistler is anxious to get started.

“I am really excited about the opportunity,” said Kistler. “Last year was a great learning experience for our team. It had been a while since we put a team on the field that was so young. It will be nice to have a team that will be a little more predictable.”

One thing the Vikings did not lack last year was offense as they hit .302 as a team and averaged over five runs per game. They set a new school record for doubles with 75, which broke the old record of 71 set in 2006. In addition, junior Karlee Quaritsch (Palatine HS, Palatine, Ill.) established a new school mark for home runs in a single season with 11, breaking the old record of nine set by Kim Rymer in 2006 and tied by Lorena Cernetisch in 2007. Quaritsch was a first team all-conference performer last year at third base as was junior Brittany Snoreck (Carl Sandburg HS, Orland Park, Ill.) as a designated hitter. Sophomore Melissa Nelson (West Aurora HS, Aurora, Ill.) was a second team pick as an outfielder.

The infield will be solid on the left side with Quaritsch at third base and junior Chrissy Rosin (Niles West HS, Morton Grove, Ill.) at shortstop. Quaritsch hit .364 last year with 47 hits in 129 at-bats while scoring 38 runs. She had nine doubles, one triple, 11 home runs and 31 runs-batted-in. She added nine stolen bases. Rosin batted .341 with 45 hits in 132 at-bats with 35 runs scored, 10 doubles, one triple, four home runs and 15 RBI. Sophomore Stephanie Sarb (Lisle Township HS, Lisle, Ill.) will also be at third base while freshman Abbi Staples (Sterling HS, Sterling, Ill.) will be a backup at shortstop. On the right side there will be a huge hole because team MVP Sara Brokaw has graduated and she played both first and second base. Junior Jackie Gill (Heyworth HS, Heyworth, Ill.) saw action in 37 games last year and she batted .241 and will probably be at first base along with freshman Erica Aten (Moline HS, Coal Valley, Ill.). Second base is up for grabs right now with junior Andi Walker (Plainfield South HS, Plainfield, Ill.) and sophomores Jen Sloboda (Wheaton Warrenville South HS, Wheaton, Ill.) and Dawn Kernich (Mount Olive HS, Mount Olive, Ill.) all in the mix. Those three players only totaled 43 at-bats last year.

Nelson, who batted .286 with 32 hits in 112 at-bats with 16 runs scored, 11 doubles, one triple, two home runs and 19 RBI will handle things in left field. Junior Missy Fobert (Rock Island Alleman HS, Rock Island, Ill.) patrols centerfield after batting .296 with 24 hits in 91 at-bats last year. She scored 17 runs with three doubles, one triple, one home run and eight RBI. Right field could be in the hands of freshman Christine Trojanowski (Evergreen Park HS, Evergreen Park, Ill.). Junior Ashley Mulligan (Bradley-Bourbonnais HS, Bourbonnais, Ill.) and sophomores Emilee Goad (Dwight HS, Dwight, Ill.) and Jamie Bauerlein (Lisle Township HS, Lisle, Ill.) will be looking for playing time as well.

Snoreck was the regular catcher last year and she hit .333 with 38 hits in 114 at-bats with six runs scored, 10 doubles, three home runs and 21 RBI. There is also the possibility that Quaritsch could do some catching as well. If that happens, Snoreck will handle the designated hitter responsibility.

Pitching is always a key in fastpitch softball and Kistler likes her staff. Senior Jenna Szybowicz (Glenbard North HS, Carol Stream, Ill.) has battled injuries the last two seasons and was just 7-7 with a 3.57 earned run average in 78 1/3 innings last year. However, she was the CCIW’s “Pitcher of the Year” as a freshman in 2006 when she posted 16 wins and had a 1.12 earned run average. If she returns to that form that will make this group very tough. Gill was 2-1 last year with a 3.00 earned run average in 21 innings. Sophomore Sheldon Ritzheimer (Wesclin HS, Trenton, Ill.) has made great strides since last spring and Aten could be used here as well. Another possibility is freshman Rachel Perry (Illinois Valley Central HS, Chillicothe, Ill.).

Once again the schedule is a tough one but Kistler is confident that her team can handle it. “We have talked about playing at one level instead of being up and down,” she said. “From what I have seen in the fall we are on pace to make that happen.”