Clarksville, Ark.-An influx of new talent and a strong pitching staff has U of O head softball coach Jon Janssen aiming towards a spot in the playoffs this season.
"We are definitely focusing on making the tournament," said Janssen, who is entering his fourth year as head coach. "This will be a tough task for us though. The talent level in this conference is outstanding and it will be a battle from start to finish. But I feel like we can match up with anybody in this league. We have a lot of quality players this season." The Lady Eagles, who finished 17-21 overall and 7-18 in the conference last season, have only eight returning lettermen, but added ten new players, eight of which are freshman. One major addition to the squad is sophomore pitcher Dana Marvin, a transfer from Arkansas Tech University. "This is probably one of the deepest and most talented pitching staffs we’ve ever had," said Janssen. "Dana coming in was a huge boost for us. She will carry a major part of the pitching load. She is a true pitcher in the sense that she thinks about each hitter and how she can get them out. She has the opportunity to really be a force in this league because of that. Also, Amanda Luney is back for her senior season and she has been a rock in the rotation the last three years. I believe our biggest team strength is our pitching staff." Marvin, a right-hander from Cabot, went 3-1 with a 1.38 ERA and recorded 29 strikeouts in 25.1 innings pitched at Tech last season. Luney, a right-hander from Siloam Springs, finished last season with a 9-10 record and a 4.34 ERA while recording 34 strikeouts. The Lady Eagles also feature one of the top players in the American Southwest Conference in junior leftfielder Shannon Rainbolt, who earned All-ASC and All-East Division first team honors last season. Rainbolt, from Vilonia, made her mark as the team’s leadoff hitter and led the squad with a .360 batting average and a .416 on-base percentage. She was also the team leader in stolen bases (7) and hits (45) while finishing second in RBI (21). Janssen believes Rainbolt not only contributes offensively, but also in other aspects of the game. "Shannon is a leader on our team and will be an impact player," said Janssen. "She is setting a good example for our younger players with her work ethic and practice habits. She is a great teammate and is a hard worker, exactly the type of player you want to build around. She understands what her role is on the team and knows what needs to be done for us to be successful. Defensively, she is an anchor, too. I really expect good things from her this season." Offensively, the Lady Eagles will rely on team speed to create runs. "Our team speed is a strength, too," said Janssen. "We want to create runs through our quickness on the bases and put pressure on the defense. Our overall speed creates a lot of excitement and will produce runs." Senior shortstop Jamie Johnson shores up the infield. Johnson, from Lamar, earned honorable mention All-East division last year after batting .292 and knocking in 13 runs. She led the squad in runs (23), slugging percentage (.407) and triples (4). Returnees Erica Newell, Devon Bottoms and Kaleigh Dees will fill infield and outfield positions for Janssen. Newell, an infielder from Panama, Oklahoma, started in 18 games and collected 10 hits. Bottoms, an outfielder from Prairie Grove, was one of only five players on the team to start in all 38 games and Dees, from Hackett, played in 8 games. Andrea Dewey, from Farmington, is expected to contribute at the catcher position after starting in 19 games. Numerous freshmen are expected to play major roles on the team. Despite the youthfulness, Janssen feels his new players have enough talent and big game experience to be able to compete and contribute immediately. "This is a young team," said Janssen, whose team was picked to finish fifth in the ASC preseason poll. "We will probably have any where from five to six freshmen who will be counted on to make major contributions to the team. They each have something to add. Some have good speed and some have power. These girls also have national tournament experience and have been exposed to big time softball. The collegiate game is a different level and it will be a growing experience, but they are not intimidated." The Lady Eagles begin the season on February 24 in a double-header against Hendrix College in Clarksville. Game times are set for 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.