Clarksville, Ark.--The 2005 U of O softball team returns eight starters from a year ago and head coach Jon Janssen believes that experience could translate into a more consistent and productive team.
"We have a good group of girls coming back that got quite a bit of starting time last year," said Janssen, who is entering his fifth season as head coach. "I hope that the consistency that we developed at the end of last season will carry over into this season and take us up another level. Consistency is what we have really been lacking in the past." Ozarks returns two of its top three pitchers and five players who hit at least .300 last season. Ozarks’ strength may be in the outfield, where senior Shannon Rainbolt and sophomores Jodie Clark and Kara Bartholomew each received American Southwest Conference recognition in 2004. Rainbolt, a three-time All-Conference player, earned ASC All-East Division Second team honors after leading the team in runs (31), at bats (113) and walks (19) while ranking second in stolen bases (16) and third in hits (33). She hit .292 and drove in nine runs from her leadoff position. Clark was the only Lady Eagle to earn ASC All-East Division First team status last season. She finished third on the team in batting (.333) while driving in 12 runs and scoring another 24 in limited action. Clark played in only 25 games after suffering a broken forearm against Mississippi College. Bartholomew was named to the ASC All-East Division Second team and led the team in stolen bases (17-of-17) and hits (40) while finishing second in batting (.364). She collected 12 RBI. "I feel like they will be one of the top defensive outfielding units in the league," said Janssen. "We are excited to have Jodie Clark back after her season-ending injury last season." The Lady Eagles can count on juniors Erica Newell and Devon Bottoms along with sophomores Brooke Grice and Kayla Reedy to make an impact in the infield. Newell, a first baseman, earned ASC All-East Division honorable mention after starting in all 37 games and tied for the team lead in RBI (21) and ranked first in total bases (46). Newell finished the season with a .330 batting average, fourth-best on the team and 37 hits, second-best on the squad. Bottoms played second base for the Lady Eagles and finished fifth on the team in batting (.303), fourth in RBI (16) and tied for the team-lead in doubles (7). Grice started at third base in 29 games and ended the season tied for the team-lead in RBI (21). She hit .284 with four doubles. Reedy saw action in 25 games and recorded ten hits, three of which were doubles. Junior Trenda Neff, who played in two games a year ago, and sophomore Jeanne Randall, who started in 22 games and knocked in 11 runs, will shore up the catcher position. "Erica Newell and Kayla Reedy will play first base for us," said Janssen. "Brooke has been solid at third base and Devon will be a utility player for us, including pitching in middle relief. Freshman Jessica Pianalto will play the shortstop position. There may be times when we have different lineups and different looks. It depends on who we are playing." Janssen says freshman Chelsea Joslin adds instant power to the lineup. "She has a great eye at the plate and has legitimate home run power," said Janssen. The pitching staff is well-equipped with returners Dana Marvin and Chanceree Catlett. Marvin, a junior, earned ASC All-East Division Honorable Mention after posting a 9-4 record and a team-best 2.59 ERA. Marvin also led the squad with 55 strikeouts and 92.0 innings pitched. Marvin also proved to be a threat at the plate, recording 15 hits in 39 at-bats. Catlett, a sophomore, gave the Lady Eagles a boost as a true freshman a year ago. She recorded 44 strikeouts in 66.2 innings of work and posted a 5-6 record on the mound. She had a team-best two shutouts to go along with a 3.05 ERA. Bottoms is expected to provide the rotation with depth. "Our pitchers understand what it takes to be successful in this conference," said Janssen. "There is no doubt pitching will help you win ballgames. But the one thing I’ve learned is that defense helps you win championships. We had certain innings last year where we gave up too many runs and shot ourselves in the foot because of bad defensive plays. Defensively, we want to be in the .975 range or above in fielding percentage, and our pitchers need to have an ERA under 2.00. We feel like if we can do those two things, we will have a chance to win some ballgames. We really focused on defense and pitching in the fall." The ASC has expanded their post-season championship playoff bracket from the division’s top two teams to the top three. "The expansion of the playoffs is a positive step for the conference as a whole," said Janssen. "Even though they have expanded the tournament brackets, I’ve had to really stress to the girls how much harder it will be because now every team feels like they have a shot to make it. With our side of the conference, there are several teams that can destroy your tournament hopes in any one weekend. You have to show up each game in this conference." "I’m really excited to see how this team performs because last year’s freshman class now has a year of experience under their belt," said Janssen. "These girls are pushing each other in practice and are really working hard on doing things the right way. We played a lot better in the fall than I expected. That told me they know what I’m looking for this year. They stayed focused on the defensive end of the game in the fall." The Lady Eagles begin the season on February 24 in a double-header against Hendrix College in Conway. Game times are set for 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.