Clarksville, Ark.-A totally revamped U of O softball team has not only given the Lady Eagles a fresh new look, but has also given them a bright future.
The Lady Eagles will feature 14 new players, including 12 true freshmen, and that has head coach Jon Janssen thinking optimistic for the 2002 season. While the squad lacks college experience, the Lady Eagles now have players who have a great deal of fast-pitch familiarity. Despite the collegiate inexperience, Janssen believes his team has enough talent to be competitive this season. “Our team is somewhat inexperienced in collegiate softball, but all of the girls have fast-pitch experience from high school and that is a big plus,” said Janssen, who is beginning his second season as head coach. “With that experience, our players have a better understanding of the game which results in good game sense. We don’t have a lot of depth at any position, but if we stay injury free, we can be productive.” The Lady Eagles, who finished 4-20 a year ago, will have to rely on several freshmen in order to improve upon last season’s conference two-win total. However, the freshman class is loaded with a mixture of athleticism and speed. “I like this freshmen class,” said Janssen. “They all work hard and have done everything we have asked them to do. It wouldn’t surprise me if any of them put up big numbers this year. They all have great potential.” Two junior college transfers will provide immediate help. Infielders Leah Thompson and Kayci Rockwell both batted over .400 at North Arkansas Community College last season. Thompson from Harrison and Rockwell from Gentry both have valuable experience and will provide leadership in the field. “Leah has really shown exemplary leadership,” said Janssen. “I expect both of them to produce offensively and give us a lift in the field.” The Lady Eagles will turn to sophomore Amanda Luney as the pitching staff’s ace. Luney, a native of Siloam Springs, led Ozarks in earned runs (4.31), strikeouts (56) and innings pitched (118.5). Luney is considered one of the top five pitchers in the American Southwest Conference East Division. “I look for Amanda to carry us,” said Janssen. “She’s a very good pitcher and a player we can build around. She certainly has all-conference potential.” The pitching department will also get a boost from Pottsville native Janae Smith and Rockwell. Each has been impressive in fall action. “We have pitchers who we can count on,” said Janssen. “We are much better at this position. I’m a little concerned with our depth, though.” While the pitching department has been dramatically improved, the offense also has the potential to be more productive. The team’s overall speed is expected to produce a more dynamic offense. “Our team speed is excellent,” said Janssen. “Six of our nine starters will have exceptional speed and this will create havoc for opposing defenses. A lot of coaches have the philosophy that defense wins championships. But the key to our team is using our speed to generate runs and to play solid defense.” The Lady Eagles’ infield will include the likes of Regan Brown of Rogers, Rockwell, Thompson, and Sarah Fielder of Greenbrier. Thompson and Fielder will see action at third base and first base, while Brown and Rockwell will see action at second base. The versatility of Amie Jondro of Benton, Shannon Rainbolt of Vilonia and Luney will allow them to see play at a number of positions. Lettermen Melissa Spears of Farmington and Jennifer Goodwin of Ozark solidify an otherwise young outfield. Jennifer Hudlow of Pocola, Leslie Foster of Memphis and Wendy Springer of Poyen will see time in the outfield. Luney is the top returning hitter with a .351 batting average and 16 runs batted in. The Lady Eagles will be without the services of shortstop Jamie Johnson who suffered a knee injury three months ago. Johnson’s offensive numbers will be difficult to replace, but Rainbolt and Brown have been impressive in preseason drills. Catching duties will fall to Kelly Bennett of Bryant and Julie Nicholson of Monticello. The Lady Eagles open the season on February 7 in a double header against Hendrix College in Clarksville. The first game is set to start at 1:00 p.m. Admission to all U of O softball games are free.