(Posted February 28, 2006)

Huntingdon, PA - Prior to the 2003 season the 15-17-1 record that the Juniata College softball team posted in 2005 would have been a reason for celebration. But after the two most successful seasons in the program's history in the two preceding seasons, the campaign was viewed as something of a letdown. Now, as the 2006 Juniata team gets ready to kick-off its season, the Eagles have a roster that features an intriguing mix of veterans and youngsters that have their sights clearly set on making their way back to the Commonwealth postseason.

For the Eagles to make that return run to the top of the Commonwealth standings, the team will be relying on a group of seniors that have all played a big part of the team success over the past three seasons. The roster features seven players in their final collegiate season several of whom have been starters since their initial season. Three of those seniors, Renae Hobbs (Mount Union/Mount Union), Lizzie Bartosik (Penn/Granger, Ind.) and Jessica Darrow (Wellsboro/Wellsboro), along with sophomore Kim Stoia (Morris Hills/Rockaway, N.J.), will anchor the team's pitching staff, which Coach John Houck views as one of the key's to the team.

"Our success starts with our pitching staff and having experienced players in that area will be a key," Houck said. "Renae, Lizzie and Jess have all pitched since their freshman season, and they know what it's about. They have to be productive on the field but their experience and leadership is also going to be important.

Fellow seniors Leann P. Leymeister (Blue Mountain/Orwigsburg), Marcie White (Central Dauphin East/Dauphin), Abby Sener (Donegal/Marietta) and Julie Hatfield (Southern Cayuga/Scipio Center, N.Y.) are also experienced players, and should be regulars in the starting lineup. Their experienced presence in the lineup and most importantly will be crucial as the Eagles look to shore up the defense behind its strong pitching staff. Juniata has ranked as one of the top defensive teams in the conference over this three-year stretch and will need to continue that trend to make a move up the Commonwealth standings.

While Juniata's defense remained strong in 2005, the offense took a step backward from its efforts the previous season. The Eagles were in the middle of the conference pack in terms of team batting average, but were near the bottom in terms of runs scored. Coach Houck believes that a renewed emphasis on generating runs, along with the team's experience could help the Eagles produce big hits.

"Our main problem last season was that we just didn't make the most of our offensive chances," Houck said. "Our hitting with runners in scoring position was just not consistent. This season we've focused a lot on that, on trying to hit in big situations. And while we had some veteran players see playing time last season, many of them were in the regular lineup for the first time, and weren't as used to the pressure. Hopefully this year will be able to handle that pressure better and generate some more runs."

While Houck sees the team's experience as a key in producing more offense, he will also count on a large and talented incoming freshmen class to have an impact in their first season. In a nice bit of symmetry Juniata will have seven first-year players to match the team's seven seniors. Several of those freshmen, including Tara Carl (Otto-Eldred), Liz Schmidt (H Frank Carey/Franklin Square, N.Y.), Jackie Morley (Archbishop Wood/North Wales) and Kaylee Kachik (Meplewood/Cambridge Springs) could find themselves holding down starting spots in their inaugural season.

"This group of freshmen has a lot of talent from top to bottom," Houck said. "It's a very big group and we really think they can do some big things. Our team isn't blessed with a lot of depth, and with some injuries we've had some of this group is going to need to step in right away and try to contribute. But I think these ladies are capable of making an impact right away."

The road back to the conference postseason will not be easy. Juniata was picked to finish fifth in the Commonwealth preseason coaches poll after posting a 5-9 record in conference play a season ago. The Juniata teams that found their way into the postseason specialized in winning close, low-scoring games, which are extremely common within the conference. For this edition of the Eagles to work its way back into postseason play, it will need to once again find a way to earn those victories.

"With as tough as this conference is, we will need to bring our 'A' game every time out," Houck said. "There are no easy games in this conference which makes it extremely tough. We've got to take advantage of opportunities, and we need to make our own breaks by working hard. If we do that, this team is capable of having a very strong season."

The recent success of the softball program has altered the perception of what a strong season might be. Yet with the experience and talent on this season's Juniata team, there's a good chance that the Eagles can enjoy a season that everyone will recognize as a success.


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Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.