Softball Enters 2011 with Different Look

WINONA LAKE, Ind. – The Lady Lancer softball team enters the 2011 season looking to continue rebuilding a program that has been in shambles in recent years. They’ll take the field with a different look, too, showcasing a roster that boasts talent, youth and promise.

Head coach Heather Johnson, entering her second season at the helm of the program, brought in a seven-person freshmen class to jumpstart the rebuilding process, six to seven of which will most likely start.

“The freshmen will make up for their lack of experience with high energy and their versatility,” Johnson commented. “We are going to play aggressive, and for this reason, I know we will make some mistakes. But it won’t be because of a lack of talent.”

The freshmen that are expected to have the biggest impact are Olivia Winget, Jordan McKinley and Brooke Shadinger. Winget and McKinley will be shouldering most of the load on the mound this season, and Shadinger will man centerfield and will be heavily relied on to be a leader in the outfield.

Winget posted a 1.59 career ERA at Southwood High School with 494 strikeouts, 43 victories, 15 shutouts and two no-hitters. She will also add some power to the middle of the lineup as she batted .494 during her senior year at Southwood and totaled eight home runs.

Johnson stressed that with a team this young, team chemistry is crucial to the program’s success and foundation.

“Our team is striving to be unified and to work through the challenges that this season will provide,” Johnson said. “We have become more of a unit since the fall and now throughout the winter. We are excited to see what the spring brings.”

Grace only returns three starters from last season in Genevieve Benson, Katie Clouse and Sam Fields. Fields looks to solidify the middle infield, as she was an MCC All-Conference honorable mention last year as a freshman. She led the team in hitting with a .336 batting average and will look to do so again.

Benson is the lone upperclassman and will serve as the leader on and off the field. She will play alongside Fields in the middle of the infield at second base. Clouse is transitioning from playing third base to being the catcher for the Lady Lancers this season.

Johnson expects her young lineup to play an aggressive, high-energy style of softball. Grace will turn out a faster lineup this season that will generate more hits and consequently more runs.

One of the team goals this year is to qualify for the MCC conference tournament, something they’ve been unable to do the last half-decade. They also want to compete in the NCCAA regional tournament come postseason.

Overall, Johnson is excited for the upcoming season as she tries to lead her players to compete beyond their years. Even though Grace’s youth will bring about some challenges, it will allow them to mature early as they pursue their team goals.

Says Johnson, “Our biggest challenge will be to build their confidence early as we try to put all the pieces together and pursue our team goals.”

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