Feb. 3, 2003
With the heights of last season serving as a springboard for future success, the 2003 Georgia Tech softball team is poised to solidify itself as a fixture atop the Atlantic Coast Conference and in the national rankings for years to come.
Twelve letterwinners return from last year’s 52-18 squad, and the defending ACC champions are aiming for a repeat conference title, as well as another trip to the NCAA Regionals.
“We are shooting for the same things as last season,” said fifth-year head coach Kate Madden, who earned ACC Coach of the Year honors in 2002. “We hope to win the conference again. Fifty-two wins is a lot, but we are capable of doing that again. We want to return to Regionals and hopefully advance to the World Series. We were so close last year and still have that taste in our mouths. We won’t settle for less.”
Guiding the Jackets this season is the first-ever full staff in program history. Madden returns assistant Ehren Earleywine for his second season, and the addition of Venus Taylor gives Tech a second full-time assistant for the first time in school history.
“It is a huge advantage to have two full-time assistants,” said Madden. “We all complement each other very well. We have different areas that we are each exceptionally good at. We have three position coaches with different specialties.”
Once again, one of the major strengths of this team should be its pitching staff. Tech posted a 1.70 team earned run average a year ago and returns all major contributors from 2002.
Leading the way is sophomore Jessica Sallinger, who established herself as one of the nation’s top collegiate hurlers a year ago. She went 28-9 with a 1.17 ERA and 337 strikeouts. In the process, she set school records for wins, complete games, strikeouts and innings pitched. Sallinger earned ACC Rookie of the Year honors and was an All-Southeast Region selection by the NFCA. Additionally, she was the MVP of the ACC Championship.
“Based on last season, Jessica is definitely our No. 1 starter,” said Madden. “She is a power pitcher. She throws hard and is one of the most dominant starters in the country.”
In addition to Sallinger, Tech has another very fine starter in junior Erin Voeltz, who was 17-7 with a 2.07 ERA and 90 strikeouts a year ago. With 29 career victories, she ranks fifth on the Jackets’ all-time list. While Sallinger is a hard thrower, Voeltz has made her name as a great control pitcher who can change speeds and throw a wide array of pitches.
“Erin gives us the luxury of two strong starters to split doubleheaders,” said Madden. “They are different kind of pitchers but are equally effective.”
Tech’s third starter is senior Tiffany Goodman, who owns a 26-25 career mark and went 7-2 last season. She has been a dominate hurler in the past (1.13 ERA in 2001) and provides great leadership for the Jackets.
“Tiffany will most certainly see some time, more so than last season,” said Madden. “She is very vocal and is a great leader. She has worked very hard and has shown major improvement. She wants to contribute.”
Freshman Elizabeth Carls (Jackson, Tenn.) will add even more depth to the staff. However, she will be a little behind the others since she had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in June. Carls was expected to be medically cleared to begin practice sometime in January.
Senior All-ACC performer Lindsay Wood returns as the starter behind the plate for Tech. She had an amazing junior season, setting a conference record with 27 doubles and ranking second nationally with 0.41 doubles per game. Wood also added a .276 batting average, as well as six home runs and 28 runs batted in.
Defensively, Wood has a great arm and rarely makes a miscue. She tallied a .994 fielding percentage in 2002 to rank second on the team and threw out 21 of 51 attempted base stealers.
“Lindsay is another great leader, which is what we need behind the plate,” said Madden. “She calls a good game and, mechanically, she is one of the best defensive catchers that I have ever been around.” Junior Tasha Waugh, who saw some time behind the plate a year ago, returns as Wood’s top backup. She showed some power last season with three home runs and 15 RBI.
“Tasha will see some time back there,” said Madden. “She has made huge steps but needs to be more consistent at the plate.”
Sophomore Katie Donovan, who finished strong last season and earned all-tournament honors at the ACC Championship and NCAA Regional, is expected to see most of the time at first base.
“She is very solid and dependable at first base,” said Madden. “Katie is extremely versatile and can play a lot of positions. Offensively, she has good power at the plate and is at her best in pressure situations.” A year ago, she was fourth on the team with a .267 batting average.
Adding depth at first will be Wood and Waugh, who both saw limited action at the position a year ago.
Senior Felicia Coursey, who made 69 starts at second base in 2002, returns as the likely starter. She had a solid glove a year ago, posting a .979 fielding percentage. She also hit in the leadoff spot and provided a key spark for the Tech offense. Coursey led the team with six triples and ranked second with 39 runs scored and 11 stolen bases.
“As long as she is healthy, Felicia is our top prospect at second base,” said Madden. “She is great defensively and has very quick feet. Felicia is also a good leader and is a very smart player.”
Backing up Coursey will be sophomore Peri Zakin, a Marietta native that transferred from Miami (Ohio) University. She made 29 starts in the outfield a year ago and is a very versatile player.
“Peri is a very hard worker and gets the job done,” said Madden. “She will be an important addition.”
For the first time in four seasons, Madden will have to turn to a new third baseman due to the graduation of Jamie Frost after last season. Likely getting the nod will be Schlechte, who was a second-team all-state selection out of St. Louis’ Oakville High School as a senior.
“Lauren has a great arm and good instincts,” said Madden. “All she needs is experience and time to adjust to our defensive philosophy.”
Backing up Schlechte will be senior Tara Neff, yet another versatile player.
“I would have no qualms at all about putting Tara in there,” said Madden. “She gets a great jump on the ball, has a good arm and reads hitters very well.”
Junior All-American Tara Knudsen returns as Tech’s starter at shortstop. She brings outstanding power to the plate and is constantly improving in the field. A year ago, Knudsen tied the ACC record with 16 home runs. Additionally, she hit .374 with 51 RBI and started all 70 games at short for the Jackets. She also earned All-ACC and all-region honors.
“Tara is simply awesome,” said Madden. “She had a great sophomore year and was a big part of our success last season. We will need her badly at the plate this season, and she has a great arm and is improving mechanically on defense.”
Schlechte is slated to be Knudsen’s backup.
The Jackets return all of their outfielders from 2002, giving Madden a speedy group that is very sound defensively.
Sophomores Kirin Kumar and Neff are expected to split time in left field much like last season. According to Madden, it will come down to whoever is hitting best as to who gets the starting nod. “Kirin is our most mechanically sound outfielder and has really increased her arm strength. She has all the tools needed to be a great outfielder for us.”
At the plate, Kumar excels at slapping and drop bunts. She led the team with 11 sacrifice hits in 2002 and hit .256 with 12 RBI. Madden sees her as a viable candidate for the leadoff spot this season.
Neff ranked fourth on the team last season with a .264 batting average and swiped eight bases in 11 attempts.
“Tara really makes things happen at the plate,” said Madden. “We like to have her in the lineup. She has good foot speed and is very solid in the field.”
Junior Sara Wissmann returns in center field, where she has started 106 games over the last two seasons. A year ago, she ranked second on the team with 33 RBI and tied for third with four home runs.
“Sara has the strongest outfield arm on the team,” said Madden. “She also has very quick feet. We will really need her bat badly this season. She has shown great power, but we’d like to see it more consistently.”
Kumar will likely slide over from left to backup Wissmann.
Right field will be manned by junior Soraya Reddick, who hit .283 a year ago to rank second on the team. She also drove in 19 runs and led the team with 14 stolen bases.
“Soraya has come a long way,” said Madden. “She gets a great jump on the ball and has good foot speed. She is also a sound hitter with good power. Much like Sara, Soraya is a great leader and communicator in the outfield.”
Freshman Amy Hosier (Lakewood, Colo.) will add depth in right field. She was a two-time all-conference player in high school.
“Amy is a consistent left-hander hitter,” said Madden. “She did a good job at the plate this fall. Defensively, she is very sound but needs some work on her throwing mechanics.”
In addition to backing up Coursey at second base, Zakin will also float as a reserve in the outfield. “Peri can and will play anywhere,” said Madden. She has a good arm and good mechanics wherever she plays, and I have already seen major improvements at the plate.”
Bartle, who had 15 home runs at Young Harris a year ago, will likely see most of the time at designated player.
“Liz is one of our players with the most power at the plate,” said Madden. “She had a great year at Young Harris last season and is going to be a big asset in our lineup. She is going to be counted on to drive in some runs.”
Waugh will also see some time in this slot.
The 2003 Yellow Jacket schedule is highlighted by at least 17 meetings with teams that reached last season’s NCAA Tournament.
In addition to in-season tournament play, the Jackets will face eight teams that qualified for the postseason a year ago. Four such meetings are at home, as Princeton (March 16), Arkansas (March 18), Mississippi State (April 14) and Florida State (May 4) are set to come to Glenn Field.
The Jackets will also go on the road to face rival Georgia (April 2) and Alabama (April 26), two more strong SEC teams that could likely be ranked.
Tech is also likely to face several NCAA teams during its tournament schedule. The Jackets open the season at the Gamecock Invitational (Feb. 8-9), where they are assured of at least one meeting with NCAA regional finalist South Carolina. Tech will also return to the National Invitational Softball Tournament (March 7-9), which will be held in Sunnyvale, Calif., and holds potential match-ups with national champion California and Arizona State, another World Series participant.
“We scheduled a lot of the teams we did because we are now a ranked program,” said Madden. “We wanted to get into a lot of tournaments that featured ranked teams so that’s what we did. We’ll definitely see South Carolina and could face California, Arizona State, Oregon and Oregon State, all very solid Pac 10 programs.”
Rounding out the tournament slate are trips to Florida’s Cox Communications Classic (Feb. 21-23), the Georgia State Invitational (March 1-2) and the annual Buzz Classic, which Tech hosts at Marietta’s Al Bishop Softball Complex, March 21-23.
The ACC Tournament is slated for May 9-11 at Florida State, while NCAA regionals will be played at campus sites from May 15-18. The 2003 Women’s College World Series will be held May 22-26 in Oklahoma City, Okla.
“This is very challenging schedule,” said Madden. “But we are more than capable of handling it. Playing teams of this caliber will certainly prepare us for postseason play.”