Oakland Looks for Success With Young Team
A new season brings new goals and the Golden Grizzlies are already one step ahead of the game. After finishing 18-34-1, 6-15 in the Mid-Continent Conference last season head coach Steve Ogg thinks this years squad has what it takes to make it to the conference tournament. The Golden Grizzlies have been picked third in the preseason Mid-Continent poll and received one first-place vote.
"I think we should make into the top four," said Ogg. "I would be disappointed if we didnt qualify for our region tournament."
In order to make it to the post season Oakland will have an uphill battle against teams like Alabama, Southern Mississippi, Mississippi State, Central Michigan and Michigan State.
"Our first major goal this year was to improve our level of competition," said Ogg. "We upgraded our schedule so we are playing almost all Division I schools. We attempted to play the highest quality of competition. We know that if we play the best teams we may not come out with a super record, so its not our record that matters as much. We want to play the best teams so we can develop mentally and physically."
Ogg hopes this year the team will use the dimension of the OU Softball Field to its advantage. The Grizzlies' field is 220 feet all around. The NCAA allows a maximum 225 feet and most fields are 200 feet.
"We have an unique facility. Our field resembles Comerica Park," said Ogg. "Its a pitchers park and its also a speed park because if you hit a double it could turn into a triple if your fast. This year I have brought in four or five players that are super fast, not only for stretching doubles to triples, but for defense so the other team cant stretch a triple."
One of this year's weaknesses the Golden Grizzlies with have to overcome is the lack of upperclassmen experience, leadership and mental toughness.
"Keri Sedgley is the only true established leader on this years team," Ogg said. "Keri is our team leader because she is our best defensive player and one of our top hitters. Our weakness for this team is they are not mentally tough yet, but they are mentally tougher than last year. With only one senior, there is no better way to achieve mental toughness than playing competition at the highest level. We are going to take our hits and pay our dues when we play the Alabamas, Southern Mississippis and the Michigan States. After we play those tough teams, we will be mentally tougher, so thats a weakness that will turn into a positive."
Oakland brings many strengths to the diamond this year that were missing last year.
"The area I hope to be strong in is speed and this year we've brought in a lot of quick freshman," said Ogg. "Last year we didnt have a lot of speed so thats another weakness that will turn into a strength down the line."
The Golden Grizzlies have changed their look a little with sophomore Megan Piar doing the catching. Piar caught in a quarter of the games for OU last season and Ogg that this will be the biggest change defensively.
"I predict Megan to have the biggest breakout season," said Ogg. "Megan works as hard as anybody on the team and she'll prove herself this season. Shes a 4.0 student. She comes early to practices and works extremely hard and she has the strongest arm on the team. She can hit for power and can run for speed. She just needed to learn how to be a Division I catcher and last year was a learning experience for her."
Leading the Grizzlies again this is will be sophomore short stop Ericka Burns.
"Ericka is either a coaches dream or a coaches nightmare," said Ogg. "If she plays for you then you realize that the opposing coach is probably having nightmares. Ericka led our league as a freshman in hitting and also was second in the nation with 10 triples. I think she will be a fine player, not only for our team and our conference, but maybe in a year or two she could be an all-American canidate."
Another bright spot for the Golden Grizzlies is the addition of freshman pitcher Jaymie Voss.
"The biggest surprise for us this year is freshman pitcher Jaymie Voss," said Ogg. "Jaymie had a very unique situation where her high school team won the state championship five years in a row. A month and a half later her traveling team won the national tournament and three weeks later she played in the little league softball world series (18 and under) and her team won it. So in three months she won the triple crown.
"Not only is she a great pitcher she is also a great hitter. She led her high school team in career home runs. Shes gonna be playing even when shes not pitching, so she's one to watch for."
The Golden Grizzlies begin their second season competing in the Mid-Continent Conference in 2001 and look to improve on last year's limited success. Going 6-15 in the conference OU was the only team that defeated the Conference Champions, Western Illinois 1-0 in Rochester.
Last year the Grizzlies finished a 6-15 in the conference which put them in sixth place.
"Last year I thought we competed well with all the teams in our conference," said Ogg. "We were the only team that beat Western Illinois and they were the team that won the championship last year. None of the other Mid-Con teams beat WIU. They were a very strong team and they had a wonderful All-American pitcher (Holly Killion) who they lost to graduation. WIU lost several players to graduation and we have almost everyone back."
Utecht should be the go-to pitcher for the Golden Grizzlies in 2001. Last season Utecht led OU with 37 appearances, 130 innings pitched and 66 strikeouts. Utecht racked up a 3.02 ERA with a 6-15 record. She threw nine complete games and recorded one shutout.
Anderson started 12 games last season for OU and had a 2.80 ERA. She recorded a 6-7 record and had 27 appearances and was second on the team with 107 innings pitched. Anderson was second with 53 strikeouts.
Voss handled most of the closing duties for the Grizzlies in the fall. She recorded two saves in the last weekend of the fall season. Her first save was against the Warriors of Wayne State and the second came against the Chippewas of Central Michigan. The Grizzlies beat CMU 5-3 to win the Central Michigan Fall Invitational Tournament.
Evans made 17 appearances last season for Oakland. She had a 1-3 record with a 2.35 ERA, pitched one complete game in 44.2 innings and was fourth on the team with 15 strikeouts.
Sophomore transfer Nicole Schulte (So., Rochester, Michigan) from Oakland Community College will also see time behind the plate.
Seffens is the only returning outfielder for the Grizzlies in the 2001 campaign. The Ortonville native played in all 49 games for OU last year and started 48 of them hitting a .240 in 146 at-bats. She batted in 16 runs and nine RBI.
McCoy, one of five freshman competing for time in the outfield, hit .411 and recorded 16 RBI for Cuyahoga Falls High School.
Neiderquill, a freshman from Saginaw, Michigan was elected all-state all four years for Swan Valley. She will be competeing for a spot in right or left field.
Christina Schulte a freshman from Marian High School hit a .423 batting average, 52 hits and 17 RBI her senior year. Besides competeing for an outfield postion she also posses the abilty to play the middle infield.
Cantanzaro, a freshman from Shelby Twp. Michigan broke Macomb Community Colleges steal steal record as she collected 40 steals. She also led the Monarchs with four home runs her freshman season.
Walk-on freshman Kosuda and Sayger will also compete for time in the outfield. Besides competing for an outfield spot Sayger will try to gain experience as a backup third baseman. Kosuda, a walk-on from Rochester Hills played second base in high school and is in the transition of learning the outfield and catching positions.