Stronger, Experienced, and Guided

In its fourth year at Oakland University, the softball team looks to improve on last year’s season, which will be quite a feat.  After finishing the regular season in second place in the Mid-Con Conference, the Grizzlies went on to win the conference title defeating regular season UMKC.  In NCAA Tournament action, the Grizzlies not only competed in the tournament, but also made it to the second round – only to be defeated by intrastate rival Central Michigan.  Although last year’s season was a success, this year’s team believes the 2003 season will yield more accomplishments and greater expectations.

Goals for the 2003 season are short but sweet: win the Mid-Con Championship and Tournament title, proceed to the third round of the NCAAs, and have a greater winning record than in 2002.  Throughout preseason, the team has been focusing on key elements that will allow them to achieve their goals.  The team looks to win every pitch, every inning, and every out.

In order to reach these goals, the seniors on the will be relied upon heavily this year and as first year head coach Mike Tomlinson comments, it’s a year for them to “go out with a bang.”  The seniors have been with the Grizzlies for three seasons now and have built the experience and have made improvements that will allow them to lead the team to a second straight Mid-Con title and NCAA Tournament appearance.  This year’s seniors for the team includes Ericka Burns (Clinton, Ont.), Nina Catanzaro (Shelby Twp., Mich.), Jennifer Granger (Troy, Mich.), Linnea Utecht (Oshkosh, Wisc.), Lauren Seffens (Ortonville, Mich.), Megan Piar (Lancaster, Ohio), Julie Anderson (Portland, Mich.) and Tiffany Evans (Larue, Ohio).

Keys to winning games will fall largely into the hands of the senior pitching staff – which includes seniors Anderson, Utecht, and Evans.  Anderson was named to the 2002 Mid-Con Tournament team last year after pulling out strong performances during the championships.  Utecht was second on the team in 2002 with a .310 batting average as she recorded 36 hits including five doubles, two triples and 11 RBIs.  Although Evans only saw action on the mound a total of four times last season, she has gained some valuable experience through postseason and preseason play that will aid the Grizzlies in game action.

Other players that will contribute to Oakland’s pitching staff are sophomores Erinn Voytal (Berkley, Mich.) and Nicole Marzano (McHenry, Ill.).  Both players have been working with the staff training and improving their pitches for the upcoming season and are considered the team’s pitchers of the future.

“We will rely and are expecting a lot out of our pitching staff this year,” stated Tomlinson.  “We are better this year – we have more experience, more leadership, and know how to win.”

Another component that is vital to the Grizzlies success is hitting.  Returning for the Grizzlies is last year’s Mid-Con Tournament MVP and All-Conference selection Ericka Burns (Clinton, Ont.).  Burns led both the Grizzlies and the Mid-Con with a .574 slugging percentage, scoring 31 runs and tallying 114 total bases.  Burns was also the top hitter for OU with a .365 batting average.  Joining Burns in the offense are fellow seniors Granger, Seffens, and Catanzaro.  Granger tallied 32 hits including nine doubles and 15 RBIs while hitting a .234 batting average from the plate in 2002.  Seffens ranked fifth on the team with a .255 batting average totaling 35 hits, five doubles and 16 RBIs.  Catanzaro is one of the Grizzlies quickest team members and provided timely offense last year hitting a grand slam that allowed OU to advance to the Mid-Con championship game. 

Heading the defensive end of the team is Mid-Con Tournament team and Second Team All-Conference selection, catcher Megan Piar.  Piar ranked second on the team with 242 putouts and 67 assists.  Piar is not only expected to provide solid defense for the Grizzlies but to be a good on-base provider and bat some RBIs.  Ericka Judge (Fort Collins, Col.) joins Piar as the backbone of the Grizzlies defense along with Granger, Catanzaro, Christina Schulte (So./Rochester, Mich.), and Valene Hair (So./New Baltimore, Mich.). 

Judge is the team’s short stop and field general.  As a sophomore, Judge had 94 putouts and tallied 122 assists while earning a .171 batting average including 11 hits and five RBIs. 

Granger not only is a key element in the Grizzlies offense but a key to the team’s defense.  In the 2002 season, Granger led the team defensively with 397 putouts and 30 assists.

Catanzaro uses her speed and strength in the defensive end playing infield.  Last year’s statistics include 127 putouts and 83 assists.

After receiving a medical redshirt in 2002, Schulte returns to action recovered and in better condition than before.  Schulte is one of the team’s better outfielders and with recovery, is expected to see playing time this season.

Hair will be the team’s future catcher having seen limited time in 2002.  Her responsibilities will be expected to increase this year and she will also begin working with the staff’s pitching team.  Highlighting the 2002 season was the game-winning run that propelled OU past UMKC in last year’s conference championship game.

Other contributors to this year’s team are juniors Donna McCoy (Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio), Bozenna Johnson (Lousiville, Ohio), and newcomers Katie Jones (Crystal Lake, Ill.) and Camie Knorr (Appleton, Wis.).  McCoy’s strengths lie in her natural ability as a true lefty and speed.  Johnson has been plagued with injuries since her debut at Oakland, however, is expected to be in full health this season and contribute to the team.

Freshman Jones will be looking to see time at first and third base this season.  Jones’ brings strength and athletic ability to the team.  Fellow freshman Knorr is tabbed the centerfield of the future for the Grizzlies.  Knorr will see time in that position as well as shortstop throughout her debuts at Oakland.

Oakland faces a tough schedule this year and conference games are expected to be a great challenge.  A matter of only one or two games can merely separate the difference in finishing first or third place.

“Since the conference is only improving and every team is getting stronger, the games are going to be tough – every game we’re going to have to play well to win,” commented Tomlinson.  “However, we have much more experience this year and it’ll help us win games.”

Having only lost one starter to last year’s team, the 2003 Golden Grizzlies are stronger, more experienced, and ready to play.  The team has a wealth of leadership through its eight seniors who will lead the team on their journey to the 2003 NCAA Tournament.   

“We got to taste how the NCAA Tournament works last year,” stated Tomlinson.  “This year however, we’re essentially returning the same team – a team that knows how to win and expects a lot more.  We won’t be content by just making the Tournament.”

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