Golden Grizzlies Look To Rebound from Disappointing 2004

Optimism is the key word surrounding the Oakland softball program as it prepares for the 2005 season. The Golden Grizzlies will be looking to mix together a group of nine returning letterwinners and 11 newcomers to come up with a championship recipe for the 2005 season. After winning two straight Mid-Continent Conference championships and making two trips to the College World Series, Oakland’s softball program encountered one of those down cycles in 2004. After losing the majority of its championship teams to graduation and getting hit with a rash of injuries, Oakland struggled through an 11-42 season last year.

Nicole Marzano is Oakland's all-time leader in strikeouts and is a two-time All-Mid-Con player.

Things should be different in 2005. The Golden Grizzlies young roster from last season now has a year’s experience under their collective belts. Head coach Mike Tomlinson has brought in a talented group of newcomers that will fill the holes in the lineup and provide much needed depth to the squad. The resulting mix should have Oakland back to its normal mode of operation; challenging for a Mid-Con title.

“We are hoping that the experience we have coming back merging with the incoming players will give us a strong team,” remarked Tomlinson. “Our pitching staff is versatile and capable of doing some great things; mix that in with a good offensive effort and we will be a competitive team.”

Oakland’s pitching staff for 2005 will be a mix of the old and new, and if past performance is any indication, it could be very hard for opponent hitters to find their way on base against the Golden Grizzlies. The name that all Oakland fans will recognize is senior Nicole Marzano. A two-time All-Mid-Con player, she will anchor the staff as she did last season. Fully recovered from a shoulder injury that hindered her in 2004 (9-20, 2.56 ERA), she is poised to return to the form that had her Mid-Con Pitcher of the Year as a sophomore when she was 12-5 with a 1.30 ERA. Already the career record holder for strikeouts at Oakland, her presence on the mound will provide the pitching staff an experienced presence.

Coming in from the junior college ranks is Laura Chomokos, a JC All-American last season at Mesa CC where she went 35-8 with an impressive 0.82 ERA. With 172 strikeouts at Mesa last year, she will team with Marzano to form an effective 1-2 punch for OU in 2005. Rounding out the staff is another pair of transfers, Jessica Brubaker and Shelly Cybulski. Brubaker was at Lansing CC in 2004, putting together a 9-0 mark and 0.72 ERA while Cybulski spent two years at Adrian College where she led the team in wins both seasons there.

Forming the other half of Oakland’s battery will be three players that will be battling for time behind the plate. Sophomore Danielle Shamus is the only one of the group that is returning from a year ago when she started 36 games for the Golden Grizzlies. Coming in from the JC ranks is Danielle Nutter who was a two-time all-conference player at Delta College, compiling a career batting average over .300 in two seasons. The freshman of the group is Brittany West. All the way from Texas, she was an all-district players and her team’s offensive player of the year as a senior.

“Offensively we should be a disciplined ball club,” says Tomlinson. “We need to be consistent with what to do in certain situations and in what pitches we take and which ones we want to hit. I think that with the level of experience we have on this year’s team we will be able to accomplish that.”

Leading the group of returning hitters is senior Christina Schulte. Part of the Oakland outfield, she had her best OU season last year, hitting .276 and finishing second on the team with 16 runs batted in. Another returnee in the outfield, sophomore Maria Benza is ready to show what a year of experience can do for her bat. In her first season she showed some flashes of power that the team will need in 2005, finishing among the team leaders in doubles, home runs and RBIs.

New, but experienced faces in the program are Lindsey Schaller and Missy Pitera. Schaller brings two years of experience with her from Kent State while Pitera comes to OU after a career at Macomb Community College where she was an all-district and all-tournament player. Experienced players from a year ago will also be looking for playing time in the Oakland outfield, with Abbey Hernandez and Cheron Guyton back for their sophomore seasons after seeing action in over 20 games each in 2004.

Camie Knorr led Oakland in home runs, RBIs and runs scored as a sophomore in 2004.

Also returning is perhaps one of the team’s most versatile players, Camie Knorr. Last season she saw action in the outfield, infield and on the mound while turning into the team’s top run producer as a sophomore, driving in 19 runs while sharing the team lead with three home runs.

Joining Knorr on the infield from last season’s squad are Kate Jones and Natalie Webb. Jones saw most of her action at first base where she committed only two errors and showed a patient bat, placing among the team leaders in walks. Webb was the only Oakland player to start every game last season, all of those but one at second base where she was among the team leaders in runs and walks.

Challenging for one of the infield spots will be Megan Thelen who comes to Oakland after two seasons at Lansing Community College. She has the potential to add a left-handed power bat to the OU lineup after hitting over .400 in both seasons in the JC ranks where she was twice selected first team all-conference and all-region as well as earning All-America honors as a freshman.

The final group of Oakland’s nine transfer players, Stephanie Zellner and Lisa Colores bring immediate experience to the team from the Arizona junior college circuit. Colores, a JC teammate of Chomokos, helped lead the squad there to a No. 5 national ranking. Zellner was a JC All-American at Central Arizona and helped that team to a national championship her freshman season. In her two seasons there she averaged over 20 doubles and 65 RBIs.

A local player beginning her softball career at Oakland is Alex Perrino. Named to the Detroit News all-metro team, she helped lead Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes to back-to-back state titles, hitting .402 over her high school career.

With the experienced gained by last season’s young squad and the immediate experience provided by the large class of transfer players, Oakland will once again be a team that has experience and depth at every position on the field. With some luck, the Golden Grizzlies are expecting that the experience they already had and the talent that has come to the team for 2005 are enough to vault the team back into their normal position, contending for the Mid-Continent Conference crown.

Oakland will look to challenge once again for a Mid-Con title in 2005.

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