Experience Will Be a Key for Oakland Softball in 2006

As Oakland’s softball team prepares for the 2006 season, the group has one thought on its collective mind, the return of the Golden Grizzlies to the Mid-Con Tournament. With starters back at virtually every position, the team certainly has the tools on hand to move the team up in the Mid-Con standings. While the 2005 season fell short of expectations, the team was able to gain a lot of valuable experience as a lot of new faces were mixed into the program. Now, with that year of experience under the belts, the Golden Grizzlies should be better prepared for the rigors of the new season ahead.

Senior Camie Knorr was an All-Mid-Con player in 2005 and led the team in home runs.

Experience will be one of the keys to success for Oakland in 2006, with a returning starter at every position but one. There is also new leadership for the team this season, with long-time assistant coach Glenn MacDonald taking over the reigns of the squad. The experience he inherits extends to the Oakland bench as well, as the Golden Grizzlies return a total of 14 players that have seen action for OU before.

A good share of Oakland’s offensive punch should come from its outfield. With five experienced players back, it should also prove to be one of the deepest areas on the squad. Senior Camie Knorr (Appleton, Wis.) leads the group and is coming a season that saw her earn All-Mid-Con honors after leading the team in home runs and slugging and finishing second in RBI. A starter in every game she has appeared in over the last two seasons, she should fit the bill in center for the Golden Grizzlies.

Another pair of seniors should be in the mix in the OU outfield. Lindsey Schaller (Columbiaville, Mich.) closed strong in 2005, finishing among the leaders in runs and on-base percentage and will look to take that strong ending and turn it into a starting position in 2006. Toni Salo (Ortonville, Mich.) returns after a season off and will also challenge for a spot among the starters. A player that adds some speed to the lineup, she could return to her spot at the top of the order that she held in 2004 when she led the team in hitting and steals.

Maria Benza’s (Loveland, Ohio) name will also be in the mix in the outfield for Oakland. After starting the season off by hitting well over .300 last year, she was felled by a knee injury for the season. She brings experience as a starter from her freshman season and if she can get off to another solid start she will be hard to keep out of the lineup. Another experienced player returning to the outfield is junior Cheron Guyton (Detroit, Mich.). She has shown improvement each season and will add valuable depth to the OU outfield. Joining the ranks of the team this season will be freshman Katie Shurkus (Woodhaven, Mich.) who was her team’s MVP as a senior in high school.

Senior Stephanie Zellner hit .321 in Mid-Con play last season and led the team in RBI.

On the infield Oakland returns its top hitter from last season, first baseman Stephanie Zellner (Gervais, Ore.). Her bat will be a key to the OU lineup in 2006 as she finished as the team leader in average and RBI, as well as placing among the leaders in doubles and slugging. Lisa Colores (Gilbert, Ariz.) will return at shortstop where she proved to be solid with the glove at that key position. A versatile player, she could also fill in at third or behind the plate as she did a year ago. Returning at third is senior Kate Jones (Crystal Lake, Ill.). A solid defensive player at the “hot corner”, she has improved her offensive numbers each season and should be ready for a solid senior campaign.

Another returning player that should see plenty of time is sophomore Alex Perrino (Clarkston, Mich.). She had a solid start to her career, leading the freshmen class in hitting and closing out the season on a five-game hitting streak.

New faces will play more of a role in the infield than in the outfield where the Golden Grizzlies have one spot to fill, that at second base. Tosha Hodgkinson (North Branch, Mich.) is penciled in at that spot going into the season after transferring to OU from Oakland Community College. At OCC she finished among the team leaders in doubles and walks and brings valuable playoff experience, helping OCC to a regional title in 2005.

Adding depth to the infield will be a trio of freshmen. Stephanie Schall (St. Clair Shores, Mich.) and Julie Owen (Goodrich, Mich.) are both slated for middle infield duty. Schall was a two-time all-district player that hit over .300 her final two years in high school, while Owen was named a first team all-state player after finishing her senior year with a .481 average. Expected to be the back-up at third, Caitlyn Lynch (Pleasanton, Calif.) comes all the way from California where she hit over .300 every season and was a four-time all-league player.

Senior Laura Chomokos was ranked among the Mid-Con pitching leaders in seven categories, including wins, strikeouts and shutouts.

Pitching is an area where Oakland will also have a hole to fill with the departure of Nicole Marzano. The news is not all bad, however, as the team returns a pair of experienced arms. One of the top strikeout pitchers in the Mid-Con last season, Laura Chomokos (Gilbert, Ariz.) returns for her final year after leading the team in virtually every pitching category in 2005. A threat at the plate as well, she also adds another offensive option to the Oakland lineup. Jessica Brubaker (Waterford, Mich.) brings 42 innings of experience from last season as she attempts to work her way into the starting rotation.

Oakland has also added a pair of arms from the junior college ranks to bolster the pitching staff for 2006. Meghan Luczak (Rochester Hills, Mich.) was named a JC All-American last season after helping Oakland CC to a regional title, winning 17 games and holding opponents to under a .200 batting average. Lindsey Frederick (Fraser, Mich.) also comes to OU from OCC where she won nine games while also leading the team in RBI at the plate.

Rounding out the pitching corps and giving the squad its most pitching depth in recent years are freshmen Sarah Clark (The Dalles, Ore.) and Angie Marzano (McHenry, Ill.). Clark is a two-time all-state player that won 25 games as a senior. Marzano, the sister of Nicole, comes to Oakland after a high school career that saw her named all-conference all four years.

With the starters and experience returning from a year ago and some improved depth, Oakland will take those advantages into the season and hopefully use them to turn some of the close losses from a year ago into close victories. The pieces are in place for OU to move itself back into contention for a Mid-Con playoff berth. The Golden Grizzlies improved their Mid-Con win total last season over the previous campaign, if they can do it again in 2006 look for them to vault themselves into the thick of the Mid-Con race.

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