March 3, 2006
The 2005 season was another banner year for the Lehigh softball program. The Mountain Hawks set a new school record with 41 victories as they went on to claim their seventh straight Patriot League regular season championship and second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. With the continued success of the program throughout the years, high expectations have become the norm. The 2006 season will be no exception. The Mountain Hawks return six starting position players and with a full compliment of contributors returning, as well as an influx of young talent, this year's Lehigh squad should once again challenge for another Patriot League crown.
Outstanding pitching has been one of the major themes behind Lehigh's run of success on the softball diamond. One of the biggest challenges facing the Mountain Hawks is replacing Emily Ling, who graduated in 2005 as the school and Patriot League's career leader in wins and strikeouts. Eleventh year head coach Fran Troyan will look to a trio of hurlers to share the load of replacing Ling.
Senior tri-captain Kate Arico is The Mountain Hawks most experienced hurler. After earning first team All-Patriot League honors in 2004, Arico had another strong season in 2005, compiling a 7-2 record with an earned run average of 2.13. Junior Stefanie Forlenza should see an expanded role in the pitching circle this season. Forlenza appeared in just 10 games last season but had an impressive 6-0 record. She has yet to lose a decision in her two seasons at Lehigh. The third member of the group is freshman Lisa Sweeney, the 2005 Player of the Year in New Jersey, who will also compete for innings in the circle.
"With losing Emily (Ling), we realize we have a lot of work to do," said head coach Fran Troyan, who is entering his eleventh season. "Kate, Stef and Lisa have all developed nicely. I expect all three to really share the load, and expect our pitching to meet the standard, set in years past."
The Mountain Hawks also have two-time All-Patriot League pitcher Heather Hamasaki. After starring in the circle for two seasons, Hamasaki will see more time in the infield in 2006, but should be available to contribute in the circle if needed.
Defense is once again expected to be a strong point for the Mountain Hawks, with six starters returning to their customary spots on the field. For Lehigh, it begins behind the plate with tri-captain and four year starter Mary Wieder. After being named MVP of the 2004 Patriot League Tournament, Wieder delivered another strong season in 2005, hitting .270 and leading the team with three home runs and 29 runs batted in. Defensively, the strong-armed backstop gunned down 12 of 30 would-be base stealers. Junior Lauren Haney and freshman Ali Torborg are expected to back up Wieder behind the plate.
Lehigh returns two other infield starters in sophomore first baseman Taryn Hanley and junior shortstop Mendy Martin. Hanley smacked a team-best 13 doubles a season ago, while hitting .322. She also played a solid first base for the Mountain Hawks, despite originally coming to Lehigh as a catcher. Martin continued to serve as a model of consistency at shortstop for the Brown and White. She had another solid season defensively, leading the team with 106 assists, while also having a strong year at the plate with 27 RBI, good for second on the team.
The other two infield spots are up for grabs, with the graduation of All-League performers Jessica Young and Kelly Kliewer. Sophomore Megan Conrad and freshman Whitney Lowe are the main contenders at second base. Conrad saw action in 35 games a year ago and hit over .300. Lowe will be in the mix both at second base and at third, where she will challenge junior Heather Hamasaki, who moves to the hot corner after spending most of her first two seasons in the pitching circle. Sweeney, and freshman Alisha Gonzales are expected to compete for time in the infield as well.
With five major contributors back from a year ago, the Mountain Hawks outfield is expected to be a strong point for the Brown and White in 2006. After a stellar freshman campaign that saw her win Patriot League Rookie of the Year honors, Kate Marvel is expected to hold down center field. The sophomore speedster hit over .300 as a freshman and will continue to serve as the primary table-setter at the top of the Lehigh lineup.
Junior Whitney Schenbeck returns to left field for the Mountain Hawks. An all Patriot League performer a year ago, Schenbeck batted .319 and saved her best for the Patriot League Tournament, hitting .370 and driving in the go-ahead run with a double versus Army in the championship game. Juniors Katherine Wegert and Julie Sterrett should both see time in right field. Sterrett serves as a run-producer, as evidenced by her three home runs and 25 RBI last season. Wegert is proficient at getting on base as a slap hitter. Sterrett should also spell Lauren Haney whp should get significant time as the Mountain Hawks' designated player. Senior captain Ali Linsk will also be part of the outfield rotation, while freshman Kristyn Kubiak is also expected to compete for playing time.
"It's really incredible to have five outfielders who have all had success at the Division I level," said Troyan, the 2005 Patriot League Coach of the Year. "We expect Kate Marvel to really be a leader at the top of our lineup and Whitney Schenbeck, Julie Sterrett and Katherine Wegert to all have strong years."
Lehigh will play another challenging schedule in 2006. The Mountain Hawks will open the season at the Rebel Spring Games in Kissimmee, Florida and will face a tough opening test in reigning Northeast Conference champion Robert Morris. Following their week in Florida, Lehigh will return to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware to defend its title at the Bash at the Beach. A trip to the Highlander Mid-Spring Classic at Radford also highlights Lehigh's early season schedule. The Mountain Hawks will also play non-league games against regional powers including Albany, Princeton, Villanova and Hofstra, as well as an always-competitive Patriot League slate.
"We will face some very good teams on our Spring Break trip as well as our early season tournaments," said Troyan. "We're not shying away from the top competition in the northeast. Regardless of our record, we hope that playing so many good teams will help prepare us for a tough Patriot League season and the Patriot League Tournament. This may be the best year competitively in the Patriot League, from top to bottom. There will be no easy league games."
Lehigh opens the 2006 season at the Rebel Spring Games in Kissimmee, Florida. First up for the Mountain Hawks is a game versus defending NEC Champion Robert Morris, March 6 at 8:50 am.