Jan. 26, 2001
The Seminoles enter the 2001 season very optimistic and excited due to the way they finished the 2000 campaign. Although the squad started off slow due to a large turnover in starters and coaches, they finished strong and established themselves as one of the teams to beat in 2001. It was a tough ending to the 2000 sea-son since the Seminoles finished one game short of the College World Series but the team they lost to (UCLA) ended up finishing second in the World Series. FSU once again has its sites set on a trip to Oklahoma City for a shot at the national championship.
The 2001 squad is also excited about their ACC competition, which continues to improve every year. It will be tough for the Seminoles to win their seventh straight conference championship but that is always one of their goals. This year's team features a great group of kids coming back and a bunch of super newcomers that should lead to a very exciting season. Head coach JoAnne Graf believes the 2001 squad is going to have a lot of fun and will play well together. The Seminoles are looking forward to another great year.
The Seminoles head into the new season with an exceptional group of players at the pitching position. Returnees Leslie Malerich and Jen White-Stokes should offer the maturity and leadership needed, while newcomer Jessica van der Linden brings the necessary skills and a fresh approach to a difficult position. Leslie Malerich was FSU's No. 1 pitcher last year and dominated conference play and post-season play in an exceptional overall year. She went 35-15 and posted a 1.21 ERA. Malerich has received a number of awards including All-ACC, ACC Tournament MVP, All-Regional Tournament team and second team All-Southeast region. By gaining maturity and experience every year, she has become a much tougher player.
Jen White-Stokes is a senior who possesses the necessary composure on the mound and she was 13-9 with a 2.48 ERA and 14 complete games in 2000. This is the first time she has entered a season completely healthy since her freshman year and that should benefit both her personal play and the team greatly. The Seminoles are looking forward to Jen having a confident and injury-free year. Jessica van der Linden is a newcomer to the Seminoles and she is the first left-handed pitcher the school has ever had. Though she has yet to face a college hitter because of an injury sustained last fall, she is extremely competitive and intense on the mound. Her versatility should allow her to gain the confidence needed to play at this level and she should improve throughout the season as she gets used to the college game. Her resourcefulness will allow her to play first base or an outfield position, as well as the pitching position.
The competition to start at first base is wide-open as the Seminoles enter the season. Three talented players will be vying for the starting nod. Van der Linden, who will also be pitching this year, played first base occasionally in high school, as well as in 18 and under softball leagues. She is very familiar with the position and has the advantage of being left-handed. Beth Wade is a redshirt freshman that is still adjusting to the fast pitch game. She has played baseball and will be competing for the first base position. Elisa Velasco worked at first base in the fall and will compete for playing time at the position when she is not catching.
Brandi Stuart is a great all-around player and she returns after starting every game last year. She is a strong defensive player with tremendous range. She also gives the Seminoles a lot of speed and power at the plate. Freshman Skyla Cox should also see significant playing time at second base. She will learn a lot playing behind Stuart and that will help her gain valuable experience and confidence at the collegiate level. Natalie Bennett enters the 2001 season as the Seminole's starting short-stop and she should really solidify the front of the infield. After coming in last year as a junior college transfer from Drake, Bennett proved that she is an exceptional defensive player and she should show improve-ment on the offensive end this season. Stephanie Elowsky, who appeared in 32 games last season, will back up Bennett at short. Much like the opposite corner of the field, third base will also be a bat-tle between three outstanding players. Staci Brandon, Becky Brock and Jackie Hirschfield will go into the 2001 season competing for the start-ing nod at third. Brandon, who played left field last year, spent much of her junior college career at the third base. She batted .370, recorded 25 RBI's and finished second on the team with a slugging percentage of .453.
Becky Brock started 55 games last season and her .955 fielding percent-age is a strong testament to her defensive skills. Hirschfield has shown a great deal of improvement from last season both offensively and defensively and her speed and range have improved considerably. The battle for the starting job at third should be closely contested throughout the pre-season.
Elisa Velasco, Julie Jordan and Kimmie Carter will all be fighting for the starting catching position. They are all equally consistent, have similar playing experience and are adept at calling games. Each is an excep-tional catcher and Coach Graf is comfortable with all three players behind the plate. This is another position that the coaching staff hopes will produce the best starter through heated competition.
Monique Marier is projected to start in left field and she has the strongest arm in the outfield. Marier should also be a strong offensive player this year after leading the nation in junior college with 27 home runs in 1999.
Rita Brooks, FSU's 18th All-American, started every game in 2000 and heads into 2001 as the starter in center field. Brooks was named first team All-Southeast Region, All-ACC and a member of the ACC All-Tournament Team after leading the Seminoles and the conference with a .401 batting average. Brooks is an exceptional player and FSU's best base runner. She was tied for the team led in stolen bases (42) and led the Seminoles in hits (99), triples (8), runs scored (54) and at bats (247). Her 99 hits in 2000 established a new single-season record for Florida State. If Brooks is able to get on base like the coaches know she is capable of, the Seminoles should see a lot of victories again this season. Freshman Leah Armstrong possesses exceptional athletic ability and enters FSU after garnering All-State honors last season. Armstrong will be extremely valuable as a pinch runner and should also see time in center field while she learns how the team operates.
Two returnees and an impressive freshman will handle right field duties this season. When Carter is not catching, she will be using her skills in right field. Gauger will also be used in right and as a designated hitter, one of her best positions. Velasco could also see some action in right field when she is not catching or playing first.
The 2001 Senior Class
Coach Graf believes she enters the 2001 season with a strong senior class. "In the past, we have lacked senior leadership," said Graf. "I don't think that is going to be a problem this season". The Seminoles have a number of exceptional leaders and Natalie Bennett is one of them. She is mature, she is enthusiastic and she loves the game of softball. Bennett is a great leader in FSU's infield and the coaching staff feels very lucky that Bennett transferred to Florida State from Drake last season. Staci Brandon, despite entering just her second year after transferring from Pheonix College, has been an impact player for FSU. She got off to a slow start in 2000 but just exploded as she got into shape and got used to Division I pitching. Brandon is a natural leader since she does not like to lose and won the team's clutch award last season. Brooks, also a trans-fer student, should provide needed leadership in the outfield. She is an outstanding athlete and Graf feels fortunate just to get the opportunity to coach a player of Brooks' caliber. Brooks is a great player already and she isn't even at her full potential yet. She was the first outfielder select-ed in the 2000 WPSL senior draft and the Seminole coaching staff believes she is good enough to represent the USA on the Olympic soft-ball team. She has that type of ability and just needs to push herself and want it badly enough.
Stephanie Elowsky and Robin Gauger both came into the program and had to fill backup roles which was tough for them but they have done it for the team. Graf expects that type of contribution to continue this year. Playing in back-up roles has been mentally tough on both of them but they have responded well and that speaks volumes about the type of leadership they continually exhibit.
"When younger players see that it is OK to fill a role and take pride in the important contribution they can still make, it is a vital part of the suc-cess of any athletic program," said Graf. "These kids go to class, they don't get in trouble and they have set some good guidelines for the younger players and the rest of the team."
The 2001 Squad
This 2001 Seminoles are an interesting mixture. The team isn't all power or all speed. They aren't going to hit every ball over the fence but they should have better overall team speed than in past seasons. The 2001 squad will be very aggressive offensively since they return a strong pitch-ing staff and feel very confident that that staff will keep them in almost every game.
"I don't think there is a team we can't compete with. If you look at our scores from last year, no one really blew us away," said Graf. "We were in every ball game and I think it will be the same this year."