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FSU Softball Set To Open Season Versus Georgia Southern On Sunday



Feb. 4, 2000

NEW CENTURY, NEW TEAM

The year 2000-- a new millennium full of excitement and celebration. For the Florida State softball program, it also represents a rebirth of sorts as the Lady Seminoles strive to lift the program to even greater heights.

"The year 2000 is really exciting," FSU Head Coach Dr. JoAnne Graf said. "It's going to be a neat season. We've done some great things in the 1990s, but we want to do even better things in the year 2000. It is kind of fitting that we are starting a new year with a new coaching staff and a new facility and kind of a new team."

A lot of new faces will don the garnet and gold this season. Just three starters return and 11 letterwinners from last year's senior-ladened squad that finished 40-25-1. Florida State is replacing an entirely new infield, with the exception of the catcher and will also have newcomers in left and center field.

"It is going to take awhile to establish a team-identity," Graf said. "We have quite a few new players and two new coaches, so I think the early part of the season we are going to have to get to know each other and see how everybody reacts under pressure in positions that maybe they haven't played before. So for all of us, it is going to be a learning experience. As the season goes along and as the new players learn our system, I think we will continue to improve and really be playing well by the end of the season which is always a goal that you want.

"It's going to be challenging -- there's no doubt about that, probably one of the most challenging ones that we've ever had, but I think we've got the kind of players who will respond to that challenge."

Pitching

The Lady Seminoles return two solid performers in the pitching department in junior Jennifer White-Stokes and sophomore Leslie Malerich. Gone is Stacy Venable, who led the team with a 1.04 ERA and a 13-1 record in 1999. White-Stokes and Malerich, however, combined for 27 victories.

"We will miss Stacy Venable," Graf said. "She was kind of our "championship" pitcher. But we do have two very strong pitchers coming back in Jennifer and Leslie. I feel that they are only going to be stronger. They are both more experienced and both pretty healthy. And mentally, they've gotten a lot better."

White-Stokes had the most appearances with 37 of all three pitchers last year and earned 16 victories. In 28 starts, she led the pitching staff with 24 complete games and seven shutouts. She led the FSU hurlers with 164 strikeouts and ranked third in the ACC with a 1.53 ERA. At the plate, White had a .255 batting average and drove in eight runs.

As a rookie, Malerich got a lot of game experience with 32 appearances, including 19 starts, and had an 11-8 record as the squad's number three pitcher.

Graf plans on a two-pitcher rotation, with White-Stokes and Malerich, much of the season but newcomer Robin Gauger, from Gulf Coast Community College, will add depth on the mound. Gauger will serve as more of a spot relief pitcher and may pitch a few games just to stay sharp, but will also see action at other positions.

Infield

Aside from the catcher position, the Florida State infield will be relatively new. Senior Teresa Edenfield and junior Andi Lyons, who shared the starting duties behind the plate in 1999, return as the veterans in the infield.

Edenfield, who was named to the 1999 ACC All-Tournament Team, played in 37 games, hit .243 and had 13 RBIs. In her first season as a Lady Seminole, Lyons saw action in 49 games at catcher and designated hitter. She hit .245 and drove in 16 runs.

"As the only returning starters in the infield, both Teresa and Andi will be even more valuable this season," Graf said. "Their leadership for the young players and their experience with the pitching staff will be a key to our success."

Returning senior Becky Wallace and junior Kelly Miller will likely share the reigns at first base. Wallace played in 45 games, mostly at designated hitter, and was fourth on the team with 19 RBIs. Miller played in 28 games and drove in 10 runs in 51 at bats.

"While neither Becky or Kelly have been full-time starters, they each have solid game experience are each very capable of successfully holding down the job at first base," Graf said.

Slated for starting honors at second base is freshman Brandi Stuart, while junior college transfer Stephanie Elowsky will serve as backup. Drake University transfer junior Natalie Bennett will get the nod at shortstop. Becky Brock, who played in 11 contests as a freshman last year, should occupy third base.

"It's going to be an interesting year in the infield," Graf said. "Getting the unit to gel, the line-up combinations worked out and figuring out who's going to win the battles is going to be a challenge. We have a lot of close battles in which nobody has really come forward and taken the position. We've got to get into some game situations and get experience that you can't duplicate in practice. Once we do that, and find out who's strong at the plate, then we can start settling into a lineup."

Outfield

Like the infield, the outfield will have a new look in 2000. Sophomore Kimmy Carter is the lone returnee in the outfield and will hold down the starting job in right field for the second straight season. Carter, a solid fielder, is also the leading, returning hitter with a .294 batting average and 21 RBIs.

Center field will likely be occupied by junior newcomer Rita Brooks, who possesses the most speed on the team. The two catchers, Teresa Edenfield and Andi Lyons, will rotate in left field while newcomer Staci Brandon could also vie for playing time there. Returnees Felecia Williams and LaTanya Mitchell will also provide depth to the outfield.

"Kimmy is a solid player and we have great confidence in her offensively and defensively," Graf said. Rita is by far our fastest player and she can really cover a lot of ground in center. We have several players who have the ability to play left field for us. That position could boil down to who's hitting the ball the best."

Schedule

As always, Florida State will have a very strong schedule. The Lady Seminoles will host two tournaments at the Seminole Softball Complex and travel four different directions to compete in four other regular-season tournaments. The Tribe will head south to the Florida Atlantic Tournament in late February. In early March, FSU will head north for the annual NFCA Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Ga. In mid-March, the Lady Seminoles will travel west to participate in the Fresno State Classic in Fresno, Calif., and will end the month with a tournament at Tennessee-Chattanooga.
"We play a lot of the teams that played in regionals last year," Graf said. "We've got a very tough schedule, but it will give us a chance to learn what we need to work on and how we stack up against the top teams in the country and how they stack up against us."

At the end of April, Florida State will host the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament for the second straight season and sixth time overall.

"The ACC is getting tougher and tougher each year," Graf said. "I feel that the ACC is beginning to establish a reputation as a strong conference. Maryland earned a lot of respect for our conference when they went out and beat Arizona last year in regionals. I think that proves on the field that we are a conference that can compete with anybody. It's going to a tough situation to come back and repeat as the ACC champion, but that is certainly one of our goals."

Graf on ...

The team offensively ...
While Florida State may have increased its offensive power this season, they may have lost some speed. Danielle Cox, a first team All-American who led the team and the nation with 73 stolen bases last season and also led the team with a record 98 hits and .432 batting average has moved on to the professional ranks. The Lady Seminoles will have the task of replacing her offensive production.

"I think we will have some more power, but I think we've lost some speed. Rita (Brooks) is very, very fast, but doesn't have the experience and is going to have to work to get on base and get herself into some stealing opportunities. We are going to miss Danielle Cox. She had just a awesome senior season. But I think we are going to put the ball in play more and hit the ball a little harder and will hopefully be a better offensive team then we were last year."

The coaching staff ...
Two new assistant coaches round out the 2000 staff with the arrival of Louie Berndt and Heather Compton. Berndt was an assistant coach at FSU in 1989 and returns to Tallahassee after serving as the head coach at Marshall University the past six seasons. Compton, a standout collegiate pitcher from UCLA, spent the summer playing professionally with the Tampa Bay Firestix.

"I am very excited about our new coaches. I think we have very good experience in Louie. She's very enthusiastic, very knowledgeable and a great recruiter. Heather, although this is her first college coaching job, has played internationally, played ASA ball and played professionally and brings an experience level that I think our players, especially our pitchers, can relate to. We are working well as a group which is very important as we enter this season and really begin to learn a lot about each other. Our chemistry as a staff is very evident to the players which is so important."

Postseason play...
"We want to get back to regionals. We felt like we got snubbed last year and we were playing better than anybody at the end of the season. We swept the conference tournament, but we didn't get the respect from the teams in our region, so we are going to play more teams from our region. I hope we get that respect back. We've got a lot to prove this year."

The new Seminole softball complex...
"I think everybody who plays here, plays better. It's the type of facility that you get out and get excited about playing on. I definitely think that we play on one of the nicest facilities in the country. It's really nice to have an all inclusive facility with everything right here and that's what makes us special. There are some nice fields out there, but they don't have everything right there."

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