COLUMBUS, Ohio - With the return of eight letterwinners, including seven starters, the Ohio Dominican softball team is ready to show the Panthers belong among the class of the GLIAC in 2012. In its inaugural campaign in Division II, ODU finished 14-36 overall and 9-23 in conference play, highlighted by wins in seven of the final 12 contests, including an upset of No. 25 Tiffin and a four-game series sweep of Lake Erie.
The Panthers open the campaign at the three-day, six-game Ringor Charger Chillout, hosted by Alabama-Huntsville in Decatur, Alabama for the second straight year beginning this Friday, Feb. 17. ODU takes on Delta State (Miss.) in the season opener at 11:30 a.m. followed by a 5:30 p.m. clash with NFCA Division II preseason No. 3 North Georgia.
The squad will sport one of its biggest incoming classes in recent memory as 15 new faces, including 14 freshmen, join the Black-and-Gold. Amongst those newcomers are five all-state selections and three state tournament appearances from a season ago.
Head coach Marcella Vanlandingham returns to the helm for her 17th season with the Panthers. Already the program's all-time winningest coach, Vanlandingham enters the season just 10 wins shy of the 500 plateau, sporting a 490-368 career mark.
"I am really looking forward to watching this team play," said Vanlandingham. "Not only do we have a very athletic group, but also an extremely competitive collection of players that are true students of the game."
Leading the Panthers' returning letterwinners is senior Kylee Crislip (Louisville, OH). Crislip, a two-year starter and 2011 All-GLIAC Honorable Mention selection, started all 50 games at first base for ODU and led everyday position players with a .340 (51-for-150) batting average, 11 doubles, 42 RBI, 71 total bases and .406 on-base percentage. Her 51 hits, three homeruns, 17 walks and slugging percentage of .473 all ranked second on the team, while her 22 runs scored tied for fifth. The 42 RBI tied for sixth most in the GLIAC and was the 12th most single season RBI total in school history.
Also back is senior second baseman Caitlin Chaney (Newark, OH). After filling in with 22 appearances and a 4-9 record in the circle for the Panthers, Chaney will return to the field where she has started 76 of 96 career games, including 44 of 47 last year.
"Crislip and Chaney will provide excellent senior leadership on the right side of the infield," said Vanlandingham. "I have a great deal of confidence in their abilities and know they will help lead this team in the right direction."
Adding further depth to an already stout right side of the infield is sophomore Brittany Seavey (Flint, Mich.) and freshmen Morgan Dietz (Westerville, OH; Westerville South H.S.) at second and freshmen Taylor Mason (Belpre, OH; Belpre H.S.) and Alexis Swisher (Cincinnati, OH; Mariemont H.S.) taking reps at first base. As a freshman, Seavey tallied 48 starts in 50 games at second and will see time at both middle infield slots.
The left side infield tandem will feature plenty of youth, but plenty of talent as sophomore Caitlin Jividen (Wheeling, W. Va.) looks to be the mainstay at shortstop, while freshmen Taylor Thomas (Bellville, OH; Clear Fork H.S.) and Kelsey Seeds (Westerville, OH; St. Francis DeSales H.S.) will split time at the "hot corner."
"Naturally, we expect some growing pains on the left side of the infield with our youth, but with options at both positions, I believe several people will more than step up for us," said Vanlandingham.
Despite the loss of centerfield mainstay Jennifer Baker to graduation, the 2012 edition of ODU softball will showcase one of the most complete, all-around outfields in the GLIAC with the return of senior centerfielder Erin Sutter (Mansfield, OH), sophomore Rebekha Lucas (Laurelville, OH) and the addition of versatile junior Brooke McCartney (Salem, OH). After 46 starts between third and shortstop in 2011, McCartney will make the transition to rightfield, joining Sutter and Lucas who combined for 79 starts a year ago.
At the plate, McCartney finished second on the team doubles (8),third in at-bats (150), RBI (21), runs scored (27), and fourth in batting average (.313) and total bases (57). Along with the third-best hits total with 48, Sutter led the Panthers in runs (35), walks (18) and stolen bases (20). Her 20 swipes was second most in the GLIAC and tied for 10th most in a single season in program history, matching her mark set back in 2010.
"Along with a knack for getting on base while at the plate, our trio of outfielders possess a strong defensive prowess with good range and some of the strongest arms we have had in some time," said Vanlandingham. "Sutter is definitely our glue and helps bring a calming presence to not just the outfield, but the entire team as well."
The youth movement continues for ODU as eight newcomers, including six freshmen, join sophomore catcher Danyelle Delligatta (Sydney, OH) as part of the "battery" tandem. Toeing the rubber will be red-shirt freshman Kendall Lust (Marion, OH), red-shirt sophomore Brenna Hosey (Johnstown, OH), a recent transfer from California University (Pa.) and freshmen Rachael Stanzel (Angleton, Texas/Angleton H.S.) and Kacey Locker (Tipp City, OH/Tippecanoe H.S.). Along with third base duties, Seeds will also see significant time in the circle for the Panthers.
"Our pitching staff is definitely the area we have improved the most from a year ago," stated Vanlandingham. "Even though we are quite young, our pitchers have solid arms and not only know how to compete, but more importantly…win."
Joining Delligatta behind the dish is a talented core of freshmen in Alex Cribari (Lyndhurst, OH; Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin H.S.), Tiffany Goodrich (Westerville, OH; New Albany H.S.) and Casey Clark (Fremont, OH; Fremont Ross H.S.). Along with a bevy of all-conference and all-district accolades, the trio of newcomers account for a combined three All-Ohio choices.
"Other than their counterparts in the circle, our catchers will provide the most exciting position on the field. They have the physical tools and enthusiasm necessary to be the on-field managers behind the plate," said Vanlandingham.
Per usual, ODU features yet another challenging schedule that will be sure to provide some stiff competition for the youthful Panthers. Following opening weekend, the Panthers make their annual Spring Break excursion, this time to Texas for four doubleheaders, starting with St. Edward's on March 12.
Following 16 games on the road, ODU hosts its home opener on Wednesday, March 21 as Notre Dame (Ohio) visits for a non-conference twinbill. That Friday, the rigors of GLIAC play begin as Lake Superior State (Mich.) visits Panther Field for the first time. Highlighting the conference docket are home bouts with preseason No. 4 and last year's NCAA Division II semi-finalist Saginaw Valley State (Mich.) on March 25 and GLVC preseason runner-up Indianapolis on March 29. Along with a four-game set at rival Ashland, the Panthers will also face last year's GLIAC regular season and tournament champion Tiffin four times and travel to No. 18 and preseason North Division favorite Grand Valley State (Mich.) for a Friday doubleheader on April 13.
"This year's slate provides us some strong early season tests and will be a good gauge of where we need to be to contend in the GLIAC at the end of the year. There will be the occasional speed bumps along the way, but the sky is the limit for this team as we continue to build the Panther softball legacy," said Vanlandingham.
Contact: Bryan Desch