Following a disappointing end to its 2010 season, the Lehigh softball program reclaimed its position atop the Patriot League in 2011. The Mountain Hawks won 33 games, and after entering the tournament as the No. 2 seed, rolled to their 11th Patriot League Championship and earned their sixth NCAA regional berth in the last eight years. With most of last year’s key contributors returning, expectations remain high for Lehigh to pursue another league title in 2012.
“Right now, we’re very focused on trying to get a little bit better every single day,” said head coach Fran Troyan. “What our focus has been this year is to bring a lot of energy to all of our workouts, to all of our practice and bring a lot of focus.
Troyan continues, “We really haven’t talked too much about any competitive expectations. As a group it’s not spoken much but we’re expecting to get back to the Patriot League championship and be able to do some damage there, and hopefully make another run at the NCAA tournament.”
On paper, the 2012 Mountain Hawks will not be spectacular in one area of the game, but the Brown and White should be solid across the board in All-Areas. Seven position starters to return to the lineup, and all three of Lehigh’s pitchers return. Add in four talented freshmen and there’s reason to believe that Lehigh can compete not just for another league title, but also compete with the top programs in the northeast.
“We’re a solid team all the way around,” said Troyan, who enters his 17th season. “I don’t know that we’ve got any area that’s significantly better or significantly worse. We’re just strong in every area. Our pitching looks like it’s going to be pretty strong. Our catching is strong; the infield defense and outfield defense all looks to be pretty strong. I wouldn’t say that anything is anything totally outstanding quite yet, but I just think that we’re solid all the way around.”
On the infield, Lehigh is led by a pair of four-year starter seniors in first baseman Julie Fernandez and shortstop Jen Colquhoun. Fernandez is a three-time first-team All-Patriot League selection, who is a career .392 hitter and has averaged 14 doubles and more than 30 runs batted in through her first three seasons. Colquhoun will once again be relied upon for run production in the middle of Lehigh’s lineup. Last season she ranked third on the Mountain Hawks with 31 RBI.
At third base, the Mountain Hawks lost four-year starter Alex Cueva to graduation so senior Tenley Halaquist will likely move to the hot corner from second base. At second base, Lehigh has two viable options in sophomore Lizzy Odren and freshman Emma Capetz. Junior Jacqi Kennelly will provide depth on the left side of the infield, while freshman Cassie Waggy is a capable hitter who will have an opportunity to learn behind Fernandez at first base.
Lehigh is in good hands behind the plate as ECAC All-Star Liz Lucas returns for her junior season. Lucas was without question the Mountain Hawks’ top hitter in 2011, batting a team-best .380 with a Patriot League record 21 doubles, plus a team-leading ten home runs and 48 RBI. The Colorado native set a Patriot League Championship game record with three home runs and seven RBI in Lehigh’s 14-0 title-clinching win over Colgate. Sophomore Jess Long and freshman Brandi Hawkins will spell Lucas behind the plate.
In the outfield, Lehigh returns two starters in senior speedsters Audra Wood and junior Rosie Roessel. Both players tied for the team lead with 12 stolen bases a year ago. Wood, who will serve with Fernandez and Lucas as tri-captains, batted .280 with 43 runs scored out of the leadoff spot, and will man left field; while Roessel returns in center field after batting .316 a year ago.
Junior Kristen Mitchell may get the first crack at the vacant spot in right field, but Long, Hawkins, sophomore Kristin Taft and freshman Emily Bausher could vie for time in the outfield as well. Troyan has a variety of offensive options at the designated player spot, including Bausher, who was highly regarded for her pitching prowess coming out of high school in New Jersey, but also batted .440 out of the leadoff spot for her high school team as a senior.
“Emily is just a really good softball player,” Troyan noted. “Whether it’s as a pitcher or a hitter, she’s really athletic, she really understands the game and we feel like she’s going to be a pretty good player for us for four years.”
Bausher, a former Player and Pitcher of the Year in New Jersey, will add depth to a pitching staff that also features junior Rebecca Bliss and sophomores Ashley Quigley and Kelsey Lee. Bliss overcame a slow start to the season to win 16 games for the Mountain Hawks. She tossed back-to-back shutouts for Lehigh versus Colgate in the Patriot League Tournament, en route to being named the tournament’s most valuable player.
Quigley led the team in strikeouts a season ago, but followed an up-and-down rookie campaign with a strong fall season and has looked good in spring workouts as well, while Lee returns after leading the Mountain Hawks in earned run average last season.
“All the pitchers are doing well,” Troyan said. “We’ve got Becca [Bliss] returning, Ashley [Quigley] is pitching with a good level of confidence. We feel right now that Emily Bausher is a real competitive kid who’s going to do some neat things and Kelsey Lee is a solid pitcher as well.”
The Mountain Hawks will once again face a challenging schedule that includes five non-league games against 2011 NCAA Regional participants. Lehigh will play in three tough early-season tournaments plus its annual visit to the Rebel Spring Games. The midweek schedule features doubleheaders with regional powers Fordham and Hofstra to prepare for the always challenging Patriot League slate.
“We’re just looking to go out and compete, not focus too much on wins and losses,” Troyan said about his team’s early-season schedule. “We want to play as good softball as we possibly can early on. The nice thing is, being outside a little bit, we feel like we’re a bit further ahead defensively than we have been in the past. But the fact of the matter is that everybody in the northeast is in the same position, they should be a little further ahead as well.”
Lehigh will open the 2012 season this weekend at the Wolfpack Challenge, hosted by North Carolina State. The Mountain Hawks will face Kent State and Pittsburgh on Friday and Pittsburgh and Toledo on Saturday before wrapping up the tournament Sunday morning against Georgetown.