FGCU Softball Team Opens Season on Friday
by Justin Anderson
FORT MYERS, Fla. - The Florida Gulf Coast University softball team makes its 2006 debut with a season opening doubleheader against Palm Beach Atlantic on Friday at 5 p.m. in West Palm Beach, Fla.
The Eagles chances for eligibility for NCAA postseason competition this spring have increased due to changes in the Division II tournament structure. Last year the Eagles had to finish in the top six among the 36 teams in the Division II South Region. The field has increased to eight teams per region this spring.
The winners of the three conferences in the South Region - the Sunshine State Conference, the Gulf South Conference and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference - all receive automatic bids. FGCU plays as an independent and is ineligible for an automatic bid.
All 70 games on the schedule are against Division II competition, including 32 games against regional opponents. The 38-game home schedule features a number of teams from around the country playing in the Spring Break Invitational from March 2-6, which includes a budding rivalry with Grand Valley State. The first two weeks of the Eagles season includes 15 regional contests, some of which include three preseason top-25 teams. The Eagles will face defending champions #25 Lynn during the second half of this weekend’s road trip. The following week, the Eagles come home to face in-state foes #20 Saint Leo, before the Eagles head out to face stalwart #4 Alabama-Huntsville. The opening of this year’s schedule is just as unforgiving as a year ago, but the Eagles are determined to improve upon last season’s start.
Head coach Dave Deiros, who has led the Eagles to a 112-48-2 record the past three seasons, welcomes back a young, but extremely athletic group. With 15 regional contests to start the season, this year’s team will be tested early and often, but Deiros is optimistic heading into the new season.
“We have more depth in our pitching than we’ve ever had, our defense is strong, so we just have to hit well early,” said Deiros. “Our schedule is full of tough teams, and if we score runs early in the game, we will win.”
2006 FGCU Softball Outlook
The Eagles continued their tradition of success last year, finishing 38-18 in 2005. The Eagles should maintain their winning ways this year, vying for a chance to reach the NCAA regional tournament.
“Our team goal for this year is to reach the regional tournament,” said Deiros.
A big key to the Eagles success is the return of senior shortstop Christine Beck (Hudson, Fla.). Beck has been a four-year starter, with a fielding percentage well over .900. Beck will marshal an athletic defense which includes the speedy Rachel Homan (Vero Beach, Fla.) in center field, the rangy Jessica Rouse (Jacksonville, Fla.) will find a permanent home in left field, and newcomer LeeAnne McDowell (Arcadia, Fla.) will be in right field. Playing the infield along with Beck are freshman Cheyenne Jenks (Naples, Fla.) at third base and sophomore Lauren Barraco (North Fort Myers, Fla.) behind the plate. Jenks and Barraco join the Eagles this year from Florida State University and University of South Florida, respectively. Junior Natasha Johnson (Fort Pierce, Fla.) will step in for injured sophomore Hillary Johnson (Fort Myers, Fla.) at first base. Right up to the end of preseason, the battle for second base continues with sophomore Alisha Boyd (Naples, Fla.) and freshman Paige Raulerson (Labelle, Fla.) looking to possibly share time at the position. Roz Tyre (Lake City, Fla.) is a utility player who will find time behind the plate as well as at second base.
“Defensively, we move around in the field very well,” said Deiros. “We just have to get used to each other and gel as a team,” said Deiros. “One huge positive on defense this year is our depth in our pitching,” Deiros added. Last year, the Eagles mainly depended on all South Region pitcher Kelly Powe (’05). This spring, the Eagles have several pitchers at their disposal. Starting the season opener is sophomore Rachael Edinger (Lakeland, Fla.). She will be followed in game two by freshman Melissa Geissler (Fort Myers, Fla.). Junior Sarah Backe (Flossmoor, Ill.) will certainly see a lot of time in the circle as well. Freshman Dana Frantz (Brighton, Mich.) has been slowed by injury during preseason, as well as southpaw Amanda Deen (Jacksonville, Fla.). Frantz and Deen should not be sidelined for too long, and both expect to see action in the circle once they are healthy.
The Eagles offense has significantly improved over last year. The Eagles sometimes found themselves leaning heavily on their ace pitcher. But this year, the Eagles offensive machine has been supercharged by big bats and speed to burn.
“During the off season, the team dedicated themselves to conditioning and spent an inordinate amount of time in the weight room,” explained Deiros. “That’s why this year we are certainly faster and have a lot more power than we’ve had in the past.”
Rouse had 34 RBI and scored 18 runs last year and is certainly looking to amp up her production this season now that she’s found a permanent position in left field. Also in the outfield, McDowell is a power hitter who drives the ball well. Johnson will see time at designated hitter once off the injured list, adding another strong bat to the line up. Defensive leader Beck will provide stability in the middle of the order with her four years of experience. Center fielder Homan will try to pick up where former star Ashley Cecil (’05) left off last year. Expect to see Homan zipping around the bases and manufacturing a lot of runs.
Rachael Morgani (Port Charlotte, FL), Rachel Holloway (Bokeelia, FL), and Christa Piquette (Barrington, RI) are among the new faces joining the Eagles this season. A familiar face who will be working with the outfielders and slappers is new assistant coach Cecil, the 2005 NCAA Division II leader in stolen bases, the Independent Player of the Year and a third-team NCAA Division II All-American honoree.
“Historically we have had slow starts as a team,” said Deiros. “We are not easing into the season. We need to play hard early and put ourselves in a position to compete for the post-season.”