Tabor softball team hopes to prove prognosticators wrong

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Expectations for the 2006 Tabor College softball team are generally low for the uninformed KCAC fan. But in Bluejay country, expectations are soaring like a helium-filled balloon.

“The other KCAC teams and coaches will be shocked when they see how many young players we have and just how good we are on defense,” said Tina King, in her third year as coach.

Coming off an 8-20 season and a 4-11 mark in conference play, preseason pollsters tabbed Tabor to finish at or near the bottom of the KCAC.

But this year’s team will be a faint image of last year’s. King has hit the recruiting trail hard and her efforts seem to have paid dividends.

To build on six returners from 2005, King added eight first-year players who have a lot of softball talent and knowledge.

“We’re a young team and sometimes high expectations aren’t that good,” King said. “But I don’t think people realize just how good my young players really are.”

It’s not only their talent with the glove and bat that has King excited.

“This year’s team has a great overall softball understanding,” she said. “My players this year are very well-groomed softball players.”

The coaches aren’t the only ones anxious to show what the Bluejays have assembled.

“Our returning players are very excited because they know this is the best defensive team we’ve had at Tabor in the four years our seniors have played,” King said. “I feel this team can easily compete with the top teams in the KCAC.”

But while youth receives much of the early attention, it will be King’s veterans who will provide the glue that binds the team together in the early going.

No player typifies that role more than senior pitcher Johannah Love. An honorable-mention All-KCAC pick last season, Love compiled a 5-10 record and a glossy 3.17 earned-run average.

Love tossed 95 innings, allowing only 95 hits and 76 runs while striking out 42.

“Jo’s excited because with less errors behind her, she won’t have to throw as many innings,” King said. “She’s excited about the fielding potential of this team.”

Fellow senior Jacqueline Schnell will return behind the plate at catcher.

“Jackie is a very good athlete, very fast,” King said. “That also translates into quickness. I really trust her behind the plate.”

Hillsboro High School grad Danielle Goossen will occupy third base for the Bluejays after sitting out a season while attending Fort Hays State.

“Danielle has a good glove, but getting her back into the softball groove will be important,” King said. “She was a very strong and smart hitter in high school.”

Also returning is Hillsboro junior April Funk in center field.

“April had knee surgery but has regained all her strength,” King said. “She’s very strong in center and gets a great jump on the ball off the bat.”

Senior Sara Thiessen, another Hillsboro High product, will be in left field for Tabor.

“Sara has tremendous speed in the field and on the bases,” King said. “We need to work on her bat, but she can really cover a lot of ground.”

Porsche Davis returns for the Bluejays and will battle for time at third base and in the outfield.

“We haven’t had enough people in the past two years to have competition for positions,” King said. “It’ll only make us better. Porsche is really a lot of fun to have on the team.”

Stephanie Stuber, the sixth returning player, is still on Bluejay basketball team. She’ll play in the infield.

“Steph will bring a good attitude,” King said. “She has an excellent glove and had a decent bat last year.”

To complement a solid core of veterans, King has her talented new recruits.

“We’ve very young and we’ll have to see how we react,” King said. “But most of my girls come from large schools, so I don’t think the transition to college softball will be that great for them.

“I pulled in a group of quality, groomed players,” King added. “I think this class will be known for its leadership, and their defense will really shine.”

Playing shortstop will be Kalie George, a freshman from Gardner.

“Her side-to-side movement is tremendous,” King said. “She stops everything and her arm is very strong. She’s one of our quietest players, but she knows when to talk and I like that.”

Joining George in the middle infield will be Matheson, Colo., freshman Stephanie Regrut at second base.

“She’ll be an exceptional leader both on and off the field,” King said. “She can cover anything, she’s very smart and knows all the details about softball.”

Looking to take over at first base is Topeka freshman Jessica Appelhanz.

“She’ll stop anything thrown her way,” King said. “She played shortstop at Topeka. She’s very smart at the plate and I’m excited to see her hit against KCAC pitching.”

A surprise addition to King’s team will be Wichita freshman and Tabor soccer standout Clancey Kelley, who looks to take over in right field.

“Clancey hasn’t played that much softball, but she’s an exceptional athlete,” King said. “She has enough speed to back up first base and, as she grows in softball, her instincts will be even better.”

Serving as a valuable utility player will be Wichita freshman Jessica Brucks, who played for Tabor’s championship volleyball team.

“She learns fast and has a very good glove,” King said. “Her mechanics at the plate are pretty good as well.”

Pampa, Texas, freshman Keli Mullican joins the Bluejays but hasn’t played since eighth grade.

Not a problem, King said.

“She does everything just about perfect and under control on defense,” King said. “She was trained well in softball.”

Backing Love on the mound will be Andover freshman Cassie Borg.

“She’s a very smart pitcher who knows what pitch to throw at the right time,” King said. “If we get her confidence built up, she’ll be a solid pitcher.”

King said there’s no doubt defense will be key if Tabor is to make a run for an upper division finish in the conference.

“That’ll be our No. 1 strength, but we also have to be able to hit and score runs,” she said. “But from what I’ve seen in practice, we have some very strong young hitters.”

King, who will be assisted by Brandon Fiedler, said team chemistry is another key for Tabor’s hopes.

“You have to learn each other’s moves and who can do what,” she said. “But this team is proving to be very vocal and I’m excited about that. Communication is very important on the softball field.”

Tabor opens the season Feb. 17-18 at the Evangel University Classic in Springfield, Mo.

“It’s a great we’re starting in a tournament away from the KCAC to break in my girls,” King said. “We’ll see some really good competition and, based on how we compete there, we’ll know a lot more about our chances in the KCAC.”

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