NORMAN, Okla. - The No. 12/13 Oklahoma softball team will open the 2006 season Friday, Feb. 10, when it enters the Alexis Resort Kickoff Classic, which is being hosted by UNLV at the Eller Media Softball Stadium in Las Vegas, Nev.
The Sooners open tourney action in a top-25 battle against No. 13/14 Washington at 1:15 (CST) Friday and finish opening day with a 3:30 p.m. meeting against the Kentucky Wildcats. OU will open play on Saturday with an 8 p.m. match up against UNLV, followed by a game against Southern Utah slated for 10:15 p.m.
The Sooners will round out tournament action on Sunday where they face Long Beach State at 12 p.m.
The No. 13/14 Washington Huskies return seven starters from last year’s squad that went 35-22 and advanced to a Super Regional before losing in game three to eventual National Champion Michigan. Leading the way for the returnees is shortstop Ashley Charters, a second team All-Pac 10 selection. Charters led UW with a .374 batting average and owned team titles in hits, runs and stolen bases. Prior to playing the Sooners, the Huskies, picked to finish sixth in the Pac-10 race, will face Kentucky in their season opener.
Kentucky went 20-41 in 2005 while finishing fifth in the SEC East, the same place they were picked to finish this season. The Wildcats return six starters including junior infielder Brooke Marnitz who hit a team-leading .301 and junior Ashley Fertic who started every game in 2005 and led the squad in triples while recording a .193 clip. UK’s top returning pitcher is sophomore Samantha Allen who recorded a 4.95 ERA while posting a 12-17 record in 2005. The schools have only met twice in the series history, with Oklahoma owning the 2-0 advantage after a 10-1 victory in 2001.
The host school for the tournament, UNLV, returns to 2006 with four all-conference selections who led the squad to a 44-19 overall mark and the program’s eighth NCAA Regional. Leading the cast of all-conference selections is all-everything sophomore Marissa Nichols who finished her freshman campaign as a NFCA All-American and earned 2005 Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year honors after leading her team in every offensive category, including a .426 batting average. The Rebels, who were chosen to finish second in the MWC, are not ranked in either top-25 poll, but are receiving votes in both polls.
SCOUTING SOUTHERN UTAH
Three-time defending Mid-Continent Conference Champions, the Southern Utah Thunderbirds, have been picked to win the Mid-Con crown again in 2006. SUU returns six starting position players and two of its top pitchers from last year’s team that went 23-25-1. Included among the returnees is reigning Mid-Con Player of the Year, senior SS Tiffany Burt, who led the squad in home runs with a .352 batting average. Senior pitcher Amy Sauer returns as the squad’s top hurler after producing a 3.01 ERA and a 15-5 record in 2005.
SCOUTING LONG BEACH STATE
The Long Beach State 49ers arrive at the Kickoff Classic after earning their second straight Big West conference title in 2005 with a 39-16 overall mark and a 19-2 record in league play. Senior second baseman Tiffanie Wedell is the 49ers top returner on offense. In 2005, she tallied a .290 batting average and was third on team in hits with 42 recorded on the season. In the circle, LBSU graduated its top two pitchers, Meredith Cervenka and Marcel Torres, who shared Big West Co-Pitcher of the Year honors for the last two years. The 49ers were picked to finish second in the Big West in 2006.
SOONERS RANKED NO. 12, 13 IN PRESEASON POLLS
In what has become familiar territory for the Oklahoma softball team, the Oklahoma Sooners found themselves ranked in both preseason softball polls. In the USA Today/NFCA Poll, Oklahoma debuted at No. 12 and dropped one spot to No. 13 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Preseason Poll. The Sooners have been ranked in the top 25 of every NFCA poll since its inception, which spans 143 weeks long. OU and Arizona are the only programs to be ranked in the NFCA Top-25 every week of its existence.
The preseason poll features nine of the opponents Oklahoma will face this season, including five Big 12 foes. The Michigan Wolverines begin 2006 where they left off in 2005, on top of the USA Today/NFCA Top 25 poll. Both polls can be found on page three of the notes.
COACHES PICK OKLAHOMA FOURTH IN BIG 12
The University of Oklahoma softball team was picked to finish fourth by the Big 12 coaches in the annual preseason poll. The Sooners received 55 total votes while Texas A&M was tabbed the league favorite with 76 total points.
The conference poll was based on a vote by each of the 10 conference head coaches who were not allowed to cast a vote for their own team in the process.
DID YOU KNOW?
Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso has never lost a season opener in her 12 years at the helm of the Sooner program. Currently, the Sooners own a 14-year winning streak in season openers. In addition, No. 12/13 Oklahoma’s match up against No. 13/14 Washington will mark the first top-25 match up in a season opener in the Gasso era.
TWO SOONERS ON POY WATCH LIST
Oklahoma softball players Kristin Vesely and Norrelle Dickson have been named to the initial watch list for the 5th annual USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year Award, announced the Amateur Softball Association, the National Governing Body of Softball in the United States. It marks the second straight season that Dickson, a junior, has been named to the preseason watch list. Vesely was a semifinalist for the award last season, but was not on the initial 2005 preseason list.
The 2006 Pre-Season Watch List is comprised of 50 players representing 28 schools and 10 different NCAA Division I Conferences. USA Softball will announce its 25 finalists on April 5. A player does not have to appear on the initial watch list to be considered as a Top 25 finalist, but once the Top 25 is named the remaining finalists must be selected from that list.
Just days before the start of post-season play, a list of 10 finalists will be named and released on May 10. The three finalists will be announced May 31. The winner of the 2006 USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year Award will be announced during the NCAA Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
WHAT IS GONE
While head coach Patty Gasso, the winningest coach in Big 12 history, returns four starters from last year’s Oklahoma squad that finished second in the regular season, she also has the tough task of replacing a stellar senior class. The four-player senior class combined for 11 All-Big 12, seven All-Midwest Region and four All-America honors during their careers.
The following are the statistical numbers and percentages that will have to be filled by the graduation of the senior class:
Oklahoma returns four starters from last year’s Regional 14 Champion squad, but not all of the returnees will appear in the same position this spring. Sophomore Savannah Long was a consistent starter at shortstop in 2005, but will be making the switch to the right side of the infield this season where she will likely see time at second base and first base. Junior All-American (third team) Norrelle Dickson will use her speed in left field this season after spending her first two seasons at shortstop and third base for the Sooners.
Providing stability in the outfield will be 2005 second team All-American Kristin Vesely and junior right fielder Jamie Fox. Vesely is a four-year starter in the outfield while Fox started all 67 games in right field last season while only committing one error. Bringing veteran leadership to the circle will be senior hurler Nicole Denes, who worked as OU’s third option last season.
1, 2 PUNCH
OU returns two of its three top offensive producers from last season in All-Americans Kristin Vesley and Norrelle Dickson. The two formed an interchangeable leadoff duo that was one of the most potent in all of college softball last season. In 2006, the duo will again be on display at No. 1 and No. 2 in the lineup. The box to the right gives more details on how potent the pair was in 2005 and how they were catalysts for a Sooner squad that ranked fourth in the NCAA in batting average last season.
Notable streaks entering the 2006 season opener:
184 - Consecutive games started by Kristin Vesely.
143 - Consecutive weeks OU has been ranked in the top-25.
14 - Consecutive season openers won by the OU softball team.
12 - Consecutive seasons of 40 or more wins, 11 under Gasso.
12 - Consecutive trips to the NCAA postseason
6 - Consecutive wins for OU in the Bedlam Series
6 - Consecutive Regional Championships
3 - Game hitting streak by Jamie Fox dating back to May 22, 2005
VESELY DRAFTED TO PFX TOUR
Senior Oklahoma softball player Kristin Vesely was one of 20 collegiate players drafted to participate in the inaugural season of the PFX Tour, a professional fast-pitch softball tour. Vesely, one of four Big 12 players chosen, was selected as the 14th pick in the draft.
At the end of her senior season, Vesely will have the opportunity to join the tour and travel to various amateur softball tournaments, competing against top-level amateur and professional team while providing instruction to teams competing at the PFX Tour stops.
The PFX Tour, founded by Team USA players Dot Richardson and Lisa Fernandez, is designed to help promote the sport worldwide while creating an opportunity for athletes who have graduated from college to continue to play, provide a financial package that grows with the Tour’s success to offer a career choice in the sport, generate value to sponsors for a “win-win” relationship and above all, give back to the sport from the grass roots up.
SOONERS ANNOUNCE RADIO AND TV SCHEDULE
The Oklahoma softball team has finalized its radio and TV schedule for the 2006 season. The Sooners will appear on ESPN five different times as well as a local Cox broadcast for the Bedlam game in Norman.
Oklahoma’s radio broadcast schedule has also been finalized, which will feature 10 OU softball games that can be heard on the official flagship station for OU softball, KOKC 1520 AM and KRXO 107.7 FM. Two additional broadcasts will be available via the internet only. For the fourth consecutive season, Brian Brinkley will handle radio play-by-play duties for the Sooners.