2010 All-American Meredith Hackett looks to improve on her impressive 2010 campaign where she led Illinois in batting average, home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage, walks and on-base percentage.
Feb. 10, 2011
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Fighting Illini head coach Terri Sullivan and the Illinois softball team will take the field in 2011 with the Women's College World Series as their goal after a historic 2010 season. With eight starters returning, including the entire infield, the Illini are primed to eclipse records set last season, during which the Orange and Blue earned the second-highest winning percentage in Division-I with their 45-8 overall record.
"The team has set their goals," Sullivan said. "And that is to win a Big Ten Championship and to be playing in June [at the College World Series]."
All six Illinois softball players who started each of the Illini's 53 games in 2010 return for another season with the Orange and Blue. Meredith Hackett is back for her junior year after showing immense improvement during her sophomore campaign, increasing her batting average from .229 to .418 while hitting nine more home runs and driving in 35 more runs.
Danielle Zymkowitz will control the right side of the infield with Hackett after finishing with at least a .400 batting average, .469 on-base percentage and .980 fielding percentage for the second consecutive season.
Yet another big bat and experienced outfielder in Hollie Pinchback is expected to produce at the levels that earned her 2010 All-Big Ten honors after finishing her junior season with 20 extra base hits in the middle of the Illinois lineup.
Pepper Gay and Jackie Guy will lead the Illinois pitching staff as sophomores after combining to routinely shut down the opposition as freshmen, only allowing 28 earned runs in 147 innings pitched to total a 1.33 earned run average.
After successful campaigns in 2010, second-year pitchers Pepper Gay and Jackie Guy assume complete control of the rotation for the 2011 season following the graduation of Ashley Wright and departure of Monica Perry.
Gay earned All-Big Ten Second Team honors and Illini Female Newcomer of the Year following a stellar season, during which the Avondale Estates, Ga., native finished with a 1.46 earned run average and a 16-1 record. Gay set the Illinois single-season strikeouts per seven inning game record, averaging 6.88 per contest, and led the Big Ten in fewest hits and runs allowed, only giving up 91 and 28, respectively. Gay's ERA ranked the second-lowest among Big Ten pitching leaders while her .217 opponent's batting average was fifth-lowest in the conference.
Guy served as a spot-starter in addition to pitching in relief of both Perry and Gay, accumulating 32 innings of work on the season. The Buena Park, Calif., native earned a 3-0 record with victories over Florida Gulf Coast, Dartmouth and Eastern Illinois. Guy finished the season with a 0.88 earned run average, the lowest of any pitcher who logged at least 12 innings of work in the conference.
Senior Laura Tarnawa earned a spot on the Illinois pitching staff as a walk-on for the 2011 season and will add depth out of the bullpen.
Senior Audrey Gallien returns for her second season as the full-time catcher for the Illini after a breakout season behind the plate in 2010.
Gallien hit .288 in 146 at-bats as a junior, totaling 10 doubles, seven home runs, 28 RBIs and 23 runs scored. The Sunnyvale, Calif., native also showed patience at the plate, drawing 27 walks, and earned a .406 on-base percentage, one of five Illini regulars to eclipse the .400 on-base percentage mark. Entering her final season in Orange and Blue, Gallien has seen time in 120 career games, including 88 starts. The Archbishop Mitty graduate has accumulated 54 career hits, 16 doubles, 10 home runs, 41 RBIs and 41 walks.
Sophomore Stephanie Cuevas will serves as a utility player as well as a backup catcher. The second-year player saw time in 15 contests in 2010, starting 11, and logged innings behind the plate against Dartmouth on March 20.
The Illini return all five Illini who saw at least 20 starts in the infield, signaling the Orange and Blue will have an experienced group of fielders protecting the base paths in 2011.
Meredith Hackett returns for her second season at first base after earning NFCA All-American and First Team All-Big Ten honors for her 2010 performance. Hackett led the Big Ten with a .418 batting average - slugging 16 home runs and 11 doubles to finish the season with 56 RBIs and 34 runs scored. In the field, the sure-handed Hackett has only committed 11 errors against 586 putouts, recording a 0.982 fielding percentage.
"Great players are committed to the game and always improving," Sullivan said. She [Hackett] is that kind of player. Meredith wants to be a leader for our team, offensively and defensively."
Two-time First Team All-Big Ten selection and 2009 NFCA All-American Danielle Zymkowitz is back for her fourth year as a starter in the Illinois infield. Zymkowitz has started and played in 161 games over the previous three seasons, accumulating 206 hits in 554 trips to the plate, good a program-best .372 career average. Zymkowitz has also scored an Illinois-record 150 runs to go with 21 doubles, 7 triples, three home runs and 55 RBIs. In 2010, Zymkowitz produced her highest single-season batting average, hitting for a .409 clip, with a career-best 76 hits, 59 runs scored and 23 RBIs.
The shortstop position saw Jessica Davis and Danielle Vaji split the majority of the starts during 2010. Davis earned starting duties before the beginning of the season and played during the non-conference portion of the schedule before going down with an injury. Vaji assumed control of the position while Davis was on the mend and performed extraordinarily.
Before suffering an injury, Davis earned time in 28 games, hitting .298 with 46 total bases, 25 hits, 22 runs scored, 21 RBIs, six doubles and five home runs. Vaji stepped into the starting role and produced at a near-identical rate to Davis, hitting .285 with 37 hits, 29 runs scored, four doubles and 17 RBIs.
Sullivan sees both players making an impact in the field, as an Illini shortstop as well as in the outfield, and at the lineup as the designated player when Vaji or Davis are not fielding a position.
"Defensively, each has various strengths at shortstop," Sullivan said. "So we will also look at them as outfielders and designated players."
Kelley Wedel is set to anchor third base for the third consecutive season after improving across the stat sheet in 2010. Wedel hit .272 in 147 at-bats, including 10 doubles and five home runs. The Anaheim, Calif., native earned a .453 on-base percentage as well, drawing 18 walks and 13 hit-by-pitches.
Ashley Conrad and Hollie Pinchback return for their senior seasons, having both started every game during the 2010 slate. Conrad, expected to maintain her spot as the centerfielder for the Illini, had a penchant for power hitting at the plate last season - totaling five doubles, one triple and nine home runs. The Sandburg High School graduate was a consistent fielder as well, earning a .935 fielding percentage with only three errors in 53 games.
Pinchback, who earned Second Team All-Big Ten accolades during the 2010 season, will secure right field for Illinois in her fourth year as a starter. Last season, the Texas native hit .296 with 10 doubles and nine home runs. Pinchback drove in 44 runs and scored 37 more while drawing 24 walks. The Cinco Ranch HS standout only committed one error in 34 chances in 2010, good for a .971 fielding percentage.
The loss of Hope Howell to graduation opens up a starting outfield position for the first time since 2008. Junior Nikki Simpson (Wheaton, Ill./Glenbard South) is the most experienced fielder outside of Conrad and Pinchback. Serving as a position player as well as a pinch-runner, Simpson has totaled 70 appearances in her two seasons and was a perfect 8-of-8 on stolen base attempts in 2010.
"Nikki Simpson has had a very strong offseason and is coming in offensively," Sullivan said. "We will look closely at what the position can bring to our offensive lineup in various games as well, whether we need power or speed."
Erin Bradarich returns for her second season wearing the Orange and Blue after seeing time in five contests in 2010. Bradarich is 2-for-3 in her career with two singles as a pinch-hitter. Bradarich's first career knock came in the second game of a double-header against Purdue on May 12 before earning her second collegiate single against Minnesota on May 15.
Sullivan added four freshmen from within the Land of Lincoln borders to the Illini roster for the 2011 season, including two outfielders, one infielder and one catcher.
Outfielder Alex Booker joins the Illini after earning All-North Suburban Conference honors from 2007-09 in addition to being named News-Sun All-Lake Country First Team twice. Booker, who is known for her speed, earned "Elite Athlete" ranking at the 2008 Florida Rising Stars Skills Camp and was tabbed as the best player among 393 participants in the 2008 Pennsbury SPARQ Agility Camp.
Catcher Jenna Mychko is expected to serve as a backup for projected starter Audrey Gallien during her first year with the Illini. Mychko completed a stellar high school career as a four-time Fox Valley All-Conference Selection and two-time First Team All-State Illinois Coaches Association in 2010. The Huntley graduate hit .531 with seven home runs, 13 doubles, 26 walks and 34 RBIs in her senior season.
Sullivan also brought in two freshman walk-ons to the 2011 squad in Nora Logue and Vivi Castellanos. Logue competed for Barrington High School while Castellanos played for Trinity. Both players are expected to serve as role players in addition to assuming pinch-running duties.
Illinois will open its season in Waco, Texas, on Feb. 11 with the Getterman Classic hosted by Baylor. Scheduled to face the Bears on opening day, the Illini will also compete against the University of Texas-San Antonio and McNeese State during their first tournament of the season.
Illinois will twice travel to Florida during their tournament slate. First, Illinois will appear in the Blue & Gold Felsberg Memorial Tournament at Florida International. While in Miami, Fla., the Orange and Blue will battle Providence, Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh before facing off with Florida International, while Illinois closes out the trip with another contest against Providence on Feb. 20. After one week off, Illinois travels to the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Fla., for the Citrus Classic. The Illini open the event with matches against Temple and Maryland on March 4. ESPN3 will broadcast the Illini's March 5 contest against Fordham after Illinois faces Longwood. The Orange and Blue close out the Citrus Classic with a March 6 morning game against Oregon.
For the second consecutive season, Illinois travels to the University of Missouri for the Tiger Invitational. The Illini will compete against the host-Tigers on March 12 and 13, with a game against Illinois State scheduled on March 12 between the meetings with Missouri.
After heading to Illinois State on March 15 for their first game in the state of Illinois, the Orange and Blue head to Fullerton, Calif., to take part in the most prestigious college softball tournament in the country, the Judi Garman Classic. Held at Cal State Fullerton, the Illini open the weekend with games against Fresno State and Cal State Fullerton on March 18. Following a contest against San Jose State on March 19, Illinois will close out tournament play by facing Washington and Long Beach State on March 20.
The Illini face in-state opponents Southern Illinois and Eastern Illinois on March 23 and 24, respectively, before beginning Big Ten Conference play with their home-opening contests against Michigan State on March 26 and 27. Following a home game against Bradley on March 30, the Illini host Penn State for a two game series on April 2-3 before closing the six game home stand with their final match against Illinois State.
The Orange and Blue travel to Columbus, Ohio, for a game each against Ohio State on April 9 and 10 before heading to West Lafayette, Ind. for an April 13 double-header with Purdue. Michigan is scheduled to make the trip to Eichelberger Field on April 16 and 17 before DePaul travels to Urbana, Ill., on April 20. After a two-game trip to Wisconsin on April 23 and 24, the Illini will face Indiana for a doubleheader on April 27 before playing host to Northwestern on April 30 and May 1. The Illini play back-to-back doubleheaders at Iowa and on Eichelberger Field against Western Illinois following their series with the Wildcats. After traveling to face the Hawkeyes on May 4, Illinois concludes the home portion of its regular season with the World's Largest Softball Tailgate doubleheader against Western Illinois on May 7.
For the third consecutive season, the Illini will wrap up the regular season against Minnesota, traveling to the Gophers for a two game series on May 14-15.
The 2011 Women's College World Series will be held at Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla., beginning June 2, with NCAA Regionals scheduled for May 22-22 and Super Regionals following on May 27-29.