With 10 returning players, including All-Americans Ashley Frost and Hope Bitzer, Raider Softball Head Coach Courtney Miller has high expectations for the 2010 season.
"Building off of the success of last year, I expect this team to compete not only for a conference championship, but also a state title," Miller says. "Last year, these players came in and started without any collegiate experience, and we had one of the most successful seasons ever. I can only imagine what they can accomplish this season."
According to Miller, the 2010 squad should show more power at the plate and more speed in the outfield and on the bases. Quality depth will be an added bonus this year, she says, with several players on the roster who can perform off the bench in critical offensive situations.
In addition to Bitzer, the Raiders return six position starters, including All-Conference shortstop Natalie Beach, who was redshirted in 2008.
In the Circle
Bitzer, an NJCAA and NFCA Louisville Slugger Third-Team All-American, will lead this year's pitching staff. Last season, the sophomore from Longwood posted a 17-9 record and a 1.46 ERA. She made 34 game appearances, including 28 starts. She also had a team-high 176 strikeouts and held opponents to a .201 batting average.
Bitzer is also one of the top returning hitters, boasting a .341 hitting record in 2009. She led the Raiders with 44 RBIs and was second in home runs, with six. When not on the mound, Bitzer will anchor first base for the defense.
A solid number-two pitcher is crucial for the Raiders to clinch a repeat berth in the state playoffs. Tiffany Ragans, a sophomore from Perry, has the experience needed to fill that role. In 2009, she saw action in 14 games, finishing the season with a 6-4 record.
Newcomer Alyssa Gurico, a freshman from Boynton Beach, has also shown a lot of potential, performing well during the Raiders' fall exhibition season. She is expected to have an impact in the rotation.
Freshman Tiffany Smith, of Baker County, has been redshirted following shoulder surgery in the fall.
Behind the Plate
The Raiders have the most experience at catcher, with the return of Frost, an NFCA Louisville Slugger Third-Team All-American, and Kelly Karshner, a member of the Mid-Florida Conference First Team.
Frost, a sophomore from Lake Mary, is the team's top returning hitter, boasting a .368 record, six home runs and 36 RBIs in 2009. When not stationed behind the plate, she will play first base and serve as a designated hitter.
Karshner, a sophomore from Jacksonville, adds power to the lineup. In 2009, she had six home runs and 17 RBIs.
Both players possess the leadership qualities needed to successfully guide the defense.
Despite a lack of experience at the college level, freshmen Coryn Novak, of Clermont, and Lauren Miller, of Longwood, might also make appearances behind the plate. The newcomers had promising fall performances, demonstrating their arm strength and ability to hustle.
Lauren Miller also has the potential to be a threat at the plate. She will likely see game time as a designated player.
Returning catcher Amanda VanKleeck, of Daytona Beach, will redshirt this season.
With three returning starters, the infield is expected to drive the defense in 2010. Bitzer and Frost will return to first base, along with Novak and freshman Tara Turner. Turner, of Lake Mary, gives the Raiders great defensive depth at the corners and has the potential to be a key power hitter in the lineup. She will also work at third base, along with returner Kayla Duncan.
Duncan, a sophomore from Jacksonville, came alive at the end of the 2009 season, slamming three home runs during the Florida Community College Activities Association (FCCAA) state tournament. With her steady improvement at third, she is expected to become a leader on defense.
The middle infield will gain important depth this year, with Mid-Florida Conference Honorable Mention Amanda Edelman returning to shortstop. The sophomore from Sanford was one of the most consistent defensive players in the infield last season, driving in 17 runs and leading the team with 12 sacrifices.
With the return of Beach, a Mid-Florida Conference Second-Team selection from Middleburg, the Raiders have two experienced and versatile infielders who can play either middle position.
Returner Angela Dees, who saw limited playing time as a freshman, is expected to offer hitting depth off the bench this season. The sophomore from Rockledge provided some crucial clutch hits last season and during fall exhibition play.
Freshmen Kayla Ramey, of Cape Coral; Erika Tollett, of Oviedo; and Kim Gase, also of Oviedo, will give the Raider infield solid depth this season. Shortstops Ramey and Tollett both demonstrate aggressive play and heads-up ball sense. Gase, who is coming off a redshirt year following an injury, will be looked to for her leadership and solid defense, especially in later innings.
"The depth and options I have with the infield this year is clutch," Coach Miller says. "I have so many choices in regard to a starting lineup, depending upon which players are contributing offensively and who we are playing. Some players bring great defensive skills, while others contribute with the stick. I'm also looking for consistent defensive play, as that will be one of the key ingredients to our success."
Centerfielder Bethany Lawrence, a Mid-Florida Conference Honorable Mention who started 50 games last season, is the lone returning starter in the Raider outfield. The sophomore from Sanford has one of the strongest and most accurate arms on the team, and her leadership will be crucial as she guides the young group of outfielders.
Returner Chasity Moore is expected to be a threat at the plate, with her impressive speed and superior bunting skills. The Jacksonville standout served as a part-time starter in 2009, until a broken hand sidelined her midway through the season.
Heralded freshman Christy Baranet, of DeLand, could have an immediate impact on the outfield. She is the fastest player on the team and led the Raiders with 24 stolen bases in the fall. Baranet is expected to jump-start the offense as the lead-off hitter.
Another freshman, Andrea Carnes, of Orange Park, has a strong arm that will be difficult for teams to outrun. Therefore, she may be called to serve as a defensive specialist late in games throughout the season.
"I'm excited about our outfield this year," Miller says. "This is, by far, the fastest group of fielders we have ever had. They are so aggressive out there. I expect them to throw out several base runners this spring."
For more information and the Raiders' 2010 season schedule, please visit the Raider fastpitch softball home page.