March 30, 1999
Entering the 1999 season, experience is one factor the California softball team doesn't have to worry about. With seven seniors and nine returning starters, the Golden Bears are set just about everywhere around the diamond. Add in a highly touted recruiting class, and it's easy to see why head coach Diane Ninemire is excited about Cal's prospects for the coming year.
During their tenure in Berkeley, Cal's senior class has won more than 110 games and been to three NCAA Tournaments. At the onset of their careers three years ago, they reached the pinnacle of collegiate softball with a regional championship and a trip to the Women's College World Series. Now, they have dedicated themselves to getting back to where they began.
"The seniors were just getting started in their careers at Cal when we went to the College World Series in 1996," said Ninemire, whose team tied for fifth in the nation that season. "I think they want to go out the same way they came in. They know what it feels like to be in the World Series, and I know they miss not being there the last couple of years. They are very hungry and very focussed in wanting to get back there." To reach that goal, the Bears are hoping that additional time in the weight room and in the batting cage during the offseason will aid them in their quest. After finishing with a 35-27 record, including 12-14 mark in the Pacific-10 Conference, last year, the Bears are eager to improve upon their No. 22 ranking from 1998. And with seven players knowing that this season will be their final one in a Cal uniform, they are putting in the extra effort needed to put a proper cap on their careers.
"Our seniors are definitely taking on a leadership role this year," Ninemire said. "They're setting the standards for the younger players to live by. I'm hoping that the type of leadership they provide will be one that will last and continue for our players in the future."
The senior class covers nearly every area of the field, with five of the players entering their fourth years as starters: pitcher Holly Yost, catcher Megumi Takasaki, shortstop Katie May, outfielder Maiko Bristow and utility player Kirsten Drake. In addition, utility player Valerie Nicklas has been a valuable contributor in a variety of roles, while third baseman Tricia Hunt is in her second year with the program after transferring from Maryland.
One aspect of the group has been their versatility. Yost, who both pitched and played right field as a freshman, takes over as the designated player when she is not inside the circle. May began her career at second base, but has started at shortstop since midway through 1996. Bristow, meanwhile, has seen action in center field, right field and first base.
But the best example of being a true team player is Drake, who will be concentrating on her fourth position in four years. A shortstop as a freshman in 1995, she played second base as a sophomore and right field as a junior. After redshirting last season following shoulder surgery, she returns to the field at first base this year. That willingness to do whatever it takes to win will certainly go a long way toward determining the fate of the Bears in 1999. Taking their experience and dedication into account, there is no reason to doubt that this Cal team should once rank among the nation's elite teams.
Below is a position-by-position look at the 1999 Golden Bears:
As with most any softball team, pitching will be the key to Cal's 1999 performance. And it is in this area that the Bears possess as much depth as anyone in the country, with three high-level performers in senior Holly Yost, sophomore Nicole DiSalvio and freshman Jocelyn Forest.
"I think one of our main assets this year is that we will have a solid pitching staff," said Ninemire. "If they all stay healthy, we'll have one of the best pitching staffs in the country. I think we'll have the depth that will get us through the tournaments and the Pac-10 schedule."
Yost, who has a 41-30 career record, is eager for a healthy senior campaign. As a sophomore in 1997, she had to shoulder almost the entire pitching load due to injuries to the rest of Cal's staff. She finished that year with a 29-21 record and tossed almost 320 innings. The toll of that workload seemed to affect her for practically all of 1998, as Yost was able to make only one start among her 20 appearances. Still, she posted a 5-6 record with two saves and allowed opponents to bat just .208 against her. "I don't think Holly was ever at 100 percent last year," Ninemire said. "But she is much more focussed this year. She's feeling good about herself and has come back much stronger. When she's healthy, her ball moves as well as anybody's."
When she's not pitching, Yost takes over as Cal's designated player. Owner of a .305 career average entering the season, Yost hit a team-leading .327 as a sophomore and batted .312 with a team-best 25 RBI last year.
Alongside Yost in the rotation is DiSalvio, who was 11-8 with four saves and a 1.54 ERA as a freshman. She posted some of Cal's biggest wins last season, including a 2-0 shutout of then-No. 8 Arizona State and a 3-1 victory over then-No. 7 Hawaii. "Nicole has worked extremely hard in the weight room and in her overall conditioning," said Ninemire. "She's gone up a whole notch. She's come back dedicated to play really well this year."
New to the group is Forest, a first team prep All-American from Righetti HS in Santa Maria who was considered one of the top three high school pitchers in the country last year. One of only three pitchers to ever strike out 500 batters in a season in California state history (she had 507 as a junior), Forest was 24-5 with nine no-hitters and a 0.17 ERA her senior year.
"Jocelyn is an outstanding pitcher who throws a variety of pitches," said Ninemire. "Her forte is being able to keep batters off-balance. She throws the ball with a lot of movement and a lot of different speeds."
Cal's infield returns virtually intact, with the lone excepting being at first base where senior Kirsten Drake will likely take over. Drake, who will be playing her fourth position in four years, returns after redshirting last season following shoulder surgery in June 1997. Almost certain to break Cal's career sacrifice record this season (she has 52 over three seasons), Drake is also one of the top power hitters on the team with 23 career doubles and six career home runs.
"What Kirsten will bring to us and it's something we were missing last year is another power hitter," Ninemire said. "But she also provides a lot of bat control. She can slap, she can bunt, and she can hit for power."
At second base, junior Lisa Iancin is solid, steady performer who has developed into one of the top players at her position in the country. A first team all-region selection last year, Iancin batted a team-high .323 with three home runs and 20 RBI. Defensively, she fielded at a .982 clip and did not commit an error in Pac-10 competition.
"Lisa is very sound defensively, and she'll definitely be a leader in the infield for us," Ninemire said. "On the offensive end, I think the dedication she's put into her weight training will give her a little more power with the bat."
Over at shortstop, senior Katie May begins her fourth year as Cal's starter and is coming off her best season with the Bears. As a junior last season, she was voted honorable mention All-Pac-10 after batting .281 with 12 doubles and 20 RBI. She also set a school record with 166 assists during the year.
Third base should feature the most competition for playing time as three players are battling for the starting spot. The incumbent is sophomore Pauline Due-as, who moved into the lineup in mid-April last season. A solid fielder who is also one of the Bears better base runners, Due-as worked hard in the offseason in an effort to improve her .183 batting average from 1998.
Senior Tricia Hunt is the best fielder in the group and is often inserted as a late-inning defensive replacement. In 35 games last season, she committed only one error and had a .985 fielding average. Perhaps the top offensive threat at third base is freshman Candace Harper, who was a first team all-state player last year at Lincoln HS in Stockton.
Behind the plate, senior Megumi Takasaki returns for her fourth campaign. Cal's leadoff batter, Takasaki is a steady line-drive hitter who led the Bears with five homers and 36 runs scored last season. Voted to the all-tournament team at the last two NCAA regionals, she batted a career-high .314 as a sophomore.
Backing up Takasaki is freshman Shauna Chapin from La Sierra HS in Riverside, who has one of the best arms on the team and possesses all the tools to be a top-flight player once she gains experience.
Cal's outfield probably won't be settled until Pac-10 action begins in March, as only sophomore center fielder Amber Phillips will start where she left off last year. The fastest player on the team, Phillips is a slap hitter who beat out numerous infield hits as a freshman, yet has the ability to hit the gaps for doubles and triples. Batting in the second spot in the lineup most of the '98 season, Phillips hit .290 and stole a team-high eight bases.
"Amber has been working very hard on her bat control, and we're looking for her to have a great year," Ninemire said. "She really covers a lot of ground, has a nice arm and is very solid defensively in the outfield."
In right field, Maiko Bristow returns to the outfield fulltime after playing much of last year at first base. Bristow was a two-year starter in center field before last season and finished 1998 as Cal's right fielder down the stretch. Last year, she batted .247 with 18 runs scored and a career-best 14 RBI.
Left field won't have its full complement of players until sophomore Paige Bowie returns from her commitments with the Cal basketball team in mid-March. An honorable mention All-Pac-10 choice last year, Bowie hit .290 with a pair of homers and 20 RBI. Also looking for playing time is senior Valerie Nicklas, who has seen action in all three outfield spots during her career. In addition, Nicklas is one of the team's better base runners and is often used as a pinch runner.
"Valerie had an outstanding fall practice season and has come back strong and confident at the plate," Ninemire said. "She's also looked great in the outfield and seems to be a real team leader."
Two freshman will be trying to break into the outfield lineup this season, as well. Kristen Morley, a three-time all-league choice at Santa Margarita HS in Mission Viejo, may also see some action at second base. She is a quick player who is a good base runner. Laura Power was a two-time team MVP at Northridge's Montclair Prep and looks to gain experience during her rookie year.