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UWRF softball anticipates record season

February 28, 2008

The UW-River Falls softball team is gearing up for a season of record proportions, one which they hope will end with a school record 35 or more wins.

The Falcon faces look familiar as they return 12 players from the 32-12 team that finished third in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) last year and narrowly missed out on a playoff birth.

UWRF seniors and team captains Ashley Bertrand, Brittany Rathbun and Emily Howlett lead the 2008 version that boasts six new freshmen. Although the team has yet to play a game, All-WIAC pitcher Ashley Bertrand can already see this year’s team is going to play well together.

“We have a lot of returning players from last year who have played together for a few years now,” Bertrand said. “The new players really fit in well and I think they are excited to be apart of our team.”

Freshman infielder Dani Nadeau is one of those new fits. She credits her veteran teammates for developing cohesiveness within the team.

“[The veterans] always are upbeat and very positive,” Nadeau said. “We bond well as a team and everyone picks everyone else up.”

The willingness of the freshman to learn from the upperclassmen is another welcome sight. Senior first baseman/outfielder Amanda Peters shares her experience with the newcomers every chance she gets.

“I explain situations where they may want to do something differently based on what I have done in games,” Peters said. “The [freshmen] have been more than willing to listen and learn from the upperclassmen.”

Most people involved in team athletics stress the importance of team chemistry, which Peters said this team has on and off the field.

“We are such a close knit group,” Peters said. “Most of us have played three or four years together which has allowed us to know exactly what [each player does] in certain situations.”

In order for teams to grow into a cohesive unit, players must acknowledge and accept their roles, as some of the younger Falcons already know.

“Everyone has their own role to play,” freshman utility player Dana Book said. “When we’re needed, we will perform.”

Perhaps the most noticeable change from last year’s team is the departure of long-time head coach Faye Perkins, who is currently the interim dean of the UWRF College of Education and Professional Studies. Interim head coach Jody Gabriel replaced Perkins.

Gabriel, who has been an assistant coach with the Falcons for the past five years, is not a stranger to winning programs. Prior to UWRF, Gabriel coached at St. Mary’s University where the Cardinals were co-MIAC champions in 2001 and placed second in 2002.

Gabriel also knows what it is like to compete athletically on a successful ball club. She played for the Falcons from 1994-1996 and was a member of the 1994 team that won the WIAC title and competed in the NCAA Div. III playoffs.

While it’s too early to compare this team to the championship team of 1994, the 2008 Falcons have the makeup of a team that can go a long way.

“This year’s team lost only one starting position player and we have two strong returning athletes that are ready to step into that position,” Gabriel said. “The team is 18 players strong and I believe they have what it takes to make it to post-season play.”

If the Falcons are to accomplish their goal of 35 wins and make it to the post-season, they’ll have to overcome some tough competition, which includes a WIAC overflowing with talent teams. Two of the Falcons biggest conference rivals, UW-Eau Claire (UWEC) and UW-Stevens Point (UWSP), are both nationally ranked. UWEC is tenth and UWST is ranked seventeenth, according to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division III Top 25 Poll. UWRF and UW- Osh Kosh also received top 25 votes.

The Falcons begin their monumental journey on Leap Day, Feb. 29, when they square off in back-to-back games against Northland and St. Scholastica at the Rosemount Dome.

Despite the tough schedule, the Falcons like each other and like their chances.

“We have a lot of [returning players], a lot of new talent and a great coaching staff to bring us to our goal,” Bertrand said. “We just need to stay healthy, keep up with classes, and have a good time.”