This season won’t be CAT-ostrophic for Softball
Recognizing that she, her coaching staff and her team were about to spend the balance of their time talking about someone who wasn't there, Softball head coach Connie Clark addressed the elephant in the room during the first team meeting this fall.
"I think I mentioned it in about the first five seconds," said Clark, with a laugh.
"It" was that for the first time in four years, Cat Osterman would not be pitching for the Longhorns.
The greatest softball player in Texas history and, arguably, the greatest softball player in NCAA history, had completed her eligibility. Still, Cat would remain in the conversation for fans and reporters, so Clark knew that discussing the issue up front was the best way to handle things.
"I wanted them to be comfortable talking about Cat being gone, since that would be the first question they got from everyone this year," said Clark, who embarks on her 12th season as the only head coach in Texas Softball history.
"They listened and I think they were comfortable," Clark continued. "They have worked very hard and they feel now, it is their turn."
No disrespect to Cat or Tina Boutelle, Chez Sievers and Amber Hall, all starters on last year's team that finished 55-9, won the Big 12 Conference and wound up fifth in the Women's College World Series.
"This is a young team," said Clark, noting that there are only two seniors on the roster. There are six freshmen.
No doubt, that is why the Longhorns were picked to finish fifth in the Big 12 this season. The Horns are three-time Big 12 regular season champs (2002, 2003 and 2006) and four-time Big 12 Tournament champs (1999, 2002, 2003 and 2005).
In each of the years Texas won the regular-season title, they were not picked to do so by the Big 12 coaches.
Texas patrons get to see the 2007 edition for the first time at McCombs Field during the Texas Classic, Feb. 16-18.
No question the returnee most in the spotlight is right-handed pitcher Meagan Denny, a junior who went 17-5 with a 1.57 earned run average in 28 appearances in 2006. She ranked 18th in the nation in strikeouts per innings pitched (9.5).
"Meagan has the ability to elevate and carry this team," said Clark of the co-captain of the 2007 team.
"Meagan brings a lot of leadership," the coach added. "She has developed a mix of speeds in her pitches to complement her tremendous velocity.
"And if there is anyone with the mental toughness to handle being compared to the ghost of Cat Osterman, it is Meagan. No one can demand more from Meagan than Meagan demands of herself."
Junior Desiree Williams, who spent 60 of 61 games at shortstop last season, figures into the pitching plans for this year, along with newcomers Torrey Schroeder and Erin Tresselt.
"Desiree has a variety of speeds and spins to keep opponents off-balance," said Clark, who noted that Williams' primary position still would be shortstop.
"Torrey is a freshman right-hander with the mental toughness of a veteran," Clark said. "She has a keen understanding of the game mixed with physical talent.
"Erin adds to our depth in the circle because she spins the ball well and has the ability to be very deceptive with her pitches. Like Torrey, Erin is very strategic and mentally tough and understands how to play 'chess' with opposing hitters."
Senior catcher Megan Willis is a key to this year's team, given that two of the four pitchers Clark is counting on in 2007 are freshmen. Willis' leadership behind the plate is vital.
Along with Desiree Williams and Willis, senior Jacqueline Williams, sophomores Kacie Gaskin, Crystal Saenz and Shannon Thomas are returnees with starting experience who will have to step up this season.
"Desiree is such a versatile player," Clark said of the player who led the team in home runs (12) and batting average (.333) last season.
Kelly Melone, who is coming back after a shoulder dislocation late last season, MicKayla Padilla and Brittany Reliford will be counted on to make contributions.
Ditto for newcomers Tallie Thrasher, Loryn Johnson and Brittany Chalk -- all infielders.
"Thrasher will play both corners and Brittany will see time at second base and the outfield," Clark said. "Loryn is a great shortstop and excellent third baseman and will be utilized at second base. She has a strong bat and will be an excellent addition to the offensive lineup.
"This team wants to make its mark."
Clark already has made her mark in 11 seasons at the helm of Texas Softball, taking the Longhorns to the Women's College World Series in only its second year in existence -- the youngest-ever program to do so.
She has made getting the Horns to the Women's College World Series SOP in Austin, earning a berth in three of the past four years.
Asked how this season will be different for her, Clark smiled and said, "I'll let you know in April. The coaching staff has had to have more of an active presence in the clubhouse, since this team is so young. We have chewed on them a little more because this is such a young team."
Apparently, it has worked.
After a practice late last month, Denny embodied the confidence of the team and the desire that it will make its mark.
"We're really pumped," Denny said. "I mean, we're really pumped. We're ready."
Clark expected nothing less.