Expect success for Blugold softball in 2010 season

Story by Nick Gourdoux

The 2009 UW-Eau Claire softball season was defined by many as a disappointing one. That’s because the 2008 team set the bar as high as possible – they took home the Div. III National Championship.

By any other definition, the 2009 team had a very successful season. Twenty-eight wins is nothing to scoff at and was among the Blugolds’ highest win totals in the 25-year history of the program. Still, the team has championship aspirations and because of the 2008 team, anything short of that would be disappointing.

As a student, fan and sports reporter, I want to see the Blugolds succeed – and I believe they can.

Returning from last year’s team will be senior catcher Bekki Kidnie, who tied for the team lead with four home runs and finished with sole possession of the team’s RBI crown with 33. Senior middle-infielder Katie Stalker is returning from a season in which she recorded a team-high 61 hits, 21 stolen bases and 48 runs. Other key offensive contributors returning for the 2010 season include sophomores Aleisha Harper, Sara Baumgartner and Ainsley Klar.

On the pitching side, the Blugolds did lose Jenny Ross and Bri Sturm, who combined for 19 wins. That means returning sophomore Ashley Meinen, who finished 8-6 in 27 appearances, will be looked upon to fill a larger role in 2010.

As for coaching, Leslie Huntington returns for her ninth year as head coach. Since taking the position in 2001, Huntington has recorded only one losing season, two seasons with less than 20 wins, four seasons with at least 30 wins and the 2008 national championship. Since 2003, the softball team has won at least 26 games and has lost no more than 17.

There shouldn’t be much of a drop off between the 2009 offense and the 2010 offense. The biggest question facing this year’s softball team will be the pitching. Losing Ross and Sturm will hurt, but I believe coach Huntington will do a good job replacing them – either through recruiting or through players who were already on the team.

That and other questions facing the team will be answered this weekend, when the season begins. The Blugolds will be flying down to Panama City, Fla., to compete in the NFCA Lead-off Classic. Eau Claire does not play a home game until April 7, when they host St. Mary’s (Minn.).

If the Blugolds do manage to make it back to the national championship, a rare feat will occur. Eau Claire would experience home-field advantage the entire tournament. Gelein Field was chosen to host the NCAA Division III championships – regardless of whether or not the Blugolds compete in the event.

Gourdoux is a junior print journalism major and staff writer for The Spectator.