The 2011 UMass softball season begins this weekend when the Minutewomen travel to Boca Raton, Fla. for the FAU Kickoff Classic hosted by Florida Atlantic University. On Friday, UMass takes on Penn State in the opener for both teams at 11 a.m. before facing Tulsa (2-3) at 1 p.m. The Minutewomen will take on No. 10 Michigan (5-0) on Saturday at 1 p.m. and then face the host FAU Owls (1-3) under the lights at 6 p.m. Play concludes on Sunday with matchups determined by seedings from the first four games.
Live audio of all five games will be available on UMassAthletics.com through SportsJuice. Just click on the listen link in the events section or on the softball schedule. Free live stats will also be available at UMassAthletics.com by clicking on the GameTracker links.
Head Coach Elaine Sortino begins her 32nd season leading UMass with exactly 1,100 wins in her career. The 2004 NFCA Hall of Fame inductee ranks fifth among active Division I head coaches in wins and has a career winning percentage of .708 (1,100-451-6).
UMass is coming off a very successful 2010 campaign in which the Minutewomen finished with a 42-10-1 record, including an undefeated run through Atlantic 10 play at 17-0-1, on their way to winning their 22nd Atlantic 10 Championship and advancing to their 16th-straight NCAA Tournament and 20 overall. For the fifth year in a row, UMass hosted an NCAA Regional.
Sara Plourde and Katie Bettencourt headline five returning starters for UMass. Plourde rewrote the UMass record books in 2010 as the then-sophomore pitcher set school-records in strikeouts (556) and wins (40), leading the NCAA in both categories on her way to being named NFCA All-American and A-10 Pitcher of the Year. Bettencourt had a breakout sophomore season in 2010, batting .333 with seven home runs, 31 RBIs, and 34 runs scored on her way to being named A-10 Co-Player of the Year.
BACK IN BOCA
UMass is making its third appearance in the last four years at the FAU Kickoff Classic, going a combined 6-4 in 2008 and 2009.
In 2009, UMass went 4-1 at the Kickoff Classic. The Minutewomen split on day one, beating Maryland (8-3) and falling to FAU (6-1), before finishing with three straight wins, Long Island (8-0), Pittsburgh (2-1), and No. 5 Michigan (1-0).
In 2008, the Minutewomen dropped their first three games before winning the final two to salvage a 2-3 opening weekend. UMass lost to Michigan (1-0), Maryland (2-1), and North Florida (3-2) in one-run games before beating South Carolina (2-0) and FAU (5-2).
In 2004, 2005, and 2006, UMass played at FAU in a similar event titled The Florida Atlantic Invitational, going a combined 6-7.
VS. PENN STATE
The Minutewomen are 15-10 all-time against the Nittany Lions, who were members of the Atlantic 10 Conference from 1983 to 1991.
It has been almost 11 years since the two programs met. On March 10, 2000, the Minutewomen won a 2-1 game over Penn State at the Speedline Invitational in Tampa, Fla. Brandi Cross drove in both UMass runs in the top of the first inning, plating Ashley Bakken and Teri Rooney. Jennifer Hadley picked up the win, scattering seven hits and strikeing out two.
The last time they met previous to the 2000 game was in 1991, when UMass swept a doubleheader at Totman Field, 2-0 and 3-0.
Penn State won two of its three A-10 Tournament titles by defeating UMass in 1984 (5-3) and 1988 (3-2).
UMass and Tulsa have never met on the softball diamond.
UMass is 3-8 all-time against teams from the state of Oklahoma. The Minutewomen are 3-6 against Oklahoma, most recently falling twice to the Sooners in the 2007 NCAA Amherst Regional, 2-0 and 6-3, and then in 2009 at the Cathedral City Classic, 5-3. Against Oklahoma State, UMass is 0-2, most recently falling to the Cowgirls on March 4, 2000, 11-2.
UMass is 3-5 all-time against the Wolverines.
The most recent meeting came two years ago in this same tournament, the FAU Kickoff Classic, on Feb. 8, 2009 when the unranked Minutewomen defeated No. 5 Michigan, 1-0. Carly Normandin led off the game with a double and was driven in by Whitney Mollica, leading to an early exit for Wolverines starter Jordan Taylor. Brandice Balschmiter scattered six hits and fanned six to get the shutout.
The year before that meeting, the Wolverines defeated the Minutewomen in their first FAU Kickoff Classic appearance, 1-0 on Feb. 8, 2008.
It will be a matchup of coaching legends on Saturday when head coaches Elaine Sortino (1,100 wins, 5th among active coaches) and Carol Hutchins (1,161 wins, 4th among active coaches) meet, accounting for 2,261 total wins.
UMass is 3-5 all-time against the Owls, most recently meeting FAU in both 2008 and 2009 at the Kickoff Classic.
On Feb. 6, 2009, UMass fell to host FAU, 6-1 to close out the first day of the season. Audrey Boutin drove in UMass' lone run, while Bailey Sanders took the loss in the circle, allowing 10 hits and striking out six.
On Feb. 10, 2008, UMass closed play at the Kickoff Classic by defeating the Owls, 5-2. Sarah Reeves had three doubles and two RBIs to lead the offense, while Brandice Balschmiter struck out eight to pick up the victory.
VS. LONG ISLAND
The sixth team at the FAU Kickoff Classic, and the only one UMass is not scheduled to play during round-robin play is Long Island. The Minutewomen and Blackbirds could meet on Sunday however when seeding dictates matchups.
UMass has dominated the all-time series against LIU, going 8-1, but that lone loss came in the most recent meeting, 3-1 last May 21 in the first game of the NCAA Amherst Regional. Bianca Mejia and Brynn Lewis hit sixth-inning solo home runs and LIU added an insurance run in the seventh to pull off the comeback win. Carly Normandin gave UMass the early lead with a homer.
On Feb. 7, 2009 at the FAU Kickoff Classic, Michelle Libby and Whitney Mollica each had three hits to lead the Minutewomen to an 8-0 shutout victory.
LOTS OF NEW FACES...
In many ways, UMass is a new-look team in 2011 with seven freshmen joining the ranks, replacing a graduated senior class of seven from a season ago. The seven freshmen combine with three sophomores to UMass 10 underclassmen out of 18 total players.
Sortino has brought in a pair of talented pitchers to join Sara Plourde. Caroline Raymond is a 6-0 right-hander from Downingtown, Pa. who compiled a career record of 45-6 in high school with 12 no-hitters. She amassed 672 strikeouts in 326 innings and was named All-State twice. Lindsey Webster is a 5-10 right-hander from Northridge, Calif. She went 85-27 in her career and posted a 0.44 ERA as a senior. The four-time All-Mission League and two-time Cal-Hi All-State performer could also see action in the outfield as she hit .550 with 25 RBIs as a senior.
The rest of the freshmen class is a very versatile and athletic group that will not only give Sortino depth, but also provide options as far as what positions they can play. Samantha Gray (Smithfield, Maine) and Paige Hansen (Concord, N.H.) are a pair of big right-handed bats that could provide pop to the lineup and see action at corner infield or outfield spots. Speaking of pop, Tiffany Meeks (Salinas, Calif.) provides perhaps the most power at the plate than any of the newcomers. Left field, third base, and DP are three spots you could see her in the lineup. In-state product Maggie Quealy (Plainville, Mass.) is a 5-7 right-handed batter that could see action at first base or DP. Candace Waldie (North Andover, Mass.), a field hockey, track & field, and softball star in high school, is an athletic player that could see action across the entire infield, outfield, and even caught at North Andover High.
...BUT LEADERS RETURN
Despite being a young team, UMass returns some of the most decorated and experienced veterans in the Atlantic 10.
Leading the way is junior pitcher Sara Plourde. The Bristol, Conn. native rewrote the UMass record books in 2010, her first year as a full-time starter, setting school records in strikeouts (556) and wins (40), breaking the marks of UMass legends Danielle Henderson and Brandice Balschmiter.
Plourde led the nation in strikeouts (556), strikeouts per seven innings (12.5), and tied Washington's Danielle Lawrie for the nation's lead in wins (40). Plourde's strikeout total was the ninth-highest single-season total in NCAA history.
Plourde was named NFCA Third-Team All-American, in addition to Atlantic 10 Pitcher of the Year, ECAC Pitcher of the Year, A-10 All-Conference, ECAC All-Star, and NFCA First-Team All-Region.
A-10 Co-Player of the Year Katie Bettencourt returns looking to have an even better junior campaign after the rightfielder burst on the scene in 2010, batting .333, slugging .542, with seven home runs, 31 RBIs, and 34 runs scored to join Fordham's Beckah Wiggins in taking the A-10's top honor.
Behind the plate for her senior year is A-10 All-Conference First Team catcher Meghan Carta. Carta had a breakout year of her own in 2010, leading the team in runs batted in (43), and tying Sarah Reeves for the club lead in homers (13). She batted .308 while controlling the game with fine defense behind the plate.
Continuing the theme of returning strength up the middle is junior second baseman Kyllie Magill. A full-time starter as a freshman and sophomore, she earned A-10 All-Conference honors both seasons. She enters 2011 with a .309 career batting average and a .956 fielding percentage. Look for her to become an even bigger offensive threat as her power numbers improved from two home runs and 18 RBIs as a freshman to seven homers and 24 RBIs as a sophomore.
IN THE NATIONAL POLLS
After receiving three votes in the preseason USA Today/NFCA Division I Top 25 Poll, UMass, after not playing last weekend, did not receive any votes in this week's poll. The Minutewomen received 29 votes in the preseason ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 Poll and this week received 16, three spots out of the top 25.
Last season, UMass ranked as high as No. 18 in the USA Today/NFCA poll. That came on Feb. 16 after going 4-1 on the opening weekend of the season in Miami.
The Minutewomen were ranked in every week of the USA Today/NFCA poll in 2010, except the final poll of the season.
#1 IN A-10 PRESEASON POLL
UMass has been predicted to win the 2011 Atlantic 10 Championship in polling of the conference coaches. Head Coach Elaine Sortino's Minutewomen have won the last six A-10 titles, 15 of the last 16, and 22 overall. Fordham, the 2010 runner-up, was predicted second, and Charlotte came in third.
Saint Joseph's was predicted fourth, followed by Saint Louis, Temple, Rhode Island, Dayton, St. Bonaventure, La Salle, and George Washington.
The six-team, double-elimination A-10 Championship will be held May 11-14 at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte's 49ers Softball Diamond in Charlotte, N.C.
PLOURDE-ING IT ON
Junior pitcher Sara Plourde has established herself as one of the nation's top pitchers, posting a 40-8 record with a 1.30 ERA in 2010.
Plourde led the country in strikeouts in 2010 with 556, the highest single-season total in UMass history and ninth-highest in NCAA history. She shattered Danielle Henderson's old school-record of 465 by 91 Ks.
Plourde also led the country in strikeouts per seven innings (12.5) and tied National Player of the Year Danielle Lawrie of Washington for the nation's lead in wins (40). She broke Brandice Balschmiter's UMass single-season wins record of 35.
Plourde garnered countless honors in 2010, including NFCA All-American, NFCA All-Region, A-10 Pitcher of the Year, ECAC Pitcher of the Year, A-10 All-Conference, ECAC All-Star, A-10 All-Championship Team, and was named A-10 Pitcher of the Week six times.
At Boston College on April 6, Plourde struck out 20 out of the 23 batters she faced, setting a UMass record for strikeouts in a seven-inning game, breaking the old mark of 18, accomplished three times by Henderson and once by Plourde.
Plourde struck out a school-record 22 batters in a nine-inning 1-0 loss to No. 22 Texas A&M (3/20/10). Plourde held the Aggies hitless through 8 2/3 innings, allowing a single with two outs in the ninth that drove in a runner from second with the International Tiebreaker rule in use. It is tied for the most strikeouts in a nine-inning game in NCAA history.
THE NATION IS WATCHING
The Amateur Softball Association (ASA) of America has named UMass junior pitcher Sara Plourde to its initial "Watch List" for the 10th Annual USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year Award. The 2010 All-American and A-10 Pitcher of the Year is one of 50 players nation-wide to be named to the list.
The 2011 Pre-Season Watch List is comprised of 50 players representing 36 schools and 15 different NCAA Division I Conferences with the Pac-10 Conference leading the way with seven schools represented. The list includes 23 seniors, 12 juniors and 15 sophomores.
The ASA will announce the 25 finalists on April 13. A player does not have to appear on this initial watch list to be considered as a top 25 finalist. However, once the top 25 finalists are named the winner of the award will come from that list. Freshman qualify for the top 25 list once they have competed at the collegiate level.
Just days before the start of post-season play, a list of 10 finalists will be named and released on May 11. The final three finalists will be announced May 25 while the winner of the 2011 USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year Award.
SORTINO HONORED FOR 1,100TH WIN
UMass Softball Head Coach Elaine Sortino was honored on Dec. 9 at the Easton Victory Club Luncheon at the 2010 NFCA National Convention at the San Diego Marriott & Marina in San Diego, Calif. The 31-year head coach of the Minutewomen achieved her 1,100th victory in the Atlantic 10 Championship last season and was one of several coaches to be recognized for reaching milestone victories at the luncheon.
Sortino enters her 32nd season as UMass coach in 2011 with a career record of 1,100-451-6. She ranks fifth among active NCAA Division I coaches in career victories.
Sortino achieved her 1,100th win in dramatic fashion as it came in UMass' 8-3 victory over Fordham to win the 2010 Atlantic 10 Championship on May 15.
The NFCA/Easton Victory Club recognizes member head coaches for each 100 victories they achieve throughout their careers. This year the coach being honored with the most victories was NFCA Hall of Famer and University of Arizona Head Coach Mike Candrea, who reached his 1400th victory during the 2010 season, while Sortino's 1,100 was the second-most among D-I coaches.
GLEASON JOINS STAFF
Elaine Sortino announced the hiring of Kathryn Gleason as associate coach on Sept. 9, 2010. No stranger to Amherst, Gleason, most recently the associate head coach at Michigan State, was an assistant coach with the Minutewomen from 1996-2000, helping lead the team to two Women's College World Series appearances, and earned a master's degree from UMass in 2000.
"I am ecstatic to be rejoining the UMass softball staff," Gleason said. "The tradition and everything UMass Softball stands for is something that is exciting to be a part of again. I look forward to meeting the team and working with them."
Gleason rejoins Sortino, now in her 32nd year as head coach, and assistant coach Kristi Stefanoni, now in her fifth year on the UMass staff. The staff of Sortino, Stefanoni, and Assistant Coach Jessica Merchant, who recently accepted a position at Minnesota, won the Atlantic 10 Championship and hosted an NCAA Regional in all four years they were together.
FOLLOW UMASS SOFTBALL
UMass Athletics offers several ways you can follow the Minutewomen. Your No. 1 source for information and news on the softball team is always UMassAthletics.com. Check in often for previews, recaps, news, box scores, and blog entries.
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SEASON TICKETS ON SALE
2011 UMass Softball Season Tickets are on sale now! The 22-time Atlantic 10 Champions are primed for another successful season in 2011 and the Minutewomen look forward to you joining them at the UMass Softball Complex for their 18 home games on 12 dates. Tickets can be ordered by calling 866-UMASS-TIX or by visiting the ticket page at UMassAthletics.com.
UMass softball season tickets are once again the best deal around, with plans ranging from $26 to $70 - that works out to between $1.44 and $3.89 per game! Purchasing softball season tickets also earns you Priority Points towards other UMass season tickets, including basketball, football, and hockey.