Raised expectations for 2001

St. John’s second year head softball coach Melody Cope last season inherited a team that had experienced seven consecutive losing seasons. By season’s end, she had a group that had developed into winners as it compiled its first winning season (26-24) since 1992 and just missed making the Big East Tournament.

But because the team finished with a winning record, it doesn’t mean Cope is satisfied. “I have very high expectations,” Cope said. “The girls are a little more confident. Confidence comes from having a season together.”

This season the team is picked eighth in the Big East preseason coaches’ poll, Cope sees it as extra incentive. “Most people look at what we did last year as more of a fluke,” Cope said. “They don’t think St. John’s deserves the respect yet.”

Pitching is key for SJU. Senior Gina Calabrese and sophomore Courtney Fitzgerald make up the one-two punch of the pitching staff.

Calabrese set almost every school pitching record last season, breaking the school’s single-season record for strikeouts (183), innings pitched (208.2), complete games (24), wins (18), total appearances (37), and total starts (28).

Joining Calabrese on the staff is Fitzgerald. She made an immediate impact on the fortunes of the team as she appeared in 22 games, finishing 8-11. She also set a Big East record for innings pitched in a single game with 21 against Seton Hall on April 24.

Last season the offense was a weakness as it hit for a combined .209 batting average. According to Cope, it stems from selecting the right pitches and showing confidence at the plate.

So far, the team is batting .222. Cope attributes that to the style of pitching that the team is unaccustomed to facing. “I think early on, the pitching we faced was more off-speed,” Cope said. “Our girls have been so far out in front of everything.”

Despite the lack of offense, the team does have some players who can hit for average. Among the leading returning hitters is sophomore second baseman Alesha Argeras, who led the team in average (.313) and hits (52). The bad news is that she had off-season hip surgery and has seen limited action.

Cope said that the batting average has the potential to be higher. “I anticipate it going up,” Cope said. “We lack confidence at the plate. I think it’s going to take the girls being successful at the plate to gain confidence.”

Also leading the way on offense is junior catcher Lisa Tropea, who will be the leadoff hitter. Cope is relying on her to be more of a leader, especially in the field. “Our infield tends to be quiet. We tend to make plays, but we like it when someone is vocal,” Cope said.

The left side of the infield is a platoon between sophomore Jessica Shepherd and junior Tiffany Howerton, both of whom demonstrate great range and excellent glovework.

Shepherd, a native of Ohio, led the Red Storm with 113 assists, the fifth highest in team history. She started all 50 games and is expected to duplicate last season.

At the right side of the infield is first baseman Ann Rabb. “We’re looking for her to add a lot offensively,” Cope said. “Her experience is the key in the infield.”

The outfield features a veteran presence in Lauren Fisher, who plays left field and brings a veteran presence to the team. Batting cleanup, she is expected to have a tremendous impact with the younger players. “She brings experience and it’s nice to have Lauren in the outfield with the freshmen,” Cope said.

A platoon of Cecelia Baston and Marilyn Brown will play in right field. Both bring solid defensive skills to the team.

In centerfield, freshman Jessica Dima will receive on-the-job training, replacing incumbent Amy Crook as she recovers from elbow surgery.

With one year under her belt, Cope is confident that her team will be able to meet last season’s success, and even exceed it. “I think it’s going to be tough, but if we play well this year we’ll get into the Big East Tournament,” Cope said.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Gina Calabrese
Holds nearly every St. John’s pitching record. In 1999, set a new school record for strikeouts with 138. Later broke that record with 183 last season. Opposing batters hit .216 against her last season. Career record heading into 2001 is 39-38.

Lauren Fisher

So far is leading the team in batting at .306. Will serve as the cleanup hitter this season. In 1999 she was named to the all-Big East second team. She hit .269 and led the team with 12 doubles. She played volleyball and basketball in high school.

Courtney Fitzgerald

Made 20 starts last season with an 8-11 record. Was named Player of the Year for New York City by the Daily News as a senior at Mary Louis Academy in 1998.

HEAD COACH

Melody Cope

Took over in August 1999 as the sixth coach in St. John’s softball history. The 26 wins last season were the most by a first-year coach in school history. Prior to St. John’s, was the head softball coach at UNC-Greensboro from 1992-1997. While there, she led the team to four Big South Conference championships. Teams averaged 30 wins a season, including a school record of 49 in 1995. In 1994, was named Big South Conference Coach of the year. Thirteen players from teams coached were named to All-Big South Conference teams in six-year tenure. Former catcher at UNC-Wilmington.