After their first appearance in the Big East Tournament since 1994, the St. John’s softball team enters this season hungry and anxious to build upon last season’s successes.
But the 2007 incarnation of the team will have a vastly different look to it. Gone is head coach Debbie DeJong, replaced by former Big East and Providence star Amy Kvilhaug. On the field, only two players return to start in the same spot as they did last season.
This type of change would make it understandable to any outside observer’s eyes if the team approached this season as a transitional period for the program, but nothing could be farther from the truth.
“We have seen a huge turnaround in our team in such a short time,” Kvilhaug told RedStormSports.com. “The girls are regaining their confidence and are happy to not only be playing together, but to be representing St John’s. Everyone here feels that the sky is the limit for this team.”
A quick look at Kvilhaug’s r√©sum√© makes it easy to see why a positive wind is blowing through the program.
Kvilhaug was hired last August after four seasons as head coach of the Radford University Highlanders where she led the team to a 127-115 record. Along the way she was named Big South co-coach of the year for 2005 and led the program to its first 40-win season in its history in 2006.
The Big East is a familiar place for Kvilhaug as she pitched four seasons as a member of the Providence Friars, where she owns numerous single season records and helped lead the team to a Big East Championship in 1994 and an ECAC Championship in 1995.
While Kvilhaug will provide guidance from the dugout, on the field the responsibility of leadership will fall on the shoulders of the two returning seniors up the middle of the infield.
Shortstop Loren Anguiano emerged as an offensive force in 2006, hitting eight home runs and driving in 42 runs. Her 42 RBI placed her ninth overall in the Big East last season. She has also greatly improved her defense, building up her throwing arm to accompany her already great range on the field.
Anguiano’s double play partner and leadoff hitter, co-captain Tami Hill, returns to her spot at second base. The catalyst for the lineup, Hill had a solid 2006, leading the team in doubles with 11 and was tied for third on the team in hits with 52.
Joining them in the infield will be sophomore Roxann Struble, who will take over third base after primarily playing first last season. Even while dealing with a nagging hip injury that required surgery last season, Struble still hit eight doubles to go along with 23 RBI.
Junior transfer Spring Montgomery takes over first base after leaving North Idaho College, where she played under new Red Storm softball assistant coach Paige Smith. Montgomery displayed some impressive power for the North Idaho Cardinals, hitting 11 home runs.
The all-important position of catcher will be filled by two freshmen, Brandy Reyes and backup Tiffany D’Alessandro. Reyes has a strong arm behind the plate and will help provide power to the middle of the Red Storm lineup.
The outfield will have a new look after graduating all three starters from last season. Co-captain Bionka King takes over leftfield, a position the junior saw some time in last year. In rightfield, junior Danielle Estrada has emerged as the starter. Estrada knows her way around the bases, leading the team in runs scored with 38 during 2006.
The most daunting hole left in the outfield will be taken over by freshman Shauntaine Harris, who replaces Jo Sherlock. Sherlock left an impressive legacy behind her, ranking at the top in hits, home runs and RBI all-time in school history. Still, Harris appears unfazed by the pressure.
Starting pitchers Kim Lerch and Lisa Geer return to the pitching circle for another season. Lerch registered a 2.84 ERA last season, the best on the team. The senior finished with a 7-6 record for the season. Geer led the team with 13 victories and 138 strikeouts in 2006. The junior also threw her first career no-hitter in March last year. Spring Montgomery will be an option as a relief pitcher for coach Kvilhaug.
If the Red Storm is to make their second straight Big East tournament appearance, they will certainly work hard to earn it. Their schedule includes series against 10 teams that advanced to the Women’s College World Series last year.
“I strongly favor aggressive scheduling,” Kvilhaug told RedStormSports.com. “I feel that in order to be the best we must play the best.”