THURSDAY, JANUARY 23, 2003
Dolphins' Inaugural Softball Campaign: A Season of Firsts
Jan. 23, 2003
The 2003 softball season marks the inaugural campaign for the Jacksonville University Dolphins and no one can be more excited than first-year head coach Jeff Franquet. The implementation of a fastpitch softball program at JU has sparked an overwhelming amount of enthusiasm from the students, the faculty and the Jacksonville community.
The Dolphins competed as a varsity slowpitch team from 1976-84 before disbanding the program.
Like most first-year programs, the Dolphins are young, which means they will rely heavily on their five junior-college transfers. Of the five juniors, only one is from outside the state of Florida, which is right-handed pitcher Bridget Starry. Starry transferred from Palomar College in San Marcos, California, where she went 17-3 with a 0.91 ERA and earned Pacific Coast Conference Co-Player-of-the-Year honors last season. Franquet also brought along one of his former players from Central Florida Community College in shortstop Dianna Korcak. Korcak has been tabbed as one of the team leaders from day one, as she is familiar with Franquet's system and his expectations. Ronda Campo, Monica McGee and Sonja Cadarette, who transferred from Florida Community College-Jacksonville, should see significant time in the infield this season and will be counted on to provide leadership to the first-year players. "Our goal is to be competitive, play hard every day and show up to every game with an expectation of winning," said Franquet, who has compiled a difficult first-year schedule for the Dolphins. "Realistically, we will struggle at times because we are young and inexperienced, but we will be prepared to play. My goal is for us not to display the characteristics of a first-year program."
The Dolphins will be thin in the pitching department this season, as two pitchers will shoulder the majority of the load. Starry and freshman Katie Dobson will be the Dolphins' top two hurlers, and should see a lot of innings. Starry was dominant last season striking out 64 batters in 123 innings of work while leading Palomar College to a third-place finish at the state finals. She has outstanding control and will be have to be the anchor of the Dolphin staff. Dobson, a right-hander from Clearwater, Fla., was an all-state and All-Suncoast selection a year ago at Palm Harbor University High School.
"Both Katie and Bridget will likely pitch every game," Franquet said. "They will both see time as starters, but both will also be expected to pitch in relief."
Freshman right-hander Jenny Clark was tabbed as the third starter before preseason workouts began after finishing with a 0.68 ERA last season at Central High School in Spring Hill, Fla. Clark suffered a knee injury during the preseason and hopes to be ready in time for the season opener. Her ability to come back strong will be a key to the Dolphins' pitching depth.
Freshman left-hander Amanda Deen will also see action in relief as she continues to improve and develop into a collegiate pitcher. Deen finished her senior season at Baldwin High School with a school-record 0.84 ERA.
A junior-laden infield should be a strength for the Dolphins this season. Campo, a converted second baseman/shortstop, gets the nod at first base. She is 6-feet tall and has all the tools to be one of the top defensive first basemen in the league after finishing second on the team with 107 assists last season at FCCJ. Campo has also worked hard in the preseason to improve her hitting after hitting .372 as a sophomore. At second base, McGee is slated to be the opening day starter. She is a switch-hitter who possesses good speed and can cover a lot of ground because of her athleticism. McGee stole 17 bases last season at FCCJ en route to first-team all-conference and second-team all-state honors. Starry will also see time at second when Dobson is on the mound. Korcak will be the Dolphins' shortstop and lead-off hitter. She led CFCC in hits (61) last season, while batting .307. Korcak combines excellent speed and a strong arm with her great instincts. Rounding out the infield at third will be Cadarette, who has one of the strongest arms on the team, an explosive bat and all the necessary tools to become one of the top third basemen in the A-Sun. She earned second-team all-conference last season at FCCJ after finishing with 25 RBI and leading the Stars with 148 assists.
Freshman Janine Palumbo will start behind the plate for the Dolphins. Palumbo is an excellent all-around player with good power, who also hits for average. She batted .426 her senior season at Palm Harbor University High School. Freshman Jill Bandhauer will serve as the backup at catcher.
While the infield is the Dolphins' most stable and experienced ares, the outfield will be a work in progress with a host of first-year players. Freshman Lisa Dronkers was a four-year starter at second base at Clay High School, but will make the transition to left field this season. Dronkers, who was named area Player of the Year after hitting .534 with two home runs as a senior, has the ability to hit with power and adapted well to the outfield during fall practice. Ashley Houston, a freshman from Glen St. Mary, Fla., will be the opening day starter in centerfield. Houston, who has outstanding speed and arguably the best arm in the outfield, is a converted second baseman and will be counted on to lead the outfielders. She led Trinity Christian to the regional and district championships last season. Bandhauer, who earned all-state and All-GCAC honors as a senior, will see the majority of time in right field. She is making the move to the outfield after playing most of her career as a catcher in high school, but has good power at the plate and her adjustment to the outfield could predict how much time she will see in right. When Starry is pitching, McGee and Cadarette will both see some time in right field.
Freshmen Laura Donnelly and Crystal Howland are both converted infielders who need time to develop before seeing significant time in the outfield. Both are excellent athletes who are working hard to improve.
JU will be entering the Atlantic Sun Conference, which was extremely competitive last season with six of the 10 teams finishing with winning records. Florida Atlantic won the conference title and earned the league's automatic berth to the NCAA Championship last year, but the Dolphins do not face the Owls until late in the season. Franquet has set up a difficult non-conference schedule, which features four tournaments in the first two months of the season. The non-conference schedule features Big East champ Notre Dame, CAA champ Hofstra, MVC champ Evansville, SWAC champ Alabama A&M and MEAC champ Bethune-Cookman, along with SEC foes Arkansas and Tennessee. The schedule also features games against Florida and Florida State, both 2002 Women's College World Series participants.
"Our schedule is extremely challenging for an inaugural campaign," Franquet said. "I like the fact that we have the opportunity to play almost every team in the state of Florida. The caliber of teams we play will be a real eye-opener for the players in terms of where we want to be in the future. We will have the ability to be competitive in every game as long as we continue to work hard, improve every day and stay focused."