MONDAY, FEBRUARY 06, 2006
COUNTDOWN TO FIRST PITCH: 2006 JU Softball Outlook

Feb. 6, 2006

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.- - The Jacksonville softball program grew up a lot last season. Not only did the Dolphins win a program-record 35 games in their third year of existence, but they also earned their first-ever trip to the Atlantic Sun Championship.

Several Dolphin players had standout years to help the team earn their first trip to the A-Sun tournament. Senior Lauren Redfern earned first team all-conference honors after setting a program-record 25 doubles and 126 total bases. She also leads the program in nearly every offensive category. Senior Mayte Diaz made the A-Sun all-tournament team by batting .500 with two RBI and two runs for the Dolphins.

Katie Dobson tallied a career-best 15 wins and 194 strikeouts, while also picking up a school-record three saves. Shannon Jensen proved to be a valuable newcomer as she earned 2005 A-Sun Freshman of the Year accolades after picking up 13 wins in the circle and logging a .295 batting average with 33 RBI at the plate

With all this success last season, it can mean only one thing. JU is no longer new to softball. The Dolphins are now ready to make a run at being one of the top teams in the conference in 2006.

The biggest change for the Dolphins this season is the head coach. Gone is Jeff Franquet, who laid the foundation of the softball program, and enters former University of Michigan standout, Melissa Gentile.

Gentile comes to Jacksonville after serving as an assistant at Eastern Michigan over the last two seasons. As a player at Michigan, she earned All-America honors, while also being named to the Women's College World Series all-tournament team in 1997. She gained valuable experiance while competing with the U.S. National team from 1996-2000.

"I have had the chance to work and play for some tremendous coaches and that has helped prepare me for this job," Gentile said. "I have had some wonderful mentors impact my life as a student-athlete and I hope to pass many of those lessons on to my own players."

Despite losing two strong seniors (Redfern and Diaz), the Dolphins return their most experienced team in program history with 10 players coming back from a year ago. They also add two skilled transfers from the college level along with three very talented freshmen.

"This team has a lot of fire, drive and passion to reach their goal of winning the A-Sun Championship," Gentile said. "We are going to hit some rough spots like any team during the season, but this is a team that will fight through it and be better when it is done."

Infield

Fans will see a lot of familiar faces in the infield this season as the Dolphins return four starters for 2006.

Seniors Janine Palumbo and Stephanie Farabee will be the anchors of the infield. Palumbo is expected to see the most time behind the plate this season. Last year, she started in 66 games at the plate, while leading the team in sacrifices with 19. She also ranked second on the team in doubles (15) and walks (22).

Farabee will be spending her first full season at shortstop. She spent six games at second base before switching to shortstop last season. At the plate, Farabee was second on the team with a .345 batting average and hits (69), while totaling a team-low 11 strikeouts.

Seniors Lindsay Freitag and Kacey Yourous will head up the corners for the Dolphins this season. Freitag is slated to be the starting third baseman and has the potential to add the most powerful bat in the Dolphins lineup after finishing second on the team with three home runs. Yourous will start at first base after splitting time there and in the outfield last season.

Among the the newcomers, junior transfer Renee LaCroix will see time at second base and shortstop after batting near .300 each of the last two seasons at N.C. State. Freshman Beth Glasscock may see time behind the plate and third base this season. Glasscock earned Class 3A Player of the Year honors at Grayson County High School in Kentucky after hitting .496 with 18 doubles.

Outfield

A trio of familiar faces look to man the outfield this season, with junior college transfer Valerie Alter and freshman Alexis Novak competing for a starting spot.

Senior Katie Pestrak is penciled in as the starting centerfielder for the Dolphins. Last season, she ranked second on the team with 36 RBI, while adding a team-high 14 game hitting streak.

Senior Ashley Houston looks to see significant playing time as she returns to the outfield after spending most of last season as the second baseman. She has spent time in the outfield during her three seasons for the Dolphins.

Sophomore Jillian Mirante will start the season in right field for the Dolphins. Last year, she had a solid freshman campaign by ranking third on the team in batting average (.333).

Alter will spend time in the outfield after earning all-conference and all-state honors last year at Muskegon Community College.

A local native, Novak comes to the Dolphins after a stellar career at Bartram Trail High School with hopes of making an immediate impact to the outfield corps.

Pitching The pitching staff brings a lot of experience to the table for the Dolphins in 2006. Gentile will rely on senior Katie Dobson and sophomore Shannon Jensen, while junior Katie Buell and freshman Amber Janowski battle for a spot in the rotation.

Last season, Dobson struck out a career-high 194 batters en route to a career-high 15 wins. She also picked up three saves in the 2005 season. Jensen earned a spot on the A-Sun all-freshman team after tallying a team-low 2.00 ERA and picking up 13 wins. She also did some damage at the plate with a .295 average and 33 RBI.

Buell and Janowski will shoulder some of the load for Dobson and Jensen. Buell continues to get better with a career-low 2.62 ERA last season. Janoswki joins the Dolphins staff after helping lead Pottsville Area High School to a district championship in her senior season.

Schedule

The Dolphins will face on a tough non-confernce schedule to prepare for A-Sun play. The Dolphins play 12 teams that made the NCAA Tournament and six teams that were ranked in the top-25 nationally in 2005

"I believe in a tough non-conference schedule because it will get us ready for the ups and downs in the conference," Gentile said. "The tough games help us in the long run."

The Dolphins have 17 home dates this season including the season-opener against Texas Tech on Feb. 9th. They will also host in-state rival, Florida State, on Feb. 22. The Dolphins have taken two of the last three games from the Seminoles.

The road games will be tough on the Dolphins this season, with 44 dates away from the JU Softball Complex.

The Dolphins will partake in six tournaments against top-notch competition in 2006. JU will play in three tournaments hosted by USF, and for the third year in a row, the Dolphins will travel to the west coast to play in two tournaments in California.

The A-Sun slate includes games against conference rivals Florida Atlantic, Stetson and Mercer. The Dolphins will also take on conference newcomers in Kennesaw State, East Tennessee State and cross-town rival, North Florida