The 2009 season is finally here for the Nebraska softball team. Since ending 2008 with a run to the championship game of the Big 12 tournament, the Huskers have been anxiously awaiting the start of the new season. That wait ends this weekend, when NU travels to Cedar Falls, Iowa, for the season-opening UNI-Dome Classic.

 

The five-team, round-robin tournament will be played indoors at the UNI-Dome on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa. Fans can catch all of the action on Huskers.com, as free live radio will be available on the website, with Nate Rohr calling all of the action in his fifth season as the play-by-play voice of Nebraska softball.

 

The Huskers open their season on Saturday at 11 a.m. against the Dayton Flyers, before facing the North Dakota Fighting Sioux at 1 p.m. Although Saturday’s season opener marks the earliest starting date (Feb. 7) in the 34-year history of the program (the 2003 season also began on Feb. 7), the season could not start soon enough for NU.

 

Optimism has engulfed the program during the offseason, fueled by the Huskers’ strong finish to the 2008 season, the prospect of the entire starting lineup returning intact and the addition of several promising newcomers.

 

Nebraska returns every starter from the 2008 season, led by four-year starter Crystal Carwile at first base. A three-time All-Big 12 selection, Carwile has been the Huskers’ top power hitter over the past three seasons. She enters her final season with more than 100 career hits, RBIs and runs scored, as she and three-time All-American Ali Viola are the only Huskers in school history to reach each milestone prior to their senior season.

 

Joining Carwile on the infield is junior Whitney Barrett, a two-year starter, and sophomores Julie Brechtel and Heidi Foland, each of whom started more than 50 games as freshmen last season. Catchers Amanda Duran and Ashley Guile also return. A senior from Tucson, Ariz., Duran started 29 games last season and hit .279 with 20 RBIs before an injury cut her season short. Guile stepped in for Duran and started 25 games at catcher and 50 games overall, producing a team-high 25 walks and a .383 on-base percentage.

 

The outfield features a veteran senior group. Meghan Mullin, a 2008 second-team All-Big 12 selection, is entering her third season as a starter, as is 2007 second-team All-Big 12 honoree Haley Long. Darcy Rutherford enters her second year as a full-time starter after a career-best season in 2008, when she hit .325 with 26 runs scored and 11 stolen bases.

 

In the circle, senior Molly Hill, a 2007 second-team All-Big 12 selection returns as the most experienced pitcher in the conference, despite missing part of the 2008 season.

 

Hill will be joined in the circle by two of the Huskers’ top newcomers. Junior Robin Mackin joins the staff after transferring from Fresno State. Mackin took last season off to pitch in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In two seasons at Fresno State, the 2007 All-American compiled a 64-25 record with a 1.45 ERA.

 

The other newcomer who is expected to help in the circle is freshman Ashley Hagemann. A native of Elkhorn, Neb., Hagemann was a four-time state champion for Elkhorn High School. She was also selected as the two-time Nebraska Gatorade Player of the Year.

 

Scouting the Dayton Flyers (0-0)
Under the direction of second-year head coach Cara Clark, the Dayton Flyers will open their 2009 season against Nebraska on Saturday. Dayton is coming off a 20-31 campaign in 2008, the program’s first 20-win season in three years.

 

Like Nebraska, Dayton won just once in its first seven games last season, as the Flyers opened the year with an 0-4 showing at the 2008 UNI-Dome Classic. Dayton also lost 11 of its final 13 games last season, but the Flyers return seven starters from 2008.

One of those starters is Molly Meyer, who was an honorable mention all-conference selection last season, when she hit .339 with eight doubles, three triples and a team-high 37 runs scored. Overall, the Flyers return six of their top nine hitters from last year’s squad. Blair Crabtree is perhaps the biggest loss, as she belted six of Dayton’s 14 home runs last season, while finishing with a team-high 39 RBIs.

 

In the circle, Dayton lost its top pitcher from last year, but Eva Rappe returns after posting a 9-14 record with a 4.42 ERA in 130.0 innings in 2008. Opponents hit .311 against her, and Rappe gave up an average of more than one home run per game. Allie Falk is Dayton’s only other returning pitcher, but Falk saw just 15.0 innings of action as a freshman in 2008, posting an 0-1 record with a 6.84 ERA.

 

Nebraska and Dayton will meet for the first time ever on Saturday. The Huskers have not faced a member of the Atlantic 10 Conference since 2005 when NU defeated UMass, 3-1, at the NFCA Leadoff Classic.

 

Scouting the North Dakota Fighting Sioux (0-0)
North Dakota is in its first season of transition to the Division I level, and the Fighting Sioux will make their Division I debut on Saturday against Nebraska. North Dakota will being seeing red by the end of its first season at the D-I ranks, as Saturday’s contest with the Huskers marks the first of five meetings between NU and UND in 2009.

 

North Dakota posted a 19-34 record last season against a mixed schedule of Division I and Division II competition. Head Coach Sami Strinz is in her second season at UND and the newest member of her staff is first-year assistant coach Sheena Lawrick, who played at Nebraska from 2002 to 2005. Although no current Husker was on the roster for Lawrick’s senior season, she was an undergraduate assistant coach for Nebraska in 2006 and helped instruct five of the Huskers’ seven seniors. Lawrick also played for Associate Head Coach Lori Sippel and Team Canada at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she was a teammate of Nebraska junior Robin Mackin.

 

Last year, North Dakota featured a potent offense that set school records for batting average, runs scored, hits, RBIs, home runs, total bases, walks and slugging percentage. The Fighting Sioux slugged 67 home runs, shattering the previous school record by 38 homers. North Dakota returns several top hitters this season, but overall the Fighting Sioux return just seven players while featuring nine newcomers.

 

Casie Hanson returns to lead the offense after batting .534 with 13 homers, 42 RBIs and a .931 slugging percentage in 2008. Abby Rehberger (.365 average, 12 homers, 30 RBIs) and Nicole Puerling (.344, 13 HR, 49 RBIs) also return. Last season, UND had five starters hit .340 or better but the other four starters all hit .208 or below.

 

In the circle, North Dakota posted a 6.24 ERA last season and allowed opponents to hit .363. The staff should benefit from returning experience in 2009, as three hurlers are back including Michele Wolf (3-12, 5.51 ERA in 95.1 innings), Hannah-Rose Peters (7-5, 5.60 ERA in 70.0 innings) and Karli Fisher (3-8, 8.68 ERA in 44.1 innings).

 

The Huskers and Fighting Sioux have met just once on the softball diamond and by the time first pitch is thrown on Saturday, Nebraska will have played 1,654 games since its last meeting with North Dakota. The programs have never met in the NCAA era, as the only meeting came on April 7, 1978, in Lincoln, when the Huskers posted a 12-0 five-inning victory.

 

Scouting the South Dakota State Jackrabbits (0-0)
South Dakota State finished 17-27 in 2008 under first-year head coach Joanna Lane. Lane made solid gains in her first season, as SDSU posted its best batting average (.276) since 2001. Lane led South Dakota State to a 3-1 showing at  the 2008 UNI-Dome Classic.

 

Returning to lead the offense in 2009 are Brittany Postma and Ashley Durazo. Postma led South Dakota State with a .339 average last season, while Durazo was right behind her with a .336 mark. Postma also led the Jackrabbits with five triples, while Durazo’s 12 doubles and .489 slugging percentage were team highs. In all, SDSU returns six of its top nine hitters from last season.

 

In the circle, Jenna Marston returns after throwing 80 percent of South Dakota State’s innings last season. She finished with a 15-22 record, posting a 4.98 ERA and adding 128 strikeouts in 227.3 innings. Marston also walked 114 and opponents hit .326 against her. A senior from Elkhorn, Neb., Marston will be reunited with former high school teammates Ashley Hagemann and Nikki Haget this weekend. The Husker first-year players teamed with Marston to win the 2005 Nebraska Class B state title in Marston’s final season.

 

Nebraska is 7-0 all-time against South Dakota State, including a pair of victories in 2008. Each of the seven all-time meetings have come since the Jackrabbits moved to Division I in 2006. South Dakota State is a member of the Summit League, and the Huskers are 43-0 all-time against members of the Summit League.

 

Scouting the Northern Iowa Panthers (0-0)
Nebraska will close its opening weekend with the first of two meetings in 2009 against Northern Iowa. The Panthers finished 20-28 last season under Ryan Jacobs, who is in his second season at UNI.

 

Jacobs led Northern Iowa to a 7-1 start last season, including a 3-1 record at the 2008 UNI-Dome Classic. The Panthers will look for another strong start this season, as they return eight starters.

 

Offensively, Northern Iowa returns nearly every hitter from last year’s team which matched Nebraska by averaging 3.6 runs per game. Megan Machovec returns after leading the Panthers with a .366 average, 32 runs scored and eight stolen bases in 2008. Jen Larsen returns as the top power hitter after slugging a team-best seven home runs and tying for top honors with 31 RBIs. The biggest lineup loss is Stephanie Aguero, who batted .361 with five home runs and 31 RBIs in 2008.

 

Larsen also returns as the Panthers’ top pitcher. She threw a team-high 127.2 innings in 2008, finishing with a 6-13 record and a team-low 3.34 ERA. Opponents hit .308 against her and she posted more walks (46) than strikeouts (40). Sarah Bakey also returns after posting UNI’s lone winning record last season. In 2008, Bakey finished 5-4 with a 4.40 ERA in 55.2 innings.

 

Against Northern Iowa, the Huskers will be looking for a win in their first road game of the season. Nebraska finished 1-11 on the road last season and the Huskers have lost nine consecutive road games. Nebraska is 5-0 all-time on the Panthers’ home field - including a 1-0 mark inside the UNI-Dome - and the Huskers own a decisive 15-2 edge in the all-time series. Nebraska had won seven straight meetings dating back to 1994 until Northern Iowa earned a doubleheader split with NU last season in Lincoln.

 

Quick Hitters
The information below provides a quick glimpse of a few statistics and brief notes of interest as the Huskers open their 2009 season this weekend at the UNI-Dome Classic:

 

·      Nebraska has lost four of its last five season openers, with each loss coming to an eventual NCAA Regional champion, including three setbacks to Women’s College World Series qualifiers. The Huskers’ lone season-opening win in the past five years came in 2007, when 15th-ranked Nebraska defeated No. 24 Auburn, 1-0 in eight innings. NU has faced a top-25 team (ranked either at the time of the game or in the final poll) in its season opener every year since 2001.

·      The Huskers have not won back-to-back games to open a season since 2003, when Nebraska opened the season with an eight-game winning streak. In the Big 12 era (1996 to present), NU has won its first two games of the season just three times (1996, 1999 and 2003).

·      Nebraska is 112-64 (.636) all-time in the month of February, including a 103-61 (.628) record under Coach Revelle. Revelle has posted a winning month of February 11 times in 15 seasons (NU did not play a game in February of 1993, Revelle’s first season). Nebraska had a winning February record in seven straight seasons prior to posting a 3-6 mark last season. During the past six seasons, NU has gone 56-28 (.667). Prior to Revelle’s arrival, the Huskers had played only 12 all-time games in the month (9-3 record).

·      The Huskers play at Northern Iowa on Sunday, marking their first true road game of the season. In 2008, Nebraska finished 1-11 in true road games. It marked the Huskers’ second straight season with a losing road record, after Nebraska had a winning road record every season from 1995 to 2006.

·      Nebraska returns every starter from the 2008 season and a total of 15 letterwinners. The Huskers’ outfield has combined to start 361 career games at Nebraska, while the infield has combined to start 524 contests. In the circle, NU’s five-pitcher staff has combined to start 191 Division I games and pitch 1,269.1 innings, including 106 starts and 684.2 innings at Nebraska. Overall, the Huskers’ 21-player roster has combined to start 1,136 games at the Division I level.

·      Senior Molly Hill has been the pitcher of record in each of the Huskers’ last 14 games, posting an 8-6 record. The string of 14 consecutive decisions marks the longest streak by a Nebraska pitcher since Ashley DeBuhr earned the decision in the Huskers’ final 14 games of the 2005 season and the first game of the 2006 campaign. DeBuhr finished with a 7-8 record during that stretch.

·      Crystal Carwile has hit 13 of Nebraska’s last 16 home runs dating back to April of 2007.

 

Miller Set to Take Reigns of Husker Offense
For the first time since the 2002 Women’s College World Series team, the Huskers will be welcoming a new coach to the fold in 2009. Diane Miller is preparing to begin her first season as Nebraska’s hitting coach and catching instructor. Miller spent the past eight seasons as an assistant coach at Colorado State, leading the Rams to unprecedented offensive numbers.

 

Colorado State broke 44 Mountain West Conference individual and team offensive records under Miller. The Rams’ offense also ranked among the best nationally, as CSU:

 

·   Ranked second nationally in doubles in 2004

·   Ranked fourth nationally in average and slugging percentage in 2004 and home runs in 2008

·   Ranked fifth nationally in home runs in 2007

·   Ranked sixth nationally in average and slugging percentage in 2006 and doubles in 2008

·   Ranked seventh nationally in slugging percentage in 2008

·   Ranked eighth nationally in home runs in 2004

·   Ranked ninth nationally in runs per game in 2008

 

Big Red Looks to Build on Strong 2008 Finish
Nebraska won eight of its final 13 games last season, and while an 8-5 finish may not seem overly impressive,  one must consider the Huskers’ competition during that stretch. Each of the 13 games came against teams with winning records, including eight games against teams that went on to the NCAA Tournament, six games against teams that won an NCAA Regional, six games against top-20 teams, five games against top-10 foes and five games against 2008 conference champions. Three of the Huskers’ five losses in that stretch came to Big 12 regular-season and postseason champion Texas A&M, which went on to finish as the national runner-up at the Women’s College World Series.

 

The offense showed marked improvement down the stretch. Below is a breakdown of the how the Husker offense fared over the final 10 games of 2008, compared to the rest of the season:

 

Stretch             Avg.    R/Game  H/Game  HR/Game   RBIs/Game SLG%     OB%
First 43 games  .266        3.4          6.6           0.3              2.9         .343       .341
Last 10 games  .289        4.4          8.2           0.4              3.3         .377       .347

 

Mackin Named to Top 50 Watch List

Robin Mackin was one of 50 players nationally named to the initial watch list for the USA Softball National College Player of the Year Award. Mackin, a junior right-handed pitcher, is in her first season with the Huskers after transferring from Fresno State.

Mackin was one of four players from the Big 12 Conference selected to the watch list and one of only two league pitchers. Her selection marks the third straight season that a Nebraska pitcher has made the list, as senior Molly Hill was named to the watch list last season, while Ashley DeBuhr was named to the 2007 list.

 

Huskers Picked Fifth in Preseason Big 12 Poll
Nebraska was picked to finish fifth in the Big 12 Conference preseason coaches’ poll, behind Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas A&M and Texas. The Huskers were picked sixth last year and finished in a tie for ninth.

 

Dynamic Duo

The Huskers’ 1-2 pitching combination of senior Molly Hill and junior Robin Mackin bring impressive resumes into the 2009 season. In five combined seasons, the pair have combined to earn one NFCA All-America award, two CoSIDA Academic All-America certificates, three all-conference accolades and three conference ERA crowns.

 

Both Hill and Mackin enter 2009 with 50 career victories, 500 career strikeouts and 500 career innings pitched, as Nebraska is believed to be the only school in the country with two pitchers who have reached any of the three milestones. The duo ranks first and second among Big 12 Conference pitchers in innings pitched, starts, strikeouts, strikeouts per seven innings and complete games. Mackin also unofficially ranks fourth among all active Division I pitchers with 771 strikeouts, while Hill ranks in the top 20 with 518 strikeouts.

 

Carwile Aiming for Third Double-Digit Home Run Season
Senior Crystal Carwile has hit at least 10 home runs in two of her first three seasons. Carwile slugged 12 homers as a freshman in 2006 and hit 12 more home runs as a junior last season. Carwile is only the third Husker in program history to produce two double-digit home run seasons. By hitting at least 10 home runs this season, Carwile would join three-time All-Americans Ali Viola and Jennifer Lizama as the only players in the 34-year history of Husker softball to produce three double-digit home run seasons.

 

Mullin Carrying Career-Long Hitting Streak
Senior Meghan Mullin hit safely in the final 10 games of the 2008 season, tying her career-long hitting streak from the 2007 campaign. Her current 10-game hitting streak remains active and with a hit in the season opener against Dayton, Mullin’s streak would grow to a career-high 11 games. Mullin is already the first Husker to have at least two double-digit hitting streaks since three-time All-American Ali Viola, who had then-school-record 19-game hitting streaks in both 1995 and 1998. With a strong start to the season, Mullin can also lay claim to the longest career hitting streak by an active Husker, as fellow senior Darcy Rutherford currently holds that honor after hitting safely in 15 straight games last season.

 

Carwile and Mullin Among Elite Company
Statistically, seniors Crystal Carwile and Meghan Mullin have been the Huskers’ top hitters thus far in their careers. Carwile has led the Huskers in home runs and RBIs in each of her first three seasons, while Mullin has posted Nebraska’s best batting average each of the past two years. Carwile is already just the third player in the 34-year history of Nebraska softball to lead the Huskers in both home run and RBIs for three seasons. The only other two to accomplish that feat were Denise Day and Ali Viola, a duo that combined to earn five All-America certificates. Carwile can pass both of them in 2009 and leave her legacy on the Husker program by becoming the first player ever to lead Nebraska in both home runs and RBIs for four straight seasons.

While Carwile has provided the power statistics, Mullin has used her slapping ability to post a .327 career average that ranks 11th in Husker history entering the 2009 season. A native of Mesa, Ariz., Mullin hit a team-high .318 in 2007 and last year she led NU with a .347 average. If Mullin can post the Huskers’ highest batting average again in 2009, she will join Day, Viola and All-American Anne Steffan as the only players in program history to lead Nebraska in batting average three times.