Bulls Look To Capitalize On Last Year’s Successes
For some people May 2010 may have just been another month, but for the University at Buffalo softball team May 2010 marked a turning point that has fueled this group of young women to have their best season to date in 2011. The Bulls had made just their second ever Mid-American Conference Tournament last season, but the way it ended left a bitter taste in their mouths.
The weekend of May 7, 2010 was a good one for the team as the Bulls went 3-1 on their final home weekend, securing a spot in the conference tournament. However, once the Bulls got to Akron, they were dealt two tough losses that left the entire squad disappointed. Some teams deal with disappointment by taking a step back; this team however, used it as motivation.
"Our kids were very upset with the way things ended last year and they have used it to become better," said third-year head coach Jen Teague. "You can see that they were committed to the offseason training program and you could tell in the way we played in the fall."
The Bulls return 10 players from last years team, including four seniors who have seen just about everything in their time here at UB.
"It is really neat to see the transformation of our senior class and that they have bought into our championship mentality," said Teague. "They have been through a lot, but they are really excited to get this season going."
It begins with one of the captains in Alexandra Bejarano, who will be getting used to a new position this year. Bejarano, who had seen most of her time at shortstop, will back up at second base, but will spend most of her time in the outfield.
"Alex has done a great job becoming more versatile in the field and she will do whatever it takes to help in the overall success of this team," said Teague.
The senior class also includes outfielders Kelly Cummings and Lindsay Hampton, both who will compete for playing time. Hampton is still working to get back after surgery in the fall and Cummings looks to come back after she was sidelined last season.
The last member of the senior class is Kate Kraus, who will serve as a relief pitcher on the staff. Last season, Kraus appeared in six games and struck out seven batters.
The three-person junior class has just one player that has spent both of her first two seasons at UB and that is Kristin Waldron. Waldron led the team with a .330 batting average, nine doubles and five triples last season and has continued to improve her game heading into 2011. This year, she will see most of her time in the outfield, but will also see time at third base and catcher.
"Kristin is extremely excited about playing new positions and doing anything that can help the team," said Teague. "I have no doubt in my mind that she will have another great season at the plate."
The Bulls also welcome two juniors, who join the Bulls after pitching at other colleges the last two years.
Holly Johnson comes to the Bulls after two seasons at Rutgers where she had a 15-16 record and 170 strikeouts. In her freshman season at Rutgers, she led the team in appearances and earned run average.
"I think Holly has all of the skills to be one of the best pitchers in this league," said Teague. "She had a dominating performance in the fall and she was just coming off an injury too."
Pitcher Haylee Land also comes to UB following two seasons at Indian River Community College, one of the top 10 community college programs in the country. Not only can Land pitch, but she may also be part of the Buffalo hitting lineup this season.
"Haylee is used to winning and she has that bulldog mentality every time she gets into the circle," said Teague.
UB's five-member sophomore class comes back after a successful first season with the team.
"Our sophomores will be much better this season because of the experiences that they all had as freshmen," said Teague. "We continue to rely on our youth heavily and this season will be no different."
Ashley Bertot, who last season was named to the All-MAC Freshman Team, leads the class. Bertot recorded 26 stolen bases on the season, breaking the UB single-season record. After just one season Bertot is already in sight of the career stolen base record. She also finished second on the team in batting at .306. More impressive is that all of this was done despite missing three weeks last season due to injury.
"Ashley is our leadoff hitter and she is our ticket to getting things started on the right foot," said Teague. "She has improved on her overall game in the offseason and I expect her to have a very good year."
Also returning for her second season is Jessica Griffin, who led the Bulls with five home runs a year ago. Griffin also finished with eight doubles and 25 runs batted in.
Two other sophomores that are expected to contribute in the everyday lineup are Alyssa Ward and Andi Saucier. Ward, who has worked hard on her offensive production this offseason, is expected to play third base or catch, while Saucier will see a lot of time at second base. Ward was one of only three players on last year's team to play in all 55 games and batted .290, third on the team.
Fellow sophomore Danielle Fields will also provide depth for the Bulls.
The 2011 Bulls are rounded out by a group of five freshmen, which are all expected to make an impact in one way or another.
"I was very impressed with the way our freshmen played in the fall and I saw that continue over the winter," said Teague. "We expect them to be a large part in us achieving our ultimate goals this season."
The class begins with Sammi Gallardo who is expected to be the team's starting shortstop. Gallardo is a complete player both offensively and defensively, showing some power with a couple of home runs in fall ball.
Holly Luciano is a speed demon that will play center field for the Bulls. She can hit for power and uses her size and speed to her advantage.
Tori Pettine will provide depth at the corner infield positions and will serve as a designated player. She is aggressive at the plate and can put the ball into play.
Kelli Gleiser is a mid-year transfer from St. Bonaventure and will provide depth in the outfield and serve as a pinch runner. She is amongst the high school career leaders for stolen bases in New York State.
Completing the freshmen class and the pitching staff is Tori Speckman, a junk ball pitcher from Alvin, TX. Speckman is expected to be a relief pitcher and the coaching staff believes that she compliments the rest of the pitching staff quite well.
This group of seasoned veterans and newcomers looks to take UB to heights not yet experienced, including the team's first ever Mid-American Conference title. Before they can prepare for the rigors of conference play, the Bulls must endure what should be a challenging non-conference season. The Bulls meet opponents from most of the major conferences, including a game against Georgia, which enters the season ranked fourth in the nation.
"We have a tough schedule in non-conference, but it is going to prepare us for a very competitive MAC season," said Teague. "We look forward to the opportunity and showing these other teams what Buffalo softball is all about."
The Bulls hope that over the course of the next four months they can not only make it to another Mid-American Conference Tournament, but also say that May 2011 was their best month yet.