Norse softball team prepares for season

The Northern Kentucky University softball team enters the 2005 season with high expectations, ranked fifth nationally in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association’s Division II preseason poll.

The Norse will try to build on a record year for the softball team after making it to the final eight of the NCAA Division II Tournament.

Every member of last year’s team returns, and two-time Great Lakes Valley Conference Coach of the Year Kathy Stewart realizes the expectations her team faces.

“Being ranked fifth in the nation, the biggest expectation is to win,” Stewart said. “The whole team has high expectations; our seniors have been to the NCAA Tournament every year and have gone farther every year.

“The players have a bit of a bad taste in their mouths following the NCAA Tournament.”

The team opened its season playing in the North Alabama Tournament Feb. 11-12, winning all four games.

“On Friday, the team didn’t have the intensity I would have liked,” Stewart said. “But the most important thing is we won. In fairness to the girls, it was their first time outside, and they were better on Saturday.”

Pitching will be a major asset to the Norse this season. All-American Krystal Lewallen returns, as does senior Emily Breitholle. Both of the pitchers should break the record for career wins this season.

Last season, Lewallen set new school records with 31 wins, 311 strikeouts, and a 0.27 ERA. Breitholle finished last season with a 16-2 record and a1.10 ERA.

The Norse feature a powerful offense this season to go along with its pitching. Senior outfielder Stephanie Leimbach holds the career record with 106 runs scored at the beginning of the season and broke the school record for hits in the second game of the season against Delta State. Last season, Leimbach set a school single-season record with 75 hits.

Also returning is senior Angie Lindeman. Lindeman is the career record holder with 119 RBIs at NKU and has the second highest career batting average and is in the top five all-time in home runs. Lindeman was the top power-hitter for the Norse last season, leading the team with four home runs and 50 RBIs.

Junior Ricki Rothbauer returns after a single-season record of 46 runs scored and tying the single season record with eight triples.

The fact that so many record-holders return is not lost upon Stewart.

“It’s a credit to the players,” Stewart said. “It really shows how good the players are. You want players to break records, and it really speaks to the player’s ability.”

Also returning for the Norse are seniors Sara Becker and Megan Owens, juniors Kara Lorenz, Heather Cotner and Rachel Vogelpohl, and sophomores Becky Napier and Jeni Schamp.

NKU also signed freshman Jami Patton, Michelle Logan and Sarah King.

King, who was recruited as a freshman has made an impact playing right field this season. Her home run against North Alabama provided the only run in a 1-0 Norse victory.

The Norse will face top competition throughout this season. They face a Kennesaw team ranked second nationally, and third-ranked Shippensburg before they begin GLVC play.

In the GLVC, the Norse will face Lewis – another nationally ranked team, as well as tough competition from SIU Edwardsville, Southern Indiana and Wisconsin Parkside.

“The league is going to be really hard,” Stewart said. “There’s good parity in the conference.”

The team will play Kentucky Wesleyan March 19 to open up the conference and home schedule.