NWC POLL: Coaches See 8th Place for Bruins and New Coach Hollen
NEWBERG, Ore. – New George Fox University softball coach Jessica Hollen has her work cut out for her if the pre-season predictions of the Northwest Conference’s eight coaches are accurate, as the Bruins have been tabbed for eighth place during the upcoming 2009 season, according to a recent release by the conference office.
Linfield College is a strong favorite to win the 2009 softball title, a championship that would be the Wildcats' sixth in a row. The 2009 season will also be a year of change in the NWC, as half the schools - Pacific Lutheran University, Whitworth University, and the University of Puget Sound, as well as George Fox - all feature new head coaches.
George Fox is coming off a 3-29-1 season, with a 3-25 conference record that landed the Bruins in seventh place, one game ahead of Lewis & Clark College. With only five returning starters and no returning pitchers, the Bruins were given 11 points in the poll.
The Bruins do have their top hitter and run producer back in first baseman Kristen Griffith (.233, 10 RBI), as well as leading home run hitter Shelby Briske (.203, 3 home runs, 8 RBI) in center field. Also back are third baseman Kerstyn Tsuruda, right fielder Erin Lee, and second baseman Serena Lee.
Linfield picked up six first-place votes and 68 points in the poll, but five-time NWC Coach of the Year Jackson Vaughan has some work to do to replace five starters who earned First Team All-NWC honors last season. The list includes outfielder Stephanie Rice and infielders Amanda Attleberger, Meredith Brunette, Erica Hancock, and Jenny Marshall. However, Linfield should be strong in the circle once again as two-time NWC Pitcher of the Year Brittany Miller will be joined by Second Team All-NWC hurler Kendra Strahm.
Pacific University is second in the poll with 57 points and the remaining two first-place votes. The Boxers must overcome the graduation of two-time All-NWC catcher Caitlin Mastenbroek, but welcome back two-time All-NWC starting pitcher Miranda McNealy along with First Team All-NWC outfielder Kristen Croxford.
Willamette University is third in the poll with 54 points. Nikki Franchi, the 2008 NWC Player of the Year, returns for her senior season. She led the NWC in hitting last season (.518) and was 19-4 with a 1.85 ERA. The Bearcats also welcome back All-NWC outfielder Katie Peterson.
Pacific Lutheran is fourth in the poll with 38 points, followed by Whitworth with 33 points. The Lutes return First Team All-NWC catcher Vanessa Bryant and utility player Rachel Wheeler-Hoyt. Outfielder Lacey Kerr is one of only four returning starters for the Pirates.
Puget Sound is sixth in the poll with 27 points. Infielder Meghan Watson is the leading returnee for the Loggers. Lewis & Clark is seventh (13 points), and George Fox is eighth.
Pacific Lutheran kicked off the 2009 season with an early-February trip to California. Most of the rest of the NWC begins play with games the week of February 16-21.
George Fox gets its season going Friday, Feb. 20, when the Bruins host Eastern Oregon University in a doubleheader starting at 1:30 p.m.