LANCASTER, Pa. – After losing only two starters from last season and with another year of experience under the belt of a junior-laden lineup, the 2013 Franklin & Marshall softball team will have a unique mix of youth and veteran leadership that the Diplomats hope will be a recipe for success.
"Our juniors are really growing up before my eyes," said sixth-year coach Mike Cooperstein. " They seem to be getting it now and have become the core of our team."
Leading that group is 2012 All-Centennial Conference (CC) Second Team member Nicole Casey. Last season, Casey split time as both a pitcher and infielder for F&M. This year she is expected to make the transition as a full-time infielder, where Cooperstein believes she can thrive.
"She's a coach on the field," said Cooperstein. "Hopefully she will be able to go from an All-CC pitcher to an All-CC infielder, which she certainly has the talent to do."
Although the infield will benefit from the addition of Casey, who was fourth on the team with a .268 average, the pitching staff will need to replace the junior's productivity. On the mound in 2012, she led the team in wins (8), strike outs (51) and complete games (11) while pitching the most innings on the staff with 93.2.
Looking to fill that void will be sophomore Justine Lohrey and junior Kaitlin Zampino. Lohrey led the team with a 3.53 ERA and 19 appearances as a starter/reliever. Zampino pitched 47 innings over the span of 11 appearances while striking out 31 batters.
Battling for the starting catcher position will be juniors Caitlin Brust and Ashley Hartshorn. Brust started 19 games behind the plate last season with a .952 fielding percentage, while Hartshorn, who will also see time in the outfield, appeared in 22 contests.
DeNoville returns to the lineup after missing all of last season due to injury. Cooperstein plans to plug her powerful bat into the heart of the order, where she's expected to be one of the Diplomats main RBI contributors.
Kukoda will also be counted on to provide a steady presence in the middle of the lineup, as well as make the transition to infield after playing the outfield in 2012. During her sophomore campaign, Kukoda started 30 of the teams 34 games while placing third in hits (22) and RBIs (16).
F&M's outfield will also have a different look in 2013 with junior Malorie Sassaman moving from the infield, where she started 28 games a season ago. Sassaman batted .289 and finished second on the team in hits with 24.
Murphy started 30 games during her junior year and is expected to be a fixture at the top of F&M's lineup. She should see the majority of her playing time in centerfield and is a candidate to bat leadoff for the Diplomats after scoring the third-most runs on the team last season with 18 and leading F&M in walks with 22.
Laufer will be counted on to produce runs in the middle of the order after batting .267 and collecting 12 hits during her junior campaign.
Competing for playing time will be the talented two-member freshmen class of Tori Hytell and Patricia Crigler. Hytell will see action at both second base and shortstop, while Crigler should see time in the outfield and at catcher.
The Diplomats will face a difficult test to begin the season when F&M opens play with a double-header against Randolph-Macon this Sunday at 1:30 p.m. The Yellow Jackets figure to be in midseason form when the Diplomats come to visit, having already played in six contests.
From there, F&M heads down to Fort Myers, Fla. for the spring break leg of its schedule, where the Diplomats will go against 10 teams in a span of six days. Competing in the Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic, F&M will square off with two squads ranked in the top-10 regionally.
The Diplomats take on Bridgewater State (No. 6 in the Atlantic Region) on March 10th, and Saint Joseph's (Me.) (No. 7 in the Northeast) on March 15th.
CC play kicks off March 23rd when F&M takes on Washington in its first home contest of the season. The Shorewomen open a tough stretch of conference play for the Diplomats, which sees F&M facing off against Ursinus on March 26th and defending-champion McDaniel on March 30th.
With talent and potential throughout the lineup, Cooperstein believes the 2013 squad has what it takes to bounce back from a seventh-place finish last year, and compete in the always-difficult CC.
"This team has really come together in practice and has been going all out," said Cooperstein. "Now they need to believe in themselves like the coaches believe in them."