Sports

Preview: Stanislaus looks to build on last year's successful softball run

TURLOCK -- Here's how a video preview of the Cal State Stanislaus softball team's 2008 season outlook might be produced:

Highlights and celebration shots from last season's Far West Region title run would play in slow motion, with a foggy effect around the pictures, while Barbra Streisand's sentimental "Memories" is heard.

Then, a record scratch cuts to a current rocking pop number with bright images of the Warriors hitting, diving for balls and talking about a return trip to the NCAA Division II Championships.

The message: Last season was incredible, but it's time to move on.

"The players know this year is a different year, but they want to go back (to the national tournament)," coach Jan Schefkowitz said recently. "They all want to come back and do better. They realize it's hard work. They're looking forward to competing with a target on our back."

Stanislaus had long been a formidable opponent, with four Far West Region appearances in nine years. But a school-record 50 victories and its first regional crown set a new standard for the program. The Warriors went 1-2 at the Division II Championships in Akron, Ohio, and finished sixth in the nation.

Bringing back some of that experience are 11 returners, including seven everyday players.

Catcher Jessica Scholl, first baseman Jennifer Arnold, shortstop Meghan Franksen, third baseman Sarah Shamblin, outfielder Alyssa Guzman, designated hitter Casey Stephenson and pitcher Jessica Gaumnitz anchor the 20-player squad that's determined to prove last season was no aberration.

To end their period of revelry, and signal a fresh start, Warriors old and new were honored during halftime of the men's basketball game Jan. 12.

Schefkowitz, starting her 16th season as head coach, thinks the players will have no problem putting last season's accomplishments where they belong. Her message to the team is the same as it's always been.

"We tell them four things," Schefkowitz said. "Play smart. Play hard. Play together. Love the competition."

The Warriors open the season Feb. 1 with two games at their Mizuno Best of the West Tournament -- against Seattle at 12:15 p.m. and Cal State San Bernardino at 2:30.

Stanislaus lost pitcher Omaira Estremera and All-America outfielder Megan Law to graduation. Arnold, sophomore Nicole Deleon and UC Davis transfer Stacy Hains are expected to ease the pitching demands on Gaumnitz. The senior went 26-5 with a 1.77 ERA in 189ª innings last season.

Gaumnitz joined Franksen and Arnold as All-West Region players. Franksen led the Warriors in runs (53), RBIs (51), hits (70) and doubles (19) while batting .347, second only to Law. Arnold was near the top of the list in many offensive categories, hitting .311 with a team-high eight home runs.

Newcomers include local products Britney Borba at second base -- she's a Patterson native and Modesto Junior College transfer -- and Oakdale's Alicia Reid, who played basketball at Stanislaus last season and could fill in at shortstop and second.

Kimiko Wright and Christine Harms, who redshirted last season, are the front-runners to join Guzman in the outfield. Sophomores Breah Emery and Rachel Harmon could also see action there.

While the players have been conditioning and weight training for months, Monday was their first practice since fall workouts ended in October. Thanks to a sunny sky all week, Reid likened the first week of practice to a merry holiday.

"It's almost like Christmas, when you get a new toy and you get to go out and play with it," she said. "Everyone just has this positive energy. Everyone wants to be able to do better than last year."

As an athlete looking in from outside the dugout last season, Reid said it was easy to get caught up in the excitement of the softball team's run. She attended many games, rooting for friends Guzman, Franksen and Arnold, with whom she played on school and club teams. This year, she'd like to help them go further.

"You feel that same spirit," Reid said. "Everything comes out at practice, and it's like a domino effect -- you see someone making a great play and you want to do that, too."

Bee staff writer Kelly Jones can be reached at kjones@modbee.com or 578-2300.

Related stories from Modesto Bee

  Comments