Back With a Vengeance

After finishing the 2008 season decimated by injuries, the Owls softball team is hungry for its second Sun Belt Conference title in three seasons.

The 2009 team returns 13 letter winners (six starters) while losing only two players to graduation, left fielder Lauren Crandall and first baseman Melissa Moore.
“We had a lot of injuries last season,” says head coach Joan Joyce, who enters her 15th season at the helm of FAU softball.
“Toward the end we got tired out. We had to use our pitchers way too much,” she says.

Leading the way with the bat this season will be senior outfielder Jessica Myers, who had a .319 batting average in 37 games of action last season. Senior outfielder Becky Brandies finished 2008 with a .261 batting average and is one of the top returning run producers from last season, during which she batted in 16 runs.  Junior shortstop Blair Bodenmiller will lead the infield after starting 41 games last season and hitting .262 and driving in 15 RBIs.

Anchoring the pitching staff will be junior Amber Barton, who appeared in 48 games last season (19-19, 2.91 earned run average); sophomore Rose Gressley, who played in 36 games (16-7, 2.34 ERA); and highly touted freshman Carrie Ann Potter, from Stratford High School in Stratford, Connecticut.

Injuries played a big part in the latter half of last season, in which the Owls lost their final four games. Senior infielder Amy Bukovich was the only player to play in all 61 games last season. She started 40 games at second base and 20 games at shortstop after Bodenmiller suffered a leg injury. Bukovich believes this team is better than last year’s. “We have more experience than we did last season. We have six seniors and our pitching staff is much deeper than last season,” Bukovich says.

The Owls expect to come out with a chip on their shoulders after finishing second to the Sun Belt Conference champion, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.  ULL’s Ragin’ Cajuns have gone 6-0 against the Owls since the two teams became conference rivals.
“Lafayette is the number-six ranked team in the country, and they have always given us problems,  says Joyce.

The Owls have never advanced past the regional round of the NCAA tournament, but they worked hard in the offseason to change that. “We came out when the coaches weren’t around and worked on the different aspects of our game,” says Barton.
“There is a drive this season that wasn’t there last season,” says Bodenmiller, who graduated in December 2008 with a degree in political science but is continuing her softball career while attending graduate school.

If the Owls hope to make it past the regionals this season, they will have to earn it throughout the regular season.  Their 2009 non-conference schedule pits them against 13 teams that made the 2008 NCAA tournament, and two of those teams made it to the Women’s College World Series. The Owls also face four teams ranked in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 poll.

The Owls opened up the season Feb. 6 – 8 with the FAU Kick-Off Classic, which included games against No. 24 University of Massachusetts and No. 5 ranked University of Michigan. From Feb. 13 – 15, the Owls were in Gainesville for the Lipton Invitational, hosted by the University of Florida. They took on Georgia Tech, Texas Tech, Coastal Carolina and the No. 1 ranked Gators. In conference play they will have to face the No. 8 ranked Ragin’ Cajuns in a two-game series April 14 – 15 in Boca.

With more talent and experience than last season, the Owls just might win their second Sun Belt Conference championship in three seasons and make some noise in the 2009 NCAA Tournament.