Season Outlook: Bulldogs Ready For Exciting 2011 Campaign

McKynlee Westman. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)
McKynlee Westman. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)

Action Begins Next Week In Florida

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – The New Haven weather hasn't exactly cooperated, but that hasn't kept the Yale softball team from preparing for the 2011 season. At 6 a.m. on most weekdays, while many of their schoolmates are still asleep, the Bulldogs can be found inside Coxe Cage getting ready for what they hope will be a successful campaign. There certainly appears to be enough talent and experience to have Yale in the hunt for the Ivy League's North Division title come mid April.

The season kicks off on Mar. 8 with games against Loyola, Ill., and La Salle at the Rebel Games in Kissimmee, Fla.

Head coach Barbara Reinalda will welcome back six starters and 11 letterwinners from last year's team that finished with an 11-28 overall record against a very challenging schedule.

Many of those returning starters can be found in an infield that should be among the best in the Ivy League. Team captain McKynlee Westman has appeared in 84 games, mostly behind the plate. Last year, she had a breakthrough season, improving her batting average by nearly 140 points from her sophomore year and finishing with career highs in hits and doubles. Her six doubles tied for the team lead, and she batted .321 in Ivy League games. At the annual post season banquet, she was the recipient of the team's Most Improved Player Award.

Junior Chelsea Janes has moved from the outfield to catcher to provide the Bulldogs with depth behind the plate. Janes appeared in 35 games in her first two years and was the recipient of the Andy Van Etten Coaches Award following her freshman season.

Sophomore Kelsey Warkentine saw most of her time at first base as a rookie, appearing in 22 games. She was third on the team in home runs and had a .344 on base percentage. In addition, she did not commit an error in 130 chances at first base. Senior Mariclaire Rebman also will see time at first base as well as designated player. She has been a regular for the Bulldogs since arriving on campus with 106 career games played, 57 hits and 29 RBI.

An injury limited senior Katie Yanagisawa to 33 games a year ago, and many of those came as a pinch runner. Yanagisawa is healthy and should resume her role as the starter at second base. As a sophomore in 2009, she was one of only three players to start all 44 games and was second on the team in runs scored and sixth in hits.

Junior Meg Johnson is a two-year starter at shortstop. Last year she earned honorable mention All-Ivy recognition after leading the team in batting (.324) and home runs (5) and finishing third in RBI (15). She was even more impressive in Ivy games when she batted .390 with 12 RBI.

Sophomore Christy Nelson provides the Bulldogs with power at third base as well. She was second on the team in home runs (4) and RBI (16) a year ago. Ten of her RBI came in Ivy games. Sophomore Liz Tutino also has experience at third base. She had a .311 on base percentage last year and had two hits and an RBI against Dartmouth.

The biggest obstacle the Bulldogs face is replacing two starting outfielders, including centerfielder Ashley Sloan '11, who graduated as Yale's all-time hits leader. Fortunately there are a number of outfield candidates. Juniors Virginia Waldrop and Chelsey Locarno both have seen time in left field during their tenures. Waldrop played in 49 games in her first two years, while Locarno has made 61 appearances.

Freshman Tori Balta is the frontrunner to replace Sloan in centerfield.  She batted .308 with a .446 slugging percentage as a senior at Valencia High School, which was ranked second in the nation and first in California.

Sophomore Jennifer Ong, who played a number of positions as a rookie, figures to see most of her time in right field this spring. She tied for third on the team with five doubles last year and made 18 starts.

There also will be a number of newcomers in the circle. Sophomore Jackie Manzer is the only returning pitcher. She struck out 42 batters in 48 innings last year and earned her first victory by pitching 2.2 innings of scoreless with five strikeouts against Princeton.

Three freshmen bring strong credentials to New Haven. Chelsey Dunham was the 2010 Virginia Gatorade Softball Player of the Year at South County Secondary School. She had a school record 1007 strikeouts in 577 innings pitched in her four years and posted a 77-9 record. Kristen Leung is Manhasset High School's record holder in career wins, earned run average and strikeouts, while Alex Lucas was a two-time all-district selection at Sacred Heart Academy. Lucas also could see time in the outfield.

Report filed by Tim Bennett, Yale Sports Publicity