At a glance
2012 Record: 20-19 overall; 13-7 GPAC (3rd)
Head Coach: Frank Greene (12th year)
Record at School: 289-164 overall
Returning Starters: Amanda Baldwin (RF), Amanda Beeson (P), Angela Harstad (DH), Molly Madsen (3B), Nicole Mapes (LF), Shelby Morose (2B), Natalie Svoboda (CF), Amber Topil (C)
Key Losses: Nicole Sempek (P), Alyssa Bauwens (1B)
Key Newcomers: Shelby Pollington-Houska (P), Audrey Sundene (P/OF), Julia Tyree (P/2B)
2012 GPAC All-Conference: Nicole Sempek (first team); Molly Madsen (second team); Natalie Svoboda (second team)
The Concordia softball team begins its 2013 season on Friday, determined to remain a major player in the GPAC title race. Led by 12th-year head coach Frank Greene, the program has grown accustomed to hovering near the top of the league, with the Bulldogs’ last regular-season GPAC title coming in 2008. If Concordia wants to re-live that glory in 2013, it will have to quickly fill the void left by the graduation of star pitcher Nicole Sempek (14-8, 2.33 ERA).
“You never make up for it,” Greene says of losing Sempek. “You just start anew. I think we have excellent pitching.”
That pitching staff will be headlined by junior Amanda Beeson (6-11, 2.80 ERA), who put up solid numbers as a sophomore despite playing with a torn bicep. The Waverly, Neb., native underwent surgery over the summer and is ready to assume the role of staff ace. Her continued development eases the blow of Sempek’s departure.
As does the arrival of freshman Julia Tyree by way of Benicia, Calif. She turned heads with her performance in the fall and has quickly gained the confidence of her coaches and teammates.
“Julia comes with great credentials. She pitched in a very good program in California,” Greene said. “In the fall she pitched extremely well. As a matter of fact, I heard a lot of comments and rumbling from other coaches and other teams about, ‘oh, wow, where did they get her?’ kind of thing.”
Joining Beeson and Tyree on the staff are sophomore Hayley Carstens and freshman Naomi Greder. While Beeson and Tyree figure to get the bulk of the starts in the circle, Greene plans to put all four of his pitchers to use.
They will be backed by a solid group of returners throughout the lineup, including a particularly stacked outfield that includes senior leader Natalie Svoboda. The centerfielder from Lincoln broke out in 2012 with a second team All-GPAC season in which she hit a career best .348 while providing steady defensive play.
“I found my comfort zone. That’s all it was,” Svoboda said. “I went through a really bad slump my sophomore year. Last year I found my comfort zone and really watched the ball.”
Svoboda will be flanked in the lineup by talented holdovers such as sophomore third baseman Molly Madsen, junior shortstop Shelby Morose and senior left fielder Nicole Mapes. Madsen, who hails from Thornton, Colo., could serve as the team’s most dependable power bat after hitting .365 while starting 37 of 39 games in 2012.
“She hit a monster home run in the fall that I think is just kind of an omen of things to come because she has that kind of skill,” Greene said. “But I don’t expect her to hit home runs, I want her to hit consistently. From what I saw in the fall I think she’ll be one of our most consistent hitters.”
Morose’s move from second base last season to shortstop in 2013 represents another key storyline heading into the new season. Greene believes her athleticism will allow her to make the transition a seamless one. Morose hit .273 last season and posted a .978 fielding percentage in 134 total chances.
Mapes and right fielder Amanda Baldwin team with Svoboda as part of an outfield long on experience. The trio combined to make 97 starts in 2012 and could top that number with a season of good health in 2013. Svoboda missed last year’s conference tournament after a late-season collision with Baldwin resulted in a knee injury. Both Baldwin and Mapes hope to duplicate the kind of improvement at the plate that Svoboda made last season.
“They work really hard,” Svoboda said of this group of returnees. “That’s the first thing that comes to mind. Mapes is always putting in the extra time, the extra sprint, doing everything she can do. I can tell that Molly has really been pushing herself as well.”
Senior Angela Harstad (.242) should also figure into the outfield rotation after starting 28 games while serving primarily as a designated hitter in 2012. She will again see time in the DH role as well and provides flexibility in the lineup for Greene.
The right side of the infield will have a new look with the graduation of first baseman Alyssa Bauwens (.292, 5 HR, 17 RBI) and Morose’s move to shortstop. Those two positions have been up for grabs over the offseason, but Greene says that sophomore Liz Maxwell is one of the frontrunners at first base. The Fullerton, Calif., native could see a considerable increase in playing time after appearing in 10 games in 2012.
Second base appears to be a battle among several players, including freshman Danielle Harstad, junior Allyson Porath and Tyree, when she’s not pitching. All three have limited experience in game action.
Catching duties are likely to primarily be handled by junior Amber Topil once again. The Seward native posted a .967 fielding percentage while seeing action in 36 games (35 starts).
Collectively, it’s a Bulldog bunch focused on putting behind the rash of close losses they suffered last season as it learns how to shut the door on their opponents late in games.
“There are a lot of emotions going on (this offseason),” Svoboda said. “People are upset with the way we ended last year. We just want to get back and do better. We’re definitely not just a .500 team. I think Coach said we lost maybe 10 games by one run, so we definitely want to get those 10 games this year.”
Greene oversees a confident program used to competing for top-three finishes in the formidable GPAC. The prospect of finishing fifth – the spot the Bulldogs were placed in the preseason poll by league coaches – does not sit well with Greene or anyone close to the program.
“The reason we were picked fifth is because we lost Nicole Sempek,” Greene said. “So they don’t know about our pitching at this point in time. Everybody says, ‘OK, let’s pick them fifth.’ I’m going, ‘that’s fine.’ It really doesn’t matter. They could have picked us 13th or 11th or whatever there are in the conference. It wouldn’t have made any difference. It’s what you do on the field.”
The Bulldogs are chomping at the bit to get the 2013 season underway. The long offseason finally comes to an end Friday when Concordia plays a tripleheader of games at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Okla. Concordia will play No. 16 St. Gregory’s (Okla.), Dordt and No. 23 Bethany (Kan.) while in Shawnee. The non-conference schedule also provides Concordia the opportunity to travel to the San Francisco area over spring break to take on several Golden State squads.
The GPAC slate begins March 23 when Dordt visits Seward for a doubleheader beginning at 1 p.m.