Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Spring Sports Guide: Softball-Lauren Delaney eyeing return to form

The story of 2010 will be the story of Lauren Delaney. The Wildcats feature the same powerful, dynamic offense they have had in years past, but much of the team’s success will fall on the right arm of their senior ace.

After going 37-11 with a 1.74 ERA in her sophomore season, the 2008 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year took a step back last year. In 2009 she posted a 29-12 record as her walks increased and strikeouts decreased.

Delaney said part of the reason for her sub-par 2009 was the sheer number of innings pitched. Between her sophomore and junior seasons, she threw 590 frames. A tough offseason training program was essential to ensuring fatigue doesn’t affect her again.

“Our whole team really worked in getting ourselves in really good shape, being really physical,” she said. “We really pushed ourselves more than I have in my four years here. This was the hardest offseason workout we’ve done.”

Delaney’s offseason training regimen has already paid dividends. At NU’s season-opening tournament, the Kajikawa Classic hosted by Arizona State, Delaney played the part of dominant power pitcher to perfection.

Her no-hitter against Cal State Fullerton was the beginning of a weekend in which she posted a 0.98 ERA and allowed a .046 opponent batting average.

“It’s a good feeling to come out and do that the first game of the season, especially after not ending on such a good note last year,” Delaney said. “Not having thrown against batters, it’s good to see that some of my work this offseason had paid off.”

The Cats’ opening tournament was made up of a 25-team field that featured five of the nation’s top 15 teams, according to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association preseason poll. The strong competition proved troublesome for NU, which lost its last three games at Kajikawa by a total of four runs.

Kajikawa was only the beginning of what will be a daunting schedule for the Cats, with 16 of their 52 scheduled games against Top 25 RPI opponents. For Delaney, the formula for beating top teams is simple.

“Do the same thing every time,” she said. “Go right at them.”

Despite Delaney tossing two dominant outings at Kajikawa, the Cats only managed a 2-3 showing, dropping them to No. 21 in the NFCA rankings after the weekend.

“We didn’t have the weekend we were hoping to have,” sophomore infielder Adrienne Monka said. “But we saw what we needed to work on and we can only go up from here.”

Monka, who hit 19 home runs en route to being named the 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, said the tournament taught the team to be more aggressive.

“We need to be more physical on the field-getting in there, making hard tags and finishing plays-that’s easy to fix. We just need to get in the game more,” Monka said.

NU’s troubles continued last weekend. The Cats traveled to Las Vegas for the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic, where they dropped their first two games to No. 10 Georgia and No. 13 Oklahoma.

These early-season failures are especially surprising, as last year’s squad was the top seed at its NCAA Regional Tournament. The 2009 team went 31-15-good enough for third in the Big Ten-and boasted one of the best offenses in the nation.

While the Cats lost two of their regulars, shortstop Tammy Williams and catcher Erin Dyer, new additions have added versatility to the offense, Monka said.

“We have more speed and still the same amount of power that we had last year,” Monka said. “So it’s just going to put a lot of pressure on the defense.

Monka will supply much of the power in 2010. She and junior designated player Michelle Batts have already combined for seven home runs this season. Although the bar is set high for Monka after her freshman season in 2009, coach Kate Drohan has one simple message for the sophomore slugger:

“When a game comes, get in the batter’s box, and swing as hard as (you) can,” Drohan said.

The lineup is more versatile than years past, Drohan said, and will rely on a blend of speed, and slap and contact hitting. Much of the responsibility to catalyze the offense will belong to junior corner infielder Robin Thompson. The leadoff hitter, who batted .299 last year in her first season as a slapper, has already stolen four bases in 2010.

One of the biggest questions for Drohan’s squad in 2010 will be at shortstop. Williams, a three time All-American and two time Big Ten Player of the Year, graduated last year. She has been replaced by Emily Allard, a freshman who never played shortstop before college. Through seven games, Allard boasted the fourth-highest average on the team and has proven to be a serviceable leader of the infield.

“(The transition) is going beautifully,” Drohan said. “Emily Allard has great skills. I’m really pleased with how she’s playing the position.”

The Cats also return seniors Kelly Dyer and Nicole Pauly, integral pieces on last year’s squad. Dyer will patrol center and provide a solid bat in the bottom half of the order, while Pauly adds even more pop to the lineup from second base.

Although NU’s offense is formidable and its ace dominant, the team’s biggest strength is its mentality, Drohan said. The Cats’ ability to bounce back from their 2-5 start was not in question. In fact, NU has won its last three games, evening out its record at 5-5.

“Past failures, past successes-our team has the maturity to know they have very little to do with what we have to do on a day to day basis and how we have to execute in the moment of a game,” Drohan said.[email protected]

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Spring Sports Guide: Softball-Lauren Delaney eyeing return to form