Note: Scroll to bottom for full transcript and video
CORVALLIS, Ore. -
The Oregon State softball team has been working hard for the better part of a month preparing for the upcoming season, which begins on Thursday morning, Feb. 9, at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. against BYU. We sat down with Head Coach Kirk Walker to discuss his 2012 Beaver squad and expectations heading into another challenging 56-game slate. A full transcript and video is featured below.
The club returns 15 letterwinners from a year ago, the majority of its offensive production and its entire pitching staff.
Junior pitcher Tina Andreana has a full season of Pac-12 experience under her belt after transferring from Western Texas College and has developed a good rapport with her battery mate, fellow junior Ally Kutz, who gained valuable experience behind the plate in 2011 after transitioning from first base. Senior Paige Hall (6-6, 2.80 ERA) and junior Marina Demore (7-6, 91 K) will continue to give Oregon State depth in the circle. The Beavers' pitching staff is further bolstered by the addition of freshman Aryn Feickert, who finished her high school career with over 1,200 strikeouts.
Behind the Beaver hurlers an already solid defensive squad has spent a considerable time improving their conditioning and situational tactics. Senior Erin Guzy (.259, 36 hits) and junior Desiree Beltran (.248, 14 RBI), the team's top two offensive threats last season, started a combined 93 of 94 total games in 2011 and again look to anchor OSU's corners.
Up the middle, Maggie Doremus and Nikki Chandler are both returning after forming a formidable double-play combo a season ago, starting all but seven games combined. The additions of junior transfer Elizabeth Santana (UC Davis) and freshman Ya Garcia will give the Beavers added flexibility in their lineup.
In the outfield, Pac-10 Honorable Mention honoree Lea Cavestany (12 2B, 17 R), senior Mary Claire Brenner (.244, 20 RBI) and 2011 Pac-10 All-Freshman Honorable Mention selection Hannah Bouska (six starts in LF) are all back for Oregon State. They're joined by freshmen center fielder Dani Gilmore, who comes to Corvallis after setting California state records for runs (195) and RBI (228) during her career at El Camino High School.
In addition to her duties in the circle, Paige Hall made 40 starts as the designated player last season, leading the team in home runs (7) and walks (27), primarily batting in the cleanup spot.
Senior Emily Richardson made six starts in 2011, three in the infield and three in the outfield, playing in 19 total contests. The Beavers well-rounded production from top to bottom will be enhanced by Richardson as well as freshman utility-player Madison Bundy and sophomores Isabelle Batayola and Bailee Niehus. Batayola was Oregon State's top substitute last year, coming off the bench in 37 games, mainly as a pinch runner.
Another grueling schedule awaits the Beavers in 2012, as the team will play 31 games against teams that advanced to the NCAA Division I Softball Championship a season ago, including 18 matchups against six of the national seeds. Oregon State will also have 28 games against teams that are either ranked in the top 25 or receiving votes in the USA Today/NFCA or ESPN.com/USA Softball preseason polls.
On preparations for the 2012 season... "Everything has been going really well. We're very excited about where the team is at. They've been training really hard. Our conditioning has been the hardest we've ever done and [the team] has been responding. The nice thing for us is that the weather has turned here and we're getting outside. We're pretty excited and ready to go next weekend. We're going to compete a little this weekend in some scrimmages and overall it's been going extremely well."
On areas of emphasis in practice... "I think the conditioning is definitely something we've focused on. [Assistant Coach] Laura Berg has definitely brought in a very competitive and very intense mentality with that, having trained for four Olympics, and that's been really something that's going to make a big difference for us. Not necessarily just their fitness, but their ability to compete, their ability to fight, their ability to deal with adversity is going to really benefit from that. Overall, I think we're better defensively, we're better offensively and I think we're definitely better in the pitching circle. But defensively, we've seen some really great strides, which has been positive. I would say equally I've seen some amazing things happen on the offensive side with what [Assistant Coach] Geoff Hirai has been doing with our hitters."
On the impact of adding Berg and Hirai to the staff... "They're both amazing, both bring great credentials and, most importantly for me, they bring that blue-collar mentality. They both are about working hard. That's how they were as athletes themselves and that's how they've always been where they've been coaching. That's been a great fit. You never know exactly how things will fall into place, but I couldn't be happier with the hire of both of those individuals and what they're bringing to the table every day for our athletes."
On the infield... "We are definitely going to see some things that are a little different than last year. We return almost our entire infield from last year for the most part and I think, with that being said, it's going to look a little different. We have a lot more depth and a lot more flexibility. I think definitely I could say that middle infield is going to look very different and beyond that I think time will tell. Elizabeth Santana and Ya Garcia have definitely made a huge impact and are definitely pushing starters that were in there in the last couple of years for their position."
On the outfield... "Your center field is obviously where you want to base everything from and [freshman] Dani Gilmore in an absolutely exceptional athlete. She struggled a little in the fall, getting comfortable with her leadership and her role out there, but what we have seen in the last month has been really exciting. Physically she is just so talented so we definitely see her keying down our outfield as long as she stays healthy and expect great things out of her."
On the pitching staff and catchers... "The nice thing for us with returning that combo, returning actually our entire pitching staff, has been great. But the combo with Ally Kutz and Tina Andreana has been really, really exciting to see. In the fall we definitely saw that. Ally has put herself in a position where she's now training and competing and going into every day as a leader behind the plate. I think last year she was a position player moving into a catching role, being asked to do that, and she didn't quite own it in the same way. I think that's been really positive to see. Dani Gilmore has also been working behind the plate, but if we're playing well and everyone is staying healthy, we're probably going to be our best with both them right up the middle (catcher and center field)."
"And Tina is such a competitor. It's not necessarily all physical. It's definitely in her heart and her head and that blue-collar grit in the circle is really inspiring to watch and it's going to bring a lot out in her teammates. The fact that she's played a lot of those games in the fall, that she had that great season last year, without having a lot of wins, but had a lot of great performances. I think that's going to translate into more wins this year."
On what the staff asks of the team on a daily basis... "What we're really asking from them is to go in and compete one game at a time, one pitch at a time. We're just going to have to let the wins or losses, the successes or failures, happen. Really what I'm expecting out of them is that they're going to compete every inning, every pitch like it's against the No. 1 team in the country. If we can do that, we're going to be in good shape. It's hard to do. It's challenging to do with the adversity that's going to come at them and that's the second thing that we're asking of them: to plan on how they're going to handle adversity and how they're going to handle struggles when it's not perfect and it's not easy. That's going to be key to our success, dealing with that adversity."
On the difficult schedule and the addition of Utah to the Pac-12... "I don't know that it's going to look a lot or feel a lot different than it has in past years. You can take that as good or bad. That's obviously partially due to how good our conference is. I don't see anything changing. Right now Arizona State is at the top of the heap in the country and they return a freshman pitcher from last year that took them all the way to the National Championship. I think who's on top might be a little different at any given time, but you have nothing but exceptional talent and exceptional coaches and competitive teams right on through the conference."
"The difference of adding in Utah and the impact of that, a lot of it is unknown - traveling to Utah, playing in Utah. We've had to add in a midweek series so this year we're playing Arizona State in a midweek series, which thankfully for us is here at home, but one of those days is a doubleheader. We haven't played doubleheaders in the Pac-12 in a while so that's going to be a little different this year. I think we're up for the challenge, excited for that opportunity and we look forward to it."
On the feasibility of postseason aspirations for this year's team... "Absolutely. I think this team definitely has talent, but more importantly has the focus, desire and work ethic to be a postseason team. Having the fortune to coach postseason teams in the past there is something different about those teams. I certainly feel that's what's coming out in this group right now. There's a lot ahead of us. There are 56 games and a lot of hard travel so time will tell. I'm certainly very optimistic and realistic to think that this team could put us back where we want to be, which is a team that is ranked in the top 20 and a team that is vying for that National Championship by making the postseason."
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