Posted Online: March 26, 2013, 9:48 pm

Q-C College softball outlook

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By Tom Johnston,

Weather-permitting, the softball teams from Augustana College and St. Ambrose University are scheduled to meet today if either school is able to have a field in playable condition.

If they do get to play, it will be an interesting battle between the two local programs. They have built themselves into very solid teams with some lofty goals for the season. Both could be major players in their respective conference races. In fact, add the always dominant Black Hawk program that has ruled the Arrowhead Conference and Region IV play and it could be a banner year for all three local collegiate softball squads.

With expectations and optimism running high, it has become even more frustrating for those on all three teams to wait for some cooperation from Mother Nature.

Here are quick looks at each program heading into the 2013 season:

Augustana Vikings
Coach: Kris Kistler, 14th season, coming off a 25-13 season

Key players: Sr.: Jenna Nelson (C, Orion); Jr.: Sarah Hintz (P, LeRoy, Ill.), Jamie Rehmert (1B/P, Sterling), Chaney Tambling (3b, Dwight), Krista Watson (SS, Coal City); Soph.: Laura Behnke (OF, Wheaton St. Francis), Chelsea Lavin (OF, Downers Grove South), Jenna Teson (2B, Algonquin Jacobs), Christy Wiersema (1B/P, Morrison), Jaclyn Wrona (C, Glenbard South); Fr.: Ashley Anderson (P/1B, Sherrard); Cheyenne Burnett (OF, Rock Falls).

2013 outlook: The Vikings (8-4) opened the season with an 8-2 road trip to Florida which included a pair of victories over NCAA Div. III National Tournament qualifiers Alma and Ferrum. Kistler likes her team's play up the middle, pitching depth and chemistry. The Vikings are a team with a huge up-side, but they play in the CCIW, one of the toughest conferences nationally, and will have to find a way to battle to the level of Illinois Wesleyan and Carthage.

Coach Kistler says: "I really, really like this team. I think we have really good balance in everything we do – pitching, hitting, defense and base running. We have a little bit more speed than we had last year and that can definitely help open some doors.Our conference is going to be really, really tough, but our goal is to always win conference and go from there. It's doable, but it's going to be a very, very tough challenge.''

St. Ambrose Queen Bees
Ron Ferrill, third year at SAU, coming off a 29-27 season.

Key players: Sr.: Britney Carlson (OF, Fort Dodge, Iowa), Kara Devine (OF, Dixon), Sarah Frerichs (OF, Fisher, Ill.), Nichole Garland (OF/P, Springfield, Ill.), Jenna Harshbarger (P/1B, Monticello), Kristen Paulson (1B, Bettendorf), Sammy Saladino (OF, Davenport West); Jr.: Kathryn Brown (Jr., P, Bloomington, Ill.), Stephanie Hebison (Jr., OF, Fremont, Calif.); Soph.: Niki Green (Soph., C, DeWitt), Erin O'Donnell (Soph., SS, Evergreen Park), Kaitlyn Ryser (Soph., 3B, Springfield, Ill.), Leah Smith (Soph. 2B, Marion, Iowa); Fr.: Mackenzie Snowbarger (Fr., utility, Durant).

2013 outlook: Ferrill says this could be the year SAU catches NAIA's nationally ranked William Penn for a Midwest Collegiate Conference title. The Queen Bees are 13-3 and have shown the skills needed to contend. SAU leads the conference in fielding percentage (.968) and batting average (.396). The team's ERA is 3.25, but was goosed by a couple of rough outings. Depth is also key. Ferrill says some of his lineups will be determined by who is swinging the hot bat.

Coach Ferrill says: "This is the school's best chance in over a decade, I would say, to battle for the Midwest Collegiate Conference crown. It's all these kids' second year with me; we brought them all in last year in my big recruiting class – either junior-college transfers or incoming freshmen. … We've got all the tools except maybe the leadership. … Some days, we're a little hit and miss with which team shows up. When we bring our best game, we'll be a handful for anyone in our conference.''

Black Hawk Lady Braves
Carrie Calderon, 18th year as head coach, coming off a 33-17 season.

Key players: Soph.: Emily Medinger (3B, Rockridge), Haley Pulse (P, Camanche); Fr.: Taylor Ambrozi (SS, Moline); Kassi Anderson (CF, Geneseo); Shelby Blair (P/1B, Moline); Karissa Herman (2B, Geneseo); Jordan Marshall (C, Galesburg); Jenna Winthurst (P, Moline).

2013 outlook: The Lady Braves have dominated the Arrowhead Conference in Calderon's tenure, but she thinks this spring that "everybody will beat up on everybody; it doesn't look like there will be one dominant team.'' Expect BHC to be in that hunt, even with a young team – 10 freshmen and only two sophomores – and some players working at new positions. BHC features an explosive offense, solid defense and some dangerous speed that can turn ball games. A young, inexperienced pitching staff will just have to keep the Lady Braves in games and not necessarily win them.

Coach Calderon says: "This team, overall, has to be the best quality team that I have had in the last couple of years. They are a joy to be around and they get along with great team chemistry. They come to practice and work hard, really support each other and have fun. That's what is going to pull us through besides the talent we have on this team.''
-- By Tom Johnston,