For the first time in a number of years, Canisius head
softball coach Mike Rappl will have a
few decisions to make as he fills in his first line-up card of the 2013 season
on Saturday, Feb. 16, when the Golden Griffins play St. Bonaventure at 1 p.m.,
in the Cleveland State Indoor Tournament.
"I would like to think we have more depth on this roster
than on any other team over the last few years," Rappl said of his 2013 team.
"And not only are we deep, but we are going to be able to play some different
lineups because we have a number of kids who are able to play multiple spots.
On paper right now, we have a lot of flexibility."
However, Rappl, who is entering his 34th season at the helm
of the Canisius softball program knows that games aren't played on paper - they
are played on the field. Over the past two seasons, the injury bug has played a
major role against the Blue and Gold and there are still some signs of that injury
bug around today. Seniors Katie Medina
and Stephanie Pfentner hit their
final year in a Canisius uniform after sitting out the fall season in 2012 as
they rehabbed from injuries and redshirt sophomore Marissa Miller has dealt with shoulder troubles. Rappl also
understands it is a long season and no other team in the MAAC is worried about
Canisius' injury issues.
"To win a conference championship, you need to work hard, take
care of your business, get lucky and stay healthy," Rappl said. "Our kids know
that because of our history and success in this league that they are going to
get everyone's best shot every day. We have to be ready. Over the last few
years we really had our hands tied because we had injuries to key players at
various times throughout the year. We addressed that a bit by adding some players
that can play a few different positions in case we do get injuries. And if
everyone is healthy, then we have all sorts of options. Roster flexibility is a
Rappl is stressing to his team to stay even keel throughout
the long season, which is scheduled to run from Feb. 16 through May 4 when the
Griffs meet Siena in the regular-season finale. He doesn't want his team to get
too high after wins or too low after a loss, and he believes the mental make-up
of this year's team is up to the challenge.
"Our team chemistry has been good from day one," he said. "We've
been stressing to stay even keel throughout the season. There needs to be a
mindset and a mentality in place to see the end goal is bigger than just a
five-game stretch here and there. I'm pretty confident this group understands
that and we're at a good place as the season starts."
Canisius' opening day lineup will feature two returners on
the right side and two freshmen on the left side. Medina will move to first
base for this season after playing second base and at shortstop for most of her
career. The senior from Hamburg, N.Y., led the team with her .330 batting
average last season and she drove in 13 runs, but she missed 17 games because
of injury. Sophomore Robin Kennery
will move from third base to second base this season. Kennery played second
base a bit in 2012 when Medina was out with her injuries, and she is one of two
players, along with junior Valorie Nappo
that played in and started all 50 games a season ago. Kennery hit .275 and led
the 2012 squad with her 10 doubles and 25 RBIs and she also posted a .951
fielding percentage in her rookie campaign.
Freshman Alexis Roman
will get the start at shortstop for the Griffs in her rookie year. Roman, a
native of Chino, Calif., was named All-CIF four four-straight seasons at Don
Antonio Lugo High School and she earned Defensive MVP honors two times. She has
a strong arm and great mobility and she hit better than .300 during her senior year
in high school.
Fellow freshman Meghan
Cuda will start at third base for the Griffs. Cuda was an All-Western New
York and an all-state honoree in her time as an infielder at nearby
Lewiston-Porter High School. A team captain and the Lewiston-Porter team MVP in
2010 and 2012, she hit .485 during her high school career, where she earned
five varsity letters.
"Both Alexis and Meghan got to play a lot during the fall
season and I think they showed they can handle the work load for us," Rappl
said. "They both have strong arms and they can both cover a lot of ground.
Meghan is not afraid to charge the ball in our bunt defense and Alexis has
shown that she has the ability to make tough plays look routine."
Rappl also has the ability to move as many as four different
players into various infield spots this season. Valorie Nappo, who started all
50 games at first base last season, has been moved to right field, but she can
play first base if needed. The Griffs can also get time at first base from
Miller, who will most likely serve as the team's designated player and back-up
catcher. Sophomore Erica Afanador
can play either of the middle infield positions in addition to her ability to
patrol the outfield and freshman Bethany
DeMarco has the ability to play at third base when she's not behind the
"The flexibility with our infield is key," Rappl said. "If
we put DeMarco at third, we know she's be ready to go. She has a strong arm and
understands what it takes to play there. Erica Afanador played some infield for
us last season and I would expect she could see some time there again this year
as well. A few years ago, if one of our infielders went down, we struggled
defensively. That doesn't appear to be the case this year."
The reputation of the Canisius outfield is speed, speed,
speed, and this year's group is no different. Canisius lost two seniors to
graduation last May as former Griffs Lizzy
Gatto and Lauren Falzone earned
their degrees from the College after roaming the outfield for four-straight
seasons. Sophomore Michelle DelPrince,
will be back in left field again this year. Last year as a freshman, DelPrince
hit .248 with four doubles, two home runs, 14 runs scored and 15 runs batted in
while being credited with three defensive assists. Joining DelPrince in the
outfield this season will be Valorie Nappo, who will play in right and her
younger sister Tori Nappo, who will
take over the reigns in center field. Tori Nappo helped lead Clarence High
School to the 2012 New York State Class AA championship after she hit .500 with
10 homers in her senior campaign. Valorie Nappo, who was named a team
co-captain along with fellow junior Jen
Consaul last fall, ranked third on the 2012 team with 23 RBIs and she also
stole four bases to go with 375 defensive putouts from her first base position.
Afanador will also see time in right field for the Griffs after she played in
43 games last year. Senior Chloe
Contreras can fill in defensively in the outfield, but Rappl will most
likely use her as a pinch runner, a role she has filled the three previous
seasons. Joining Contreras as a reserve in the outfield is sophomore Kali Michalski, who played in 20 games
last season off the bench and scored five runs to go with two stolen bases.
PITCHERS AND CATCHERS
Canisius will have one of the league's most experienced pitching
staffs in 2013, as senior Amanda Baun,
Consaul and sophomore Corrine Schaus
return to the circle for the Blue and Gold. Those three pitchers have combined
to throw 545.1 innings of college action and Consaul starts her junior season
as a 2013 Preseason All-MAAC selection, as voted on by the MAAC's nine head
Consaul led Canisius last year with her nine wins in 18
starts. She fanned 75 batters in 139.1 innings of work and compiled 10
complete-game and four shutout wins. Schaus made 16 appearances in her rookie
season of 2012 where she posted a 3-2 record with a 2.76 ERA and 21 strikeouts
in 53.1 innings of work.
Canisius hopes that Baun will return to the level that she
showed in her freshman season of 2010. That year, the Riverside, Calif., native
was named Second-Team All-MAAC after she went 18-12 with a 1.99 ERA in 31
appearances. In the last two seasons, she has appeared in a total of 27 games.
"I am very pleased with our pitchers through the fall and
the early spring, now we just need to maintain that progress and get stronger,"
Rappl said. "All of our pitchers have been working hard and they all understand
what it takes to win at this level. I believe you can be in every game if you
get good pitching and good defense. It's good to know that on paper our
pitching staff is stronger than it was at this time last season."
Pfentner is coming off a back injury that kept her out of
the fall season, but the three-year letterwinner will be the Griffs' primary
catcher when the year begins in Cleveland on Feb. 16. She played in 33 games
last year and made 30 starts where she hit .218 while ranking second on the
roster with three homers. Rappl doesn't believe he'll be able to have Pfentner
catch every game, so DeMarco will see time behind the plate for sure, and
Miller might get the call to go behind the dish from time-to-time as well.
Rappl says he is confident in all of his catchers, but having a senior leader
like Pfentner behind the plate puts him a little more at ease.
"Catching at this level is hard, and we ask our catchers to
do a lot for us," he said. "They have to know what pitchers throw which pitches
in various situations and they have to have a feel for the game. Steph has that
experience because she has been playing for us for three years already. There
will be a bit of a learning curve for Bethany back there, but she showed us in
the fall that she's willing to learn and she keeps getting better. Would I like
to have the same catcher every game - absolutely. But with our schedule, I don't
think that is an option."
Canisius is scheduled to play its first 29 games on the road
or at a neutral venue before the 2013 home opener against St. Bonaventure on
Monday, April 8. That twinbill with the Bonnies will mark the start of 15-straight
home dates for the Griffs between April 8-24. The Griffs will start the season
by taking part in four tournaments, including the George Mason Cherry Blossom Classic
March 15-17, where the Griffs will play against the host Patriots, Ohio State
The MAAC portion of the 2013 slate will get underway April
6, when Canisius plays at Rider. The Blue and Gold will host eight-straight
MAAC games from April 13-21, highlighted by the annual doubleheader with
long-time rival Niagara, and then team will close out MAAC play at Iona,
Fairfield and Siena. Rappl expects the MAAC to be as competitive as ever this
year and he believes any number of five different teams can win the
conference's automatic berth to the NCAA Division I Softball Championships in May.
"From top to bottom, this league is going to be tough," he
said. "You look at teams like Fairfield and Marist and they have been tested
and are looking to make the next step. Iona is the three-time defending
champion, so they have pride and experience on their side too, and Siena has
one of the league's best players. Our goal is to win the MAAC. That's our
expectation each and every year. I think our non-league schedule will have us
ready to go for when we get into conference games in March."
The 2013 MAAC Softball Championships will be held
at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., from May 9-11. Canisius qualified for
the 2012 MAAC Championship with an 11-5 league mark, the program's 21st
trip to the conference's postseason championship in the last 23 years.