January 28, 2010

ISLANDER SOFTBALL ADDS CHAMPIONSHIP EXPERIENCE

The ultimate goal for Texas A&M-Corpus Christi softball coach Jake Schumann is to take his team to the Division I Women's College World Series and win a national championship. That is the goal of all DI programs throughout the nation, nearly 300 in all, to compete for and take home a national title.

One of the toughest parts of getting there is having the team believe in itself enough to hold up to the pressure of a grueling season and post-season bracket against some of the best teams in the nation.

With his most recent recruiting class, Schumann thinks he has done just what was needed to enable his team to compete for both the regular-season Southland Conference championship and the tournament championship. The tournament title comes along with an automatic NCAA Regional birth and a chance to prove their mettle against the other top teams in the country. To help do that, Schumann has brought in a banner recruiting class with four National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) All-Americans.

Brittany Tucker, Kacie Smith, Caley Jeter and Hannah Schwarz make up the core of the most recent recruiting class and bring along with them a wealth of championship experience. All four players have experience in the NJCAA Women's CWS, with Jeter and Schwarz's team finishing fourth in the country during the 2009 season while Tucker and Smith's Yavapai College Roughriders team won the programs' first national championship.

Tucker holds the Yavapai record for most home runs in a season, hitting 20 this past season as she led her team to a national title. She helped lead them to a 60-8 record on their way to the championship. For her efforts, she was named the Diamond Sports Catcher of the Year for the NJCAA Division. Smith hit 11 home runs and collected 75 RBIs with a .403 batting average in helping the Roughriders to the championship. She stole 23 bases and scored 70 runs. In addition to her offense, she committed just nine errors while playing on the infield.

Jeter batted .498 with 111 hits, six triples, 27 stolen bases and 80 runs scored last season for Blinn Junior College. Schwarz hit for a .538 average and holds the Blinn record for most hits in a season while also being named an Academic All-American.

One of the biggest things that the players bring to the table is experience in pressure situations with championships on the line. Tucker was named the MVP of the NJCAA Women's CWS while Smith was named the Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the tournament. In the deciding game of the CWS, Yavapai was down 1-0 before a two-run home run by Tucker put the Roughriders ahead for good.

That is the type of performance in a pressure situation that Schumann is hoping to continue bringing in as he builds towards a championship level.

"I worked really hard on the recruiting road get these kids to come here with the full intent to not only changing the physical look of our team but the mental aspect of it," said Schumann. "These kids hopefully will bring their winning ways with them from wherever they are from."

"We're still energetic from that win," said Tucker. "We want to bring as much energy as we can and hopefully do it here."

"At first we weren't expected us to win it but, it was all about our attitude," said Smith. "Our coach drilled it into our heads that we were going to do it and she made us believe it.

"The key here is to just play the way we know how and it will take care of itself."

The numbers are also an important part of the recruiting class as Schumann brought in four junior college All-Americans to help distribute the load of the forthcoming expectations.

"If you look at how our team was built the last few years, it was one or two people that felt like they had to carry the load," said Schumann. "When you go and get junior college All-Americans, they understand they are good, they know other players are good and they don't have to be the person to shine all the time. Anytime you can take the pressure off of somebody, you play better."

As teammates, Tucker and Smith know what it means to have someone to help shoulder the expectations.

"All four of us who came in, we're not used to losing and will not just accept losing," said Smith. "That attitude and that swagger will help our team out."

"With the other ones coming in, it helps since we aren't the only ones," said Tucker. "It makes us more comfortable with our surroundings and helps us play our game."

With the start of the 2010 softball season right around the corner, Schumann expects to be a much improved team that will instantly contend for a championship as his talented group of players work together to create a new attitude and winning environment in the Islander softball program.

"Anytime you can bring people of that caliber into your program, you are going to have some credibility," said Schumann. "So far so good, but we'll see when we go and face Stanford if our hard work this fall and everything we are trying to do mentally and physically will pay off for us."