PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A southbound escape from colder climates begins on Friday as the Brown softball team kicks off its 2014 season with five games in three days at the UNC Wilmington Beach Bash. Under the direction of second-year Head Coach Katie Flynn, the Bears take on Bucknell and UNC Wilmington twice and UNC Greensboro once in the season-opening tournament, beginning against the Bison on Friday at 9 a.m.
"I am excited to go back to North Carolina," Flynn said. "It is a good mix of teams with Bucknell, UNCW and UNCG. Opening weekend is always exciting and we look forward to seeing some dirt. It will be a good challenge."
Flynn will see some familiar faces this weekend in UNCW head coach Kristy Norton and assistant coach Meredith Felts. Norton was an All-Southern Conference player at UNCW during Flynn's head coaching stint and was an assistant to Flynn at James Madison when the pair coached a Colonial Athletic Association Championship team that featured Felts on its roster.
Flynn acknowledges that defense kept Brown in games last year and the Bears are working hard to improve their numbers at the plate.
"Defensively we were one of the best teams in the Ivy League last year and I think we are much improved and more versatile this year," Flynn said. "Offensively is where we need to grow the most and we have more weapons to do so. Our approach is just to have quality at bats and get better each at bat."
KRIES, WILLIAMS, CHAVEZ NAMED CAPTAINS
Seniors Jen Kries (Mission Viejo, Calif.) and Kelsey Williams (Greenwood, Ind.) and junior Trista Chavez (San Pedro, Calif.) will serve as team captains for the 2014 season as voted upon by the members of the team.
Kries appeared in 35 games as a junior with 31 starts while collecting 16 hits and eight RBI. She patrolled the middle infield for 40 putouts while ripping two doubles and a triple.
Williams was one of four Bears to start all 38 games in 2013. She was a perfect 5-for-5 in stolen base attempts and played flawless defense in the outfield, making 47 putouts and handling 53 chances without an error.
Chavez, an Honorable Mention All-Ivy selection in 2013, had a stellar sophomore campaign during which she started all 38 games. She had Brown's second highest batting average at .330, notching 33 hits in 100 at-bats. Her eight home runs were a team-high and fifth best in the Ivy League, while her 32 RBI were good for second in the league and just four shy of Brown's single season record. Chavez complied a .429 on-base percentage, which ranked seventh in the league, while her .630 slugging percentage was sixth.
CHERNESS RETURNS TO LEAD PITCHING STAFF
Junior Jessica Cherness (Torrance, Calif.) returns as the veteran of the pitching staff after winning half of Brown's games last season. The hurler ranked ninth in the Ivy League with 18 starts and 12th with 96.2 innings pitched en route to eight complete games and 41 strikeouts. Cherness will mentor three freshman who look to make a quick contribution in the circle: Christina Andrews (Southlake, Texas), Gina Chieffallo (Eynon, Pa.) and Leah Nakashima (San Jose, Calif.).
"Gaining experience and adjusting to this level of play will be a key factors for us," said Flynn. "We are encouraging our pitchers to pitch to contact and let their defense do the work behind them."
Andrews, who Flynn says is the staff's hardest thrower, will use her versatility to play the infield when not on the mound. Nakashima used a productive fall to improve her already-impressive spin and Chieffallo brings championship-level experience after winning a state title at Valley View High School.
BEHIND THE DISH
Sophomore catcher Alex Scott (Santa Cruz, Calif.) handled the bulk of the innings last season, starting 35 of Brown's 38 games. Scott figures in at the top of the depth chart after gunning down nine runners stealing last season, while freshman Julia Schoenewald (Jamison, Pa.) will add a powerful bat to the middle of the lineup when she catches.
Sophomore Jamie Pospishil (Wayne, N.J.) will add depth at catcher. Pospishil can also play the outfield and hit .276 in 21 appearances last season.
LEUNG ANCHORS THE INFIELD
All-Ivy sophomore shortstop Janet Leung (Mississauga, Ontario) comes off a standout rookie campaign in which she started all 38 games, batted .277, slugged .378 and drove in 12 runs. After helping Team Canada to a fifth-place finish at the 2013 International Softball Federation World Championships, Leung will be a cornerstone of the Brown lineup.
Kries has the edge at second base after 31 starts last season and sophomore Molly Ann Mecca (Jessup, Pa.) will challenge Kries as the backup. Chavez will see time at both corner infield positions and is the team's top returning hitter after batting .330 with eight home runs and 32 RBI to earn All-Ivy honors in 2013. Andrews bids to start at third when not pitching, while Schoenewald, junior Kelsey Hom (Santa Monica, Calif.) and junior Sam Brady (Vienna, Va.) will work in at first.
WILLIAMS COMMANDS THE OUTFIELD
Williams, who started every game last season, will split time between center and left field with freshman Casey Fisher (Oro Valley, Ariz.), who boasts Brown's strongest outfield arm and will contend for the leadoff spot as a slapper. Seniors Danielle Palms (Smithfield, R.I.) and Kristin Watterlond (East Granby, Conn.) are veterans in right field, while Schoenewald and freshman lefty Sarah Syrop (Kennesaw, Ga.) have been working out in right. Rookie Lauren Hanna (Milford, Mass.) adds explosive speed to the outfield corps and will be a threat on the base paths.
NEW ASSISTANTS WALK THE WALK
The 2014 season will be the first with assistant coaches Kate Refsnyder and Megan Lamoureux on the Bears' bench. Refsnyder joined the staff in September of 2013 and Lamoureux began her duties in January. The coaches are recently removed from successful playing careers that segued seamlessly into the coaching realm.
Refsnyder brings coaching experience from all three NCAA Divisions. Most recently, she served as the head coach at Albright College, a Division III institution in Reading, Pa., where she guided the Lions to their most wins since 2008. She landed four players on All-Conference teams and revamped a pitching staff that tossed a perfect game and two no-hitters while lowering its earned run average by 3.67 runs per game. At Coastal Carolina, Refsnyder served three seasons as an assistant coach and helped steer the Chanticleers to a 2012 Big South Championship and an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Refsnyder was a four-year member of the softball team at Wagner College, where she pitched and played second and third base for the Seahawks. As a senior, she earned Second Team All-Northeast Conference as a utility player.
A two-time Second Team All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference catcher, Lamoureux served as a captain for the Red Foxes. Her name appears in the Marist record books in several categories, including sixth in single-season runs (37), ninth in single-season batting average (.367) and eighth in career home runs (13). As a coach with the Rhode Island Thunder, she worked with the catchers and infielders while helping call pitches during games.
WHIRLWIND IVY LEAGUE SCHEDULE
The Bears begin the season with 20 non-league games over three tournaments at UNC Wilmington, Loyola Marymount and George Washington. Ivy League play opens up with doubleheaders at Columbia on Mar. 28 and defending Ivy League Champion Penn on Mar. 29, giving way to a whirlwind of 26 games in 30 days. Of those 26 contests, only six are non-conference, including Brown's home opener against Ocean State rival Bryant on Apr. 3.
Home Ivy doubleheaders against Cornell on Apr. 5 and Princeton on Apr. 6 precede eight away games. Double dips at Rhode Island (Apr. 9) and Holy Cross (Apr. 15) bookend a four-game weekend series at Harvard on Apr. 12-13, leading the Bears into their final week of regular season play. Brown hosts Dartmouth for four league tilts on Apr. 19-20, then travels across town to take on Providence in non-conference action on Apr. 23. The Bears wrap up the regular season with a pair of home-and-home doubleheaders versus Yale on Apr. 25-26.