Since his highly regarded softball program isn’t broke, Linfield coach Jackson Vaughan doesn’t feel the need to try and tinker with has been working so well over the last decade, a period when the Wildcats won 10 consecutive Northwest Conference titles, four regional crowns and a pair of national titles in 2007 and 2011.
“Our goals are to try to continue to compete at the national level,” said Vaughan, now 450-101-1 in 12 seasons. “We want to win the conference and reach as high beyond that as possible as we possibly can.”
Strictly speaking from a pitching point of view, the Wildcats appear to have all the talent and experience needed to form an outstanding staff. 2012 All-American Karina Paavola, a senior on pace to break the school’s all-time wins record, joins fellow senior Shelby VandeBergh to form the NWC’s top 1-2 tandem. Left-handed junior Montana McNealy is expected to figure prominently in the Wildcats’ success. Sophomore Maddy Dunn, a rising talent coming off a steady freshman campaign, complete the staff.
“All four pitchers do certain things very well. That gives us a lot of options. But we have to be more consistent,” said Vaughan, hopeful of lowering last season’s team ERA of 1.75.
McKenna Spieth will backstop the Wildcats behind the plate. Spieth recorded the bulk of innings at catcher last season and has improved her offensive capability during the offseason, said Vaughan. Freshman Erin Tauscher or senior Haylie Watson can give Spieth a breather, when needed.
“Our infield has the opportunity to be very good,” said Vaughan. “There’s more range and athleticism up the middle.”
At first base, Watson and All-America slugger Lisa Yamamoto both return. They are joined by freshmen Danielle Duman and Tori Harrington-Boss.
Ashley Garcia, a two-time all-region second baseman, slides over to her more natural position of third base. Backing up Garcia at third are Erin Kinney and Erin Tautfest.
Three freshmen are vying for the starting spot at second base. Kenzie Schmoll, Alissa Buss and Kaela Ingram are each excellent athletes and who starts likely will hinge on offensive production.
Two-year starter Katy Brosig returns to her spot at shortstop with Ingram and Schmoll backing her up.
The outfield features two returning starters in All-American Erin Carson in right field and all-conference standout Grace Middelstadt in center field. Both players spent time studying abroad so may need a few games to get their timing back. Competing for time in left field are a handful of freshman: Duman Alexis Michael, and Mikaela Vilora, along with sophomore Kristen Vroom. Hoping to earn time behind Middelstadt in center field are Buss and Alex Andreotti. Candidates in right field are Harrington-Boss, Britney Bradley and Cassie Finn.
Linfield hit .352 as a team last spring, and with eight starters returning to the lineup, there’s every reason to believe the Wildcats will again be an offensive juggernaut.
“Offensively, we have a lot of potential. We have more athleticism than we’ve had in the past,” said Vaughan. It’s now a matter of bringing those athletic players up to speed in terms of softball skills and execution.”
Attempting to unseat the 10-time NWC champion Wildcats from their accustomed position atop the standings are Whitworth, Pacific Lutheran, Willamette, Pacific and George Fox.
“If all the pieces fall in place - we stay healthy and the players come close to reaching their potential – then the sky’s the limit,” said Vaughan. “We have to continue to practice and prepare in order to compete with the best teams in the country.”