February 27, 2014
MADISON, S.D. - With the 2014 season on the horizon, the Trojans look to build on what was a mixed season in 2013. During the 2013 campaign, the Trojans showed signs of a team that was talented but not ready to be a challenger, yet. One year later, the 2014 team (11 returning players, including 4 NFCA All-Region selections and the returning conference Player-of-the-Year) looks to embark on what they hope will be the most successful season in Trojan history, as they challenge for a berth to the national tournament.
The 2014 squad is comprised of 4 seniors, 5 juniors, 4 sophomores, and 10 freshmen. "In the big picture, we are still a young team; having 14 players that are sophomores and freshman," said head coach Ken Prorok. "One of the keys for us this season will be our versatility. Many of our athletes can and will play multiple positions this year. That versatility has made practice very competitive which I feel will help us compete all season and will eliminate that sense of complacency that sometimes affects teams as the year progresses."
Prorok does think the team has improved in several areas, specifically speed and athleticism. "This team will be an exciting team. Athletically, we are a better team. We have seen tremendous gains in our overall athleticism due to our revamped strength and conditioning program. We are without a doubt a faster and stronger team than we have been in the past." added Prorok.
The catching position has turned into a strength for the Trojans as they enter a third consecutive season with an NFCA All-Region catcher behind the plate. Sophomore Elizabeth Rubalcava, a NFCA All-Region selection last year will garner the majority of the work behind the plate this season, while freshmen Marita Rasche will look to relieve Rubalcava during the season.
Rubalcava hit .383 last season while gunning down just over 20 percent of would be base runners. Rasche is perhaps one of the most versatile young athletes the Trojans have had since Jessica VanLoy (2006-08), she has the ability to play anywhere on the field with the exception of in the circle. "We are blessed to have an extremely deep and talented group behind the plate," said Prorok, "Both Liz (Rubalcava) and Marita have proven they have the ability to manage the game and handle our pitching staff. As far as Marita goes behind the plate, she is a good receiver and this fall she recorded the best P.O.P time in school history so there is no doubt both can play."
The infield will see a mix of veterans and new talent, as three of the four positions are open. Junior Brittany Hill looks to make the move from third base to first. Brittany, a two-time All-Conference selection and reigning conference Player-of-the-Year, was selected as a NFCA All-Region selection last season as well. During her young career, she has posted a .469 batting average and ranks in the top 10 in over 20 different career and single season categories. Sophomores Shai-Lee Hill, Jeni Misko, and freshman Marita Rasche will also potentially see some time at first base this season. Shai-Lee hit .241 for the Trojans last season in 54 at-bats. Misko, who is hoping to crack the starting line-up this season, worked very hard during the off-season and showed signs of offensive productivity this fall.
At third base, it looks to be a two person battle as junior transfer Kelli Heiser and freshman Stephanie Sandoval look to secure the "hot corner" this year for the Trojans. Heiser last played at NCAA D-II, Black Hills State University (S.D.) where she hit .262 in 61 at-bats, while having a .443 slugging percentage. "We have been fortunate to have an All-Conference caliber third baseman in five of my seven years as head coach and I feel that both Kelli and Steph have that type of potential as illustrated by their work this fall," stated Prorok.
In the middle of the infield, the Trojans may use several different combinations this season while utilizing as many as seven different athletes. Seniors Katie Slibowski and Chelsey John bring the most experience to the middle of the infield. Last season, the two combined to start in 67 of 68 games for the Trojans. Slibowski played primarily second base when she was not in the circle. John, a true utility player, saw time at second base, third base, and the outfield in 2013. Slibowski hit .317 while John hit .276 the combo also paired up to steal 18 bases last season. Sophomore Bretton Lien also saw time at second base when not in the circle and also hit .268 as a true freshman. The remaining four athletes are all incoming freshman and are part of a very gifted group. Erica Belter, Samantha Mitchell, Morgan Jaime, and Stephanie Sandoval will all compete for time this spring. Belter possesses great speed and is a strong fielder. Mitchell has a lot of "pop" in her bat and has a strong arm. Jaime is blessed with a strong glove and is a productive hitter at the plate. Sandoval has great hands a strong release and handles the bat well.
Just like the infield, the Trojans look to utilize as many as seven different athletes in the outfield this season. Expected to patrol center field again this year is another selection to the 2013 NFCA All-Region team, senior Audrey Lorenz. Last season, Lorenz hit .430 for the Trojans while scoring 34 runs. Joining her in the outfield will be retuning junior Lexy Miller, and incoming freshmen Rachel Hughes, Lynnie Angle, Rebecca Burlingame, Stephanie Sandoval, and Erica Belter. Miller has played in 62 games over the past two years and brings remarkable speed to go with her experience. She currently ranks sixth in career stolen bases. "I am very excited about the improvements we have made in the outfield. The past few years our overall outfield defense has been lacking and I think this group can make a significant improvement on our overall defense." said Prorok.
In the circle, the Trojans return four pitchers from last year's squad. Katie Slibowski, who led the team in wins, strikeouts, and innings pitched, while holding opponents to a .264 batting average. Senior Lori Harshbarger and sophomores Bretton Lien and Shai-Lee Hill also return to the circle this season. Combined the four recorded 125 strikeouts in 154 innings of work while allowing only 51 extra base hits. These hurlers will be joined by junior transfer Ellie Kristensen, and Rachel Hughes. Kristensen went 25-7 while at West Valley C.C. (CA.) last season. "Confidence, confidence, and more confidence is what we are preaching to this pitching staff. Every person on this staff has the ability to be a key contributor to our teams' success this year. Our focus is getting our pitchers confident and comfortable to take the circle with their best pitches. We are not going to try to manage 5, 6 or even 7 different pitches, but utilize 3 maybe 4 and have great control of those." said Prorok.
DESIGNATED PLAYER (DP)
With defense at a premium combined with the depth that this years' team has, a player without a clear postion but a strong bat could end up at the designated player spot. Anyone who proves themselves with the bat this year could get some at-bats as the DP. Abby Wisell may be one of those players. Wisell, Hughes, Mitchell, and others may also fill this role during the season. All of these three young talented hitters are capable of hitting over .300 during their college careers.
Nick Huntimer, Dakota State University Sports Information Director