LANCASTER, Pa. – Franklin & Marshall's head softball coach Mike Cooperstein is filled with excitement and anticipation for the upcoming 2012 season. Cooperstein, who is entering his fifth-year at the helm, lost one senior and returns all of his starters from last year's team that tied the school record for wins.
"We have an amazing team coming back and added a great group of freshmen," said Cooperstein. "It's our goal to compete for the Centennial Conference (CC) Championship, and earn a NCAA bid. We have the talent, they just have to believe in themselves."
F&M was picked to finish fifth out of nine teams in the CC preseason coaches' poll that was released on Thursday. The Diplomats (22-13-1, 8-8 CC) finished last season in sixth place in the CC, missing the playoffs by two games. In order to prepare his team for conference play, Cooperstein scheduled this year's first 18 games against seven of the top 25 teams in the country. "I want the league schedule to seem easier. In the long run it will benefit us to play those tougher games," added Cooperstein.
Along with returning all of last year's starters, F&M also welcomes three freshmen to the program. Sarah Kirk will join the Diplomats outfield, Justine Lohrey will be a back-up on the mound, and Samantha Ginder will see playing time in the infield, primarily at second base.
Highlighting the list of returners is Malorie Sassaman. Last season the second-basemen was an All-CC First Team selection after an impressive rookie season in which she led the team and ranked second in the conference with a .438 batting average. Sassaman set the school record for hits in a season with 57, while having a .947 fielding percentage. This season, the sophomore will find herself playing behind the plate, second base, and right field.
With a year of experience under their belts, Caitlin Brust and Ashley Hartshorn will be calling the shots from the catcher position, while junior Laura Wagoner adds depth behind the plate. Wagoner will also find herself in the outfield and in the designated hitter (DH) spot for the Diplomats.
Last season, sophomore Nicole Casey led F&M in innings pitched with 111.2. Casey along with Kaitlin Zampino are expected to be in the rotation for the Diplomats. Casey totaled 72 strikeouts and held opponents to a .267 batting average last season, while sophomore Zampino pitched 73.1 innings last year, with 35 strikeouts. In addition to her pitching duties, Zampino will also DH for F&M, batting .400 last season. Along with Lohrey, sophomore Liz Middleton will also toe the rubber this season.
Amanda Schellaci will be playing third base, senior Megan Pauley and Middleton will start the season at first. Sassaman and Ginder will both see time at second, and sophomore Julie Jefferson, who also surpassed the school record for hits is tied for second with 48, will be holding down the shortstop position.
The outfield will be led by junior Danielle Murphy, who was an All-CC Second Team selection for the second season in a row last year. Joining her will be All-CC Honorable Mention sophomore Alicia Kukoda, along with Hartshorn, sophomore Rachel Laufer, Kirk, and junior Julianne Whitleigh.
Despite still having a young squad with just five upperclassmen, Cooperstein feels his team is ready to take the next step.
"With a year of experience together under their belts, this group has the potential to take F&M softball to where it has never been before," concluded Cooperstein.
The Diplomats begin the season on Friday, March 2 when they compete in the Beach Bash held at Virginia Wesleyan. F&M's first game is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. against Virginia Wesleyan.