Archive for Saturday, August 11, 2001

KU motivated by last season

Jayhawks driven by ‘bitter disappointment’ of NCAA snub

August 11, 2001


Now it's time for Kansas University's softball team to kick it up a notch.

Predicted to finish ninth in the 10-team Big 12 Conference last spring, the Jayhawks wound up tied for third behind national powers Nebraska and Oklahoma.

With eight seniors returning, KU coach Tracy Bunge isn't worried about complacency, not with the NCAA declining to hand the Jayhawks a postseason bid in 2001.

"The bitter disappointment at the end of the year has inspired these kids," Bunge said. "They're using that as motivation."

Kansas, 10-8 in the league and 32-27 overall, stunned the conference with its unexpected lusty hitting KU set school records for doubles and home runs and with the emergence of pitcher Kara Pierce.

Pierce, who hails from suburban Phoenix, was named the Big 12 freshman of the year after compiling a 22-11 record and a 1.91 earned run average.

Bunge, a former KU pitcher herself, expects an even better sophomore season out of Pierce who struggled early, battled some mid-season arm problems, then finished strong.

"She has a real good understanding of what she needs to do to get better," Bunge said. "She's been teaching pitching to young kids in camp this summer, and there's no better way to learn than to teach."

Improved command, Bunge feels, can elevate Pierce to a place among the nation's elite.

"She has great ball movement," Bunge said, "but she needs to work on consistent location. She also needs to work on an off-speed pitch. If she gets that, she'll be really nasty."

Kirsten Milhoan, another tall right-hander, was even more inconsistent than Pierce in her first year with the Jayhawks. Milhoan finished with an 8-13 record and a 2.76 ERA.

"At the end of the year she threw real well against Nebraska, and that helped her confidence," Bunge said. "She's motivated to improve."

Milhoan, who spent one year at an Arizona junior college before transferring, had more walks than strikeouts and threw an unsightly 21 wild pitches last spring.

Milhoan figures to be pressed for the No. 2 mound job by Serena Settlemier, the reigning Gatorade Player of the Year in Washington. Settlemier compiled a 17-2 record an an 0.16 ERA while hurling for Kelso High.

"Serena has a very different motion. It's not something I would teach, but it's not something I'm going to mess with," Bunge said. "She throws 62 to 63 miles per hour and will be our hardest thrower."

Settlemier will have to adjust, however, from pitching from 40 feet in high school to 43 feet in college.

In the field, Bunge lost only one starter right fielder Erin Garvey to graduation. Garvey's spot will probably be filled by either Mel Wallach, a sophomore who had only 24 at-bats last season and hit .125, or incoming freshman Lindsey Weinstein, a left-handed slap hitter (like Garvey) from Tarzana, Calif.

"If we need to, we can play Lindsey at first base, too," Bunge said. "She's only 5-(foot)-3 or 5-4, but defensively she's a very good first baseman."

Junior Leah Hansen was the regular first baseman last season, but Hansen, an Olathe East product who spent her freshman year at Syracuse, had only 10 RBI and only four extra-base hits.

"Offense is the big question with Leah," Bunge said. "She was very streaky last year."

Also in the first-base picture is Leah Mountain, a Maize product who sat out the 2000 season with a knee injury, then played in only eight games last spring.

The remaining six starting positions belong to six seniors who have mostly been starters since they were freshmen.

They are:

Catcher Leah Tabb. Oklahoma City product hit 12 of the Jayhawks' record 26 home runs, posted a glossy .577 slugging average and made the All-Big 12 team.

Third baseman Megan Urquhart. Shawnee Mission Northwest grad hit career high .308, committed only 10 errors and made the All-Big 12 team.

Shortstop Courtney Wright. Left-handed hitter from Tucson, Ariz., led Jayhawks with a .314 batting average. Second-team All-Big 12 pick.

Second baseman Amy Hulse. Olathe East grad hit .234 as a freshman and sophomore, but boosted batting average of .284 in 2000 and earned second team all-conference honors.

Leftfielder Christi Musser. Learned she had diabetes in off-season, sought treatment and muscled up. Hit .289 with .513 slugging percentage. Astonished everyone by clubbing three home runs in one game against Iowa State.

Centerfielder Shelly Musser. Christi's twin sister made All-Big 12 as a freshman and sophomore, but slipped to second team in 2001 because she played sparingly late in season with nagging shoulder injury. Still hit .307 and led Jayhawks with 16 stolen bases.

Katie Campbell, another senior, is essentially also a returning starter because she played in all 59 games, mainly as the Designated Player. Campbell hit only .224, but she led the Big 12 with 16 doubles and drove in 23 runs

Tabb, Wright and Shelly Musser all underwent operations in the offseason.

Tabb had arthroscopic surgery on her right shoulder. The Jayhawks' all-time single-season home run leader was forced to play in the outfield sometimes because her arm was so sore.

"She had a partial tear in the rotator cuff," Bunge said. "I'm hoping she'll be able to bounce back. If not, we'll play her in right field because we need her bat in the lineup."

Shelly Musser underwent ankle surgery to remove bone chips. Musser's back, Bunge said, apparently cleared up with rest.

Wright could be out as long as four month after undergoing knee surgery. "I expect her to be 100 percent next spring," Bunge said.

Urquhart didn't have surgery, but she took six weeks off after the season to rest an aching back that plagued her down the stretch.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.