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February 11, 2010

Mixture of new and returning talent gives Hokies a chance to get back to winning ways

By: Matt Kovatch

After transferring from Tennessee, junior Ashton Ward will do double duty for the Hokies, serving as one of the team’s top pitchers and also providing a solid bat in the lineup.

When a softball team loses six seniors, including an All-American, four other four-year starters and its top five hitters, it’s normally a bad sign for the following season. But for the 2010 Virginia Tech Hokies, the outlook is a bit more sunny than one might expect.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” head coach Scot Thomas said. “We’ve brought in a lot of good players who are very focused and who have similar ability levels to the ones whom we lost. We’ve got little things that we’ve been able to add in there that we didn’t have last year.

“I think we’re much stronger and deeper at the catching position. Ashton Ward comes in and really gives us a double dose of pitching and hitting. Plus, we get Misty Hall and Richelle McGarva back, and they would’ve probably been among our top four or five hitters last year. We’re deeper, we’re pretty athletic and we have good team chemistry. We’ve just got a great overall makeup right now.”

Coming off a College World Series appearance in 2008, last year’s team clawed its way to a 28-28 record (8-10 ACC) as it dealt with one huge loss (the graduation of national player of the year Angela Tincher), two unexpected absences (Hall’s season-long suspension by the university and McGarva’s season-ending ankle injury after just five games) and major depth issues at the pitching and catching positions.

Because of that, the handful of returnees who experienced last year’s struggles will be counted on to pull a group of 11 newcomers through whatever the 2010 season may bring.

“I think they [Tech’s veterans] learned how to take on adversity last year,” Thomas said. “I think the girls just kind of took it in stride and tried to be the best that they could be. I was very proud of the team last year – I think that makes you stronger. We have a lot of new faces who didn’t have that experience, but the leadership that we can gain from the ones who have experienced a little adversity will help us to be tougher.”

To see how the veterans and new faces will mix together, here’s a quick look at each of Tech’s positional areas:


The pitching staff looks to be in much better shape this year, thanks to the addition of Ward and the maturation of sophomore Kristin Graham. Because Graham dealt with arm problems last year, most of the pitching load fell on current junior Kenzie Roark and departed transfer Abbie Rexrode. But Graham is said to be vastly improved, and Ward arrives from Tennessee just two years after earning all-region honors with a 27-5 record, a 1.88 ERA and 187 strikeouts in 204.1 innings pitched.

“Ashton takes a lot of pressure off the others,” Thomas said. “Even though Kenzie was a sophomore last year, she was more like a freshman because Angela threw so many innings the year before. She was still in a growing year herself, but now she’s got that confidence of having shouldered some of the load and she can look over her shoulder and realize she’s not the only horse in the barn.”


The return of Hall, arguably the most feared hitter on Tech’s World Series team in 2008, will not only be a huge lift to the Hokies’ offense, but she will also provide a steady glove from her shortstop position. Next to Hall at the hot corner will be junior Kristina Cruz, a transfer from Santa Fe (Fla.) College who is a tremendous defensive third baseman with great instincts and a great arm. Freshman Bkaye Smith, who will likely serve as Tech’s slap-hitting leadoff batter, will use her athleticism and range to step in at second base. Either Ward or Graham will see most of the time at first base, depending on who is pitching at the time.

“Defensively, it may be one of the best infields we’ve ever had,” Thomas said. “We know what Misty can do as a shortstop, and Kristina came to us more as a defensive player anyway. Very few balls are going to get by Bkaye, and Kristin or Ashton will be a solid answer at first.”


McGarva, a former junior-college player, was supposed to be one of the Hokies’ major contributors last year until an injury cut her season short, but she returns with a positive attitude to anchor the outfield from her position in center. Next to her in right will be senior Whitney Davis, who returns for her fourth year as a starter.

“Whitney’s looked really good and she probably has the strongest arm on the team,” Thomas said. “She’s been working hard and she wants to be a leader. Richelle is ready to finally get a season under her belt as a Division-I player. She’s going to give us a little more speed out there, she gets great jumps on the ball and she’s not afraid to get dirty.”

Left field looks to be a toss-up between sophomores Kristen Froehlich – who played mostly at second last year – and Marra Hvozdovic, as well as freshman Stephanie Kujawa. According to Thomas, whoever is hitting the ball at the time is who is going to be playing.


After Kelsey Hoffman graduated in 2008, Thomas was hoping to play Hall a little behind the plate last year to lessen the burden on Amber Walker, now a senior. But Walker struggled on offense in Hall’s absence, and this year, Thomas has two freshmen – Courtney Liddle and Betty Rose – who will help Walker immensely.

“I don’t know what we would’ve done without Amber last year, and she’s still around,” Thomas said. “But Courtney brings us someone who is a quality, blue-chip player who has played in national high school all-star games and who pretty much led us in hitting during the fall. Defensively, Betty is probably the best catcher we have and you’ll see a lot of time out of her as well. We’re a lot deeper at catcher this year.”

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