New coach, fresh start

Each of the last three seasons has presented equally difficult, but vastly differing tasks for the softball team.

Two seasons ago Temple needed to beat Saint Joseph’s twice on the final day of the Atlantic Ten Conference Championship to win the title. The Owls’ pitching staff gave them just what they wanted that year: an A-10 title and their first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.

The Owls followed up that successful run in 2004 with two must-win situations just to earn a berth into last season’s A-10 tournament. The Owls had no luck beating Dayton and George Washington and ended their season with a 4-12 mark in A-10 play.

This season presents an opportunity for the Owls to regroup and start fresh. They have a new coaching staff, as well as six new players, who give them a legitimate chance to again establish themselves as an A-10 power.

COACHING

After eight seasons, head coach Rocci Pignoli retired at the conclusion of last season. Voted A-10 Coach of the Year in 2004, Pignoli led the team to its first NCAA Tournament appearance. Pignoli coached the team to 175 victories during his tenure at Temple.

Casey Dickson became only the fourth coach in the Owls’ 30-year history when she was named as Pignoli’s replacement. Dickson has a long list of accomplishments as both a player and a coach. A 1997 graduate of Oklahoma, Dickson set the Sooners’ program records for home runs and runs batted in as a senior.

Additionally, Dickson has been coaching collegiate softball since 2002.

PLAYERS

After the 2005 season, the Owls lost three seniors to graduation as well as three other key players. This year’s team has depth as the Owls maintain a solid core of returning players as well as several promising newcomers.

The leadership responsibilities will likely be placed on the team’s only senior, infielder Lauren Evans. This season Evans will see action at first, second and third base after starting 45 games last season.

Six juniors return from last year’s squad, bringing with them much-needed experience and talent. Utility player Brandie Mora led the team last season with a slugging percentage of .424. She held the second-highest team average of .253 with 25 hits in 99 at-bats.

Mora led the Owls to their first and only victory of the season by scoring the game-winning run in the bottom of the fifth inning to beat Charleston, 8-7, last week in Tampa, Fla.

Junior first baseman Adrienne Repsher has also been key to the Owls offense. Last season as a sophomore, she knocked in 17 runs behind seven doubles and three home runs.

Outfielders Shawn Casey and Kelly Swartwood, along with utility player Jessica Rohn and catcher Makeala Compton, complete the core of juniors.

In terms of returning talent on the mound, sophomore pitcher Jennifer Nacianceno will be an anchor for the Owls’ staff. She pitched three complete games last season and started in nine of her 19 appearances.

This season, Nacianceno is expected to be the ace of the Owls’ pitching staff. But she needs to improve off last season’s totals. As a freshman, she had a 5.59 earned run average and struck out 57 batters in 77.2 innings.

Sophomore outfielder Brittany Burks and infielder/outfielder Amanda Carver will provide a boost off the bench. Each saw significant playing time last season and will likely see even more this year under Dickson.

Six freshmen were also added to the roster. Many have already contributed runs in the Owls’ first five games and should see scattered playing time throughout the season.

SPRING TRAINING

The Owls’ season is already underway, as they’ve compiled a 1-4 record in tournament play in Florida. They were shut out in their season opener against Hofstra, 10-0. In three of their last four games, they have lost to South Florida, Jacksonville and Florida A&M.

The Owls have 11 tournament games left in Florida before they return home. They will play their first home game at the Ambler Sports Complex against Delaware State on March 22.

Melissa DiPento can be reached at mdipento@temple.edu.

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