2003 Brown Bears Softball Season Outlook

In her second season as Brown's head softball coach, Pam McCreesh has high expectations for the upcoming 2003 campaign. The Bears' improved drastically last season (7-38-1 in 2001; 14-22 in 2002) but McCreesh believes the team still has a lot of work ahead of them. "We need to play consistently, starting with the first game of the season," says McCreesh. "As a staff though, we are excited about this group of players and what they can accomplish if they remain focused and healthy."

This year the Bears will be returning three seniors in Lauren Wong (Mountain View, CA), Erin Durlesser (Santa Monica, CA) and Katie Tone (North Reading, MA). Wong, a tri-captain, will be starting in the outfield once again. "We will look to Lauren to be a top hitter for the program this year," says McCreesh. Wong played and started in all 36 games last season and finished fourth on the team with 22 hits. Wong was the top hitter for the Bears in 2001 with a .324 batting average. Durlesser, another captain and a 2001 First Team All-Ivy selection, will return to the mound as a key starter. Last season, she led the team with 19 appearances, starting 18. In 114 innings pitched, Durlesser struck-out a team-high 68 batters with a 7-9 record. When not on the mound she will see time in the designated player role and may also see time in the outfield. Tone will be spending her final season with the Bears anchoring the third base position. "She is a mainstay of the infield because of her experience at the position. She is an extremely solid fielder as well as one of the most consistent," says McCreesh. Last season, Tone recorded just two errors in 34 games for a .979 fielding percentage.

Joining Durlesser on the mound will be two experienced returners and two rookies to complete the pitching staff. "The five on the staff compliment each other very well," says McCreesh. Sophomores Marissa Berkes (El Segundo, CA) and Uchenna Omokaro (Hercules, CA) will look to build on their successes last season. Berkes started 11 games, going 5-5 with a 1.96 ERA. Opposing teams posted a .233 batting average against her, the lowest average of any Brown pitcher. Omokaro led the team with a 1.52 ERA, striking out 21 batters, second on the team, in 32.1 innings of work. "They are both extremely versatile and will look to see action at the corner and in the outfield when not on the mound," says McCreesh, who feels the key to the pitching staff's success will be remaining healthy. The two rookies, Marcia Abbott (La Jolla, CA) and Karinna Sjo-Gaber (Livingston, NJ), will look to make an immediate impact on the mound for the Bears. Abbott, who will also see time in the field when not pitching, was an All-Western First Team selection her senior year as she helped lead La Jolla High School to the AFA National Championship in 2000. Sjo-Gaber was named the Star Ledger Essex County Pitcher of the Year in 2001, finishing the season with 143 strikeouts, a 0.64 ERA and a 13-1 record.

The infield will have to compensate for the loss of First Team All-Ivy selection Julia Iudicello, who has joined the Brown coaching staff as a volunteer this season. Junior tri-captain Laura Leonetti will be making the switch from her First Team All-Ivy selection in centerfield last season to the second base position. "This should be a smooth transition for Laura since she played second before coming to Brown," says McCreesh. Leonetti led the team last year with a .348 batting average, 39 hits, 18 runs and nine doubles in 36 games. Teaming up with Leonetti in the middle will be freshman Mary Seid. "We are looking for her to step up into the position," says McCreesh. Seid was an All-League Second Team selection her senior year and helped lead Grossmont High School to the Triple Crown Nationals in 1999. Rounding out the infield will be freshmen Sarah Wilson (Rancho Sante Fe, CA), Sarah Hans (Berea, OH) and Jamie Wirkowski (Edison, NJ) who will vie for the first base position. Wilson was a four-time All-Coastal League selection at La Jolla Country Day School while Hans was a two-time First Team All-Sun News selection at Magnificat High School.

Catching duties will be shared by returning junior Melissa Brown (Moreno Valley, CA), sophomore Candace Toth (Woodinville, WA) and Wirkowski. Last season Brown led the team with 96 assists, playing and starting in all 36 games. After studying abroad this past fall, Brown will make the shift from shortstop to the catching/outfield position. Toth looks to build on her freshman campaign, in which she earned 14 starts. Wirkowski, who received several honors, including four All-County/All-Conference and two All-State selections, while at John P. Stevens High School, will also see playing time in the infield when not behind the plate.

Joining Wong in the outfield will be Brown when she is not behind the plate. "I believe our strongest arm should be in right field and Melissa has one of the best," says McCreesh. Also vying for time in the outfield will be freshman Rachel Fleitell (Nutley, NJ), an All-Essex County selection at Nutley High School, and junior Stephanie Bruce (Bashing Ridge, NJ), who joins the squad after two years on the women's basketball team. Bruce may also see time in the infield for the Bears.

In addition to seven Ivy League teams, Brown will face teams from the Big East Conference, Conference USA and eight other conferences while also competing in two tournaments, the George Mason Invitational and the College of Charleston tournament.