Almost ready to start

By Sandy Gholston

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – An acute case of cabin fever can wreak havoc on northern college softball teams – trapped indoors – in their best possible effort to gear up for a sport traditionally is played outdoors.

Just ask Ferris State University’s softball team.

The Bulldogs, with their bags packed for the annual trip to central Florida, for a week’s worth of action on the diamond, could hardly wait to kick up real dirt, play on real grass and savor a legitimate feel for what it’s like catching a softball – on the infield or in the outfield. After taking in a spring training game between the Detroit Tigers and the Atlanta Braves, at Champions Stadium which is a part of the Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World, the Bulldogs hustled back home to gear up for a late-afternoon practice session to replace the earlier one that was postponed due to wet field conditions.

“The girls were definitely excited to be out there on the field and practicing with the dirt and the grass after being indoors for so long,” said long-time Ferris assistant softball coach Chad Haberland, who like the players was excited to finally get on a real softball field. “It was definitely nice to get outside because, like some of the girls said … they didn’t realize or had forgotten how large the outfield is after being inside so much in the (Ewigleben) Sports Complex.”

Brooke Lewis
Freshman Brooke Lewis makes a catch in the outfield during Friday's practice session at a local high school (Photo by Sandy Gholston).

This season, though it hardly feels like spring in Big Rapids as snow falls with nightmarish frequency in bone-chilling mid-Michigan temperatures, in many ways could be a pivotal one for Ferris – coming off a 31-17 record last season that included a trip to the NCAA Division II Tournament. That squad, one that put a good little scare in eventual NCAA Division II national champion and perennial powerhouse Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, set the table for this year’s squad to take the baton and move beyond.

With nearly everyone returning from head coach Keri Becker’s 2007 squad (the biggest loss being power-hitting veteran first baseman Laura Crower), expectations already were running high and those expectations increased courtesy of a top-25 national ranking (in the 2008 National Fastpitch Coaches Association Preseason Top 25 Poll). But, now is a time for the Bulldogs to quickly become comfortable with the weight of expectations as their status as a “hunter” has been rewritten as the “hunted” – the product of past successes and future expectations.

The cupboard, as proven by being ranked No. 25 in the national preseason poll, is hardly bare as Sarah Mueller, who was an All-American utility player last season, returns hopeful she can duplicate herself and take it beyond to her pitching this spring. Even beyond Mueller, the Bulldogs have a strong cast of returners that include senior third baseman Katie Kraai, junior shortstop McKenzie West and junior catcher Krystle Bailey.

“(Friday), for the first time in a long time, I felt like we got a lot accomplished with that first outdoor practice of the spring,” said Haberland, who along with head coach Keri Becker, put the team through a tough practice into the darkness and just prior to the arrival of more rain and thunderstorms in central Florida at a local high school’s softball complex. “We really did get a lot accomplished to get ready for our first games of the season.”

The Bulldogs open the 2008 season with games at the Rebel Spring Games against St. Joseph’s and Northern Kentucky – a pair of regional opponents.

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