Nittany Lions Face New and Growing Challenges in 2009
Feb. 5, 2009
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After just missing out on the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament last season, the Nittany Lions are anxious to get back on the field and prove they are still the team they have worked hard to become. The squad returns several who have rewritten the record books in addition to a talented freshman class that has seen success at the national level.
"This year we are in the toughest schedule we've ever played in," said head coach Robin Petrini. "Our participation in the fall tournament was tremendous preparation for the spring season. We will find out in a hurry how good we are."
Key veterans with the 2009 squad are senior outfielder Danielle Kinley and sophomore pitcher Jackie Hill, both of whom were named All-Great Lakes Region in 2008. Sam Hovanec also returns for her senior campaign after an impressive junior year.
Freshman pitcher Lisa Akamine headlines the talented freshman class as an EA Sports High School All-American.
"Each season brings about new chemistry, new talent and fresh faces. With so many talent-packed tournaments that feature several 2008 NCAA tournament participants, we will use those opportunities to prepare for the always-tough Big Ten conference season," commented Petrini.
Madura has continued to make big plays happen for the Nittany Lions. Last season she ripped five doubles with a slugging percentage of .333, and was valuable in bringing runners to score with seven sacrifices.
Zielinksi has been constant throughout her career. Last year she accumulated a batting average of .289 while belting 27 RBI and maintaining a fielding average of .950.
Giordano was predicted to be a huge RBI threat in the 2008 season and she delivered. With a slugging percentage of .496 she was able to contribute 34 RBI. She also proved solid in the field earning a .965 fielding percentage.
Kinely has demonstrated time and again that she is one of the most dangerous players in the country. Throughout her career, she has maintained a .342 batting average while amassing 151 hits and 75 RBI. A real threat on the basepaths, she had an on-base percentage of .480 last year while stealing nine. She is on track to become the school's all-time doubles leader over former teammate Ashley Esparza who holds the record at 44.
Hovanec really hit her stride as a junior exploding offensively with a .400 slugging percentage while collecting four doubles, four triples and four homeruns. She was second on the team in runs scored with 29 and was dubbed the most improved player by Petrini.
Griffith has become one of the great outfielders for the Nittany Lions and has the speed and discipline to back it up. With nearly 60 chances last year she accumulated a .983 fielding percentage. With a bat, she has demonstrated the ability to make contact and her eye has earned her 18 walks in 162 at bats.
Hill will continue to see ample time as she collected 15 wins last season and accumulated an ERA of 2.06. She also became the seventh pitcher in Nittany Lion history to throw a no-hitter in an 8-0 victory over Syracuse.
Wong has seen time in the circle as well as at bat. Last season she posted an ERA of 2.37 while keeping a low .224 opponent batting average.
Completing the battery are newcomers Ellen McNair and Danee Collett who will compete for time behind the plate while veteran Janelle Lukens has been invaluable in the bull pen. These three have proven themselves throughout training and the fall season and will contribute to the big impact the pitchers are expected to bring.
Although the pitching staff as a whole is young, the addition of Michele Hawkins to the coaching staff will provide the Penn State hurlers with extra guidance and technique.
Penn State will start in Phoenix for the Kajikawa Classic Feb. 6-8. The Lions toughest opponent will likely be Arizona State, the defending 2008 national champions. From there, PSU will travel to Chapel Hill, N.C. for the Carolina Classic, Feb. 14-15. A trip further south will find the Nittany Lions in Columbus, Ga. for the NFCA Leadoff Classic, Feb. 27-28. Then the squad will head out to the west coast for the Stanford Louisville Slugger Classic (March 6-8) and the Judi Garman Classic (March 12-15), hosted by Cal State Fullerton.
Throughout these tournaments, Penn State will face 14 teams who played in the NCAA tournament last season, eight of which were ranked in the final Top 25 NFCA poll of the 2008 season.
"Our 2009 schedule is one of the toughest preseason schedules that we have ever put together for the Nittany Lions," said Petrini. "We are excited to challenge ourselves right out of the gates this year. I don't know a better way to start the year than at the home site of the 2008 National Champion."
The Nittany Lions will be in University Park for a week beginning April 11 for a conference series with Wisconsin followed by double-headers with Kent State and Saint Francis. Penn State will also hold a home series with Purdue on April 25 and 26 before closing out the Big Ten home schedule with Indiana on May 2 and 3.