Western Nevada College Softball coach Leah Wentworth has some new decisions to make this year as she nears the start of the 2013 season. Instead of worrying about having enough healthy players to fill her game rosters with the right skills in the right places, she is beginning the season with a full and healthy team that provides a broad range of skills and a high level of commitment. Offseason recruiting and workouts have shaped a 16-player roster that will assist Wentworth and her three assistants in filling out the lineup card.“That’s what we always wanted. We’re excited,” said Wentworth, just days before the Wildcats begin their first official season workout on Jan.10. “This year, we have versatility and balance, a good mixture of speed and power, and we’ll utilize them all to keep other teams on their toes.”Wentworth, who is considering platooning players to give the Wildcats the best possible matchup offensively and defensively.So, can the Wildcats top last year’s record-setting season and continue their climb up the SWAC standings?“The girls have put their goals together for the season and set the bar extremely high,” Wentworth said. “They will be a tough team to beat on a consistent basis.”Some pieces still are in place from the WNC team that posted the program’s first 20-win season a year ago. However, the Wildcats will need to replace most of their infield and find new offensive sparkplugs to continue their upward progression.Seven players return, including starting pitchers Alexia Alley and Ali Marie Lostra, and Scenic West All-Conference first-team outfielder Jennifer Quam. Alley and Lostra accounted for two-thirds of the WNC victories on the mound last year. Lostra crafted a team-best 5.44 ERA while winning six of her 17 decisions, and Alley led the club with eight wins and a 6.47 ERA while tossing a team-high 173 innings.The duo will be complemented by workhorse freshman Carlee Beck from Utah, a second-team all-state and first-team all-region performer; freshman Alisha Nielsen of Orem, Utah, an all-region first-team choice; and transfer Ivette Garcia, who prepped at Spanish Springs High School in Reno.Quam gives Coach Wentworth a leadoff hitter who can quickly turn a base hit into a run. The SWAC’s 2012 top base stealer finished among the nation’s top 10 by successfully swiping 57 bases in 61 attempts. “We are so excited to have Jenny back,” Wentworth said.The sophomore out of North Valleys High School in Reno also was a dependable hitter. She stroked a team-leading 70 hits and finished with a .345 average in becoming WNC’s first player to earn SWAC first-team all-conference honors. Wentworth doesn’t think fans have seen the best of Quam just yet, though.“Everybody is going to see a different side of Jenny Quam,” Wentworth said. “She’s expanded the short game, and she is so comfortable and confident in the batter’s box.”Lostra, who played first base in 2012 when she wasn’t pitching, is the top returning power hitter. She blasted two homers and 10 doubles while hitting .268.But some of last year’s offense has moved on, including Taleas Marble (University of Texas of the Permian Basin) and Melanie Pfeiffer (Western Oregon University). Marble set various WNC records while swatting 16 homers and batting .395 last season. Pfeiffer, a shortstop, was a .305 hitter and the glue to WNC’s infield. Wentworth is faced with the task of replacing six of the top eight hitters who helped the Wildcats to a .272 team batting average. But she isn’t concerned. In fact, Wentworth believes the Wildcats’ offense might be more potent than ever.“We are going to have a lot more Taleas (types) in the lineup, and girls who can match Jenny’s speed,” Wentworth said. “You’ll see a lot of the same things that Taleas provided from Sydney Darby and Andi Lee. They have a ton of power and spray the ball around. They are really tough outs and put pressure on the defense.”Darby, a transfer from Dominican College in Orangeburg, N.Y., is battling sophomore Alia Cox for the catcher’s spot. They’ll likely platoon behind the plate, and Wentworth said Darby will play third base when she isn’t catching. In her final season at Spanish Springs in 2011, Darby hit .510 with 48 RBI and a .755 slugging average.“She's one of the stronger (area) athletes out there from 2011," Wentworth said last spring. "She definitely will help us out."Cox was second on the 2012 club with three homers to go along with five doubles and 18 runs scored. As she has done in the past, Wentworth has invested in area high school talent to raise the program. Besides Darby, Cara McCarthy of Bishop Manogue High School (Reno), Lee of Reed High School (Sparks), Jennifer Rechel and Cassie Bell of Fallon, and Madi Gonzalez of Lowry High are expected to contribute immediately.Wentworth said Lee will play second base, the power-hitting McCarthy will see time at first base, Rechel has made an impression at third base, Gonzalez is demonstrating speed comparable to Quam’s in the competition for an outfield spot, and Bell is competing for playing time in the outfield.Nielsen will play first base when she isn’t on the mound, and Heather Septon (Orem, Utah), a two-time all-region second-teamer, will take over for the graduated Pfeiffer at shortstop.Assisting Wentworth will be Rosie Contri, Sam Herceg, and Lloyd Capra. WNC will start the season with a spate of games in Las Vegas and Yuma, Ariz. The Wildcats will play seven games in three days, starting with a Jan. 25 matchup against Yavapai in Las Vegas, then on to the Great Western Shootout Jan. 31-Feb.2 in Yuma.WNC’s home opener is scheduled for February 22-23, a four-game series against Colorado Northwestern at Edmonds Sports Complex in Carson City.
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