Wolf Pack softball debuts today

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There's no mistaking the enthusiasm Michelle Gardner brings into her first season as head coach of the University of Nevada softball program. Even frigid winter weather conditions at practice on Tuesday didn't dampen those spirits.

For Gardner, this marks the culmination of more than a year's work toward putting the Wolf Pack on the field. For Nevada, it marks the end of a 14-year softball hiatus.

"It's been fun, but very stressful because we want to do well and I want to build a very good program," Gardner said after practice at Idlewild Park, where the Wolf Pack will play their home games. "A lot has gone into putting this together so we can play. All the work that's gone into this facility, recruiting the team, getting all the equipment; there are so many other aspects besides just being on the field, it's unbelievable. But that's all part of the process and now I'm excited to just get out on the field because that's what my job is ... coaching softball."

Nevada debuts this afternoon at Cal Poly's Mustang Roundup in San Luis Obispo, Calif. The Wolf Pack opens against UC Santa Barbara at 2 p.m. and plays tournament host Cal Poly at 4:30 at Janssen Field. Saturday, Nevada plays Colorado State at 9 a.m. and Southern Utah at 11:30 a.m., then finishes Sunday with a 1 p.m. game against Sacramento State.

"How could you not be excited?" Gardner said. "We're starting a new season and I think we're ready to go. Now it's obviously all about putting it on the field and see what you're going to do."

Gardner knows Division I softball well. She accepted the Nevada post in December, 2001, and before that had been an assistant at Arizona State since 1999. The 1989 Michigan graduate was previously an assistant at Florida State for four years and also coached at Bowling Green State University.

She feels the Wolf Pack will put a competitive team on the field this spring.

"I feel pretty confident we have some talented kids," she said. "Right now the hard part is trying to figure out who's going to be in the starting lineup. I want to give everybody an opportunity to show what they can do because, obviously, they've all worked hard and deserve a chance."

One of the top prospects is pitcher Judith van Kampen, a transfer from Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Ore., and a member of the Dutch national team. Van Kampen played in the 2002 World Championships with The Netherlands and beat the United States 2-1 in the Canada Cup in 2001.

"Judith has faced our U.S. teams, so she has good international experience which I think prepares her for this level," Gardner said of the 23-year-old right-hander. "She has the maturity and experience you need when you're putting a pitching staff out on the field."

Robyn Ford-Feitz and Candice Rainwater also figure to be in the team's pitching rotation. Rainwater could also contribute with her bat in the lineup either at first base or as designated player.

Another top recruit is freshman third baseman/outfielder Kari Stockstill, who was selected as a first-team all-league players in each of her four softball seasons at Huntington Beach High School. Stacy Mueller, a 5-foot-1 junior transfer from Central Arizona Community College, could be another player to watch in center field and at the top of the lineup.

"She's a very good ball player," Gardner said of Mueller.

"We've got a couple of kids from Arizona, a couple kids from California and we have some local talent," Gardner said. "I think we're pretty well rounded as far as community college players and true freshmen and then some kids in the middle who are local."

The Wolf Pack roster includes three players from a Wooster High School program that has won Nevada 4A state championships the last three years: outfielder Cindy Elkins, shortstop Maggie Lazzari and outfielder Kristy Stevens. Elkins, a freshman, was a four-time all-state selection.

Stevens, a sophomore transfer from Lassen College, is on the roster with her cousin, third baseman Annie Stevens from Fair Oaks, Calif. Annie Stevens transferred from Sierra College and is now one of the Wolf Pack's team captains along with first baseman Stephanie Grant.

Another local player on the Nevada roster is Amy Sceirine from Yerington, a freshman utility player who made the team during spring tryouts last year. At Yerington High School, Sceirine was conference MVP as a junior and senior and named first-team all-state in 2000 and 2001.

The Wolf Pack's home opener is scheduled for March 23 against Portland State at Idlewild Park at 2 p.m.

Despite the return of cold weather on Tuesday, the Wolf Pack did benefit from warmer conditions through much of January and even the start of February.

"The first week of practice we were inside and since then we've been outside so we've had almost three full weeks outside and that's awesome," Gardner said. "But you know, when we come back here and play in March, we're going to have this weather and we have to be able to play in it."

Gardner got a taste of Northern Nevada conditions last spring after she was hired as head coach for the Wolf Pack.

"Last year I was here recruiting and it snowed on April 16 and I was like, 'You've got to be kidding me,'" she said, laugh. "It snowed for two days, but that's OK. We've practiced, we've prepared, I think there are some areas that we're more prepared in than others, but we've covered every aspect of the game, now it's a matter of going out on the field and getting it done."


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