Puzey leads strong Pack softball class | NevadaAppeal.com

Puzey leads strong Pack softball class

RENO – More doors are starting to swing open for University of Nevada softball coach Michelle Gardner, and that can only mean success in the future.

Gardner, who coached the Wolf Pack to a 38-28 record last spring, has gone head-to-head with some other top softball schools on the West Coast, and now she’s starting to grab a few players here and there from them.

“We’ve stayed on a good path (in recruiting),” Gardner said. “I truly believed it’s (the approach) enabled us to pick up some players. I think definitely a few more doors are opening.

“I think we’ve been helped by the contacts I had from working at other schools, particularly Arizona State. Obviously Arizona State has a big West Coast connection. We have some talented athletes coming out of this area. I’m thrilled by this year’s signing class.”

The signing list is headed by Douglas outfielder-pitcher Brittany Puzey, who sparked the Tigers with her arm and bat to a second-place finish at last year’s 4A state tournament. Puzey was getting some heavy interest from Stanford, which made it to the NCAA World Series last year, as well as Wisconsin, Penn State and UOP.

Gardner was thrilled with the decision.

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“She could have gone anywhere and played,” Gardner said. “I’m excited about her decision to come here. She brings mental toughness to the game. She can help us right away.

“Right now, I don’t know where she’ll play. We’ll put her where she best helps us. Offensively, she has the tools. She can hit the short ball, the long ball and she runs like the wind. I could see her in the one, two or third spot. She can put the ball on the ground and beat it out.”

And, Gardner hasn’t ruled out that Puzey could pitch some. Gardner has her top three pitchers back this spring, but the coach made it clear that the best player would be in the circle regardless of experience.

Puzey is joined by McQueen shortstop Sarah Hunt, catcher Ashley Nichelman of Carondelet High in Concord, Calif., and catcher Katie Stith of Ayala High in Chino, Calif.

“Sarah caught my eye at the state tournament my first year as head coach,” Gardner said. “Of course I asked what year she was and almost fell off the bleachers when the coach said she was a freshman. I would have taken her at that moment if it wasn’t against the rules. After three years, I can finally say she’s coming to be part of the program and I’m very excited about what she brings to us.”

Elsewhere at Nevada:

The men’s basketball team had yet to receive signed scholarship offers from 6-7 forward Richie Phillips of Franklin High in Seattle or 6-9 forward-center Jeremy Mayfield of MacArthur High in Irving, Texas.

Phillips’ paperwork is expected to arrive sometime today. Mayfield currently lacks a high enough GPA in his core classes to qualify, and it’s not certain whether he’ll sign this week or not. Mayfield has stated that Nevada is his first choice, but that he wanted to wait until the spring signing period, and his AAU coach was urging him to sign this week.

Since paperwork has yet to arrive, first-year head coach Mark Fox is unable to comment on either athlete.

Fox said before Wednesday’s practice that he would have a comment either later today or Friday.

Phillips and Mayfield were at the top of Nevada’s recruiting list. Fox said the team still has two scholarships available for next year. The team will lose only Kevinn Pinkney and Jermaine Washington at the end of the season.

Wooster’s Jake Rasner and Jeremy Joustra were expected to sign with Nevada along with Spanish Springs’ Steve Masten.

The school would neither confirm or deny the signings because head coach Gary Powers had a death in his family and wasn’t on campus Wednesday. He’s expected back on campus Friday, according to the sports information office.

Rasner pitched and played the outfield for Wooster, but is being recruited as a pitcher. Rasner throws in the high 80s and low 90s. Joustra played first base and pitched for Wooster, and he also is considered mainly a pitcher.

With the 2004-05 season getting underway, the University of Nevada women’s basketball team has already started building its recruiting class for the 2005-06 season. Head coach Kim Gervasoni announced Wednesday the signing of four high school players to letters of intent for next year.

Dellena Criner hails from Oakland, Calif. where she plays at Fremont High School after transferring from Mt. Eden. She started her junior season for Fremont and has led the Oakland League in scoring. Criner was named All-Oakland Athletic League last year as the starting point guard. During her junior season she averaged 24 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and four steals per game. According to the Nevada coaching staff she is a strong, athletic point guard with excellent court vision. She is a talented perimeter defender and should be a great fit in the Nevada offensive and defensive schemes.

“Dellena was the top point guard on our list for the 2005 class,” Gervasoni said. “She is very mature for her age and is a gym rat. Dellena uses her body well, which allows her to score off penetration and can knock down the perimeter shot. She also gets the ball to her teammates in a position where they can do something good with it. Dellena is also a physical defender who has the ability to contain great offensive players.”

From Redlands East Valley High School in Southern California, Bre’ Anna Henry is a versatile player whose athleticism, intensity and heart will help the Wolf Pack both offensively and defensively at the guard and small forward positions. Henry holds almost all of her high school’s statistical records including points, rebounds and triple-doubles. She holds a personal-best of 31 points in a single game, having already scored well over 1,000 in her career. As a junior she averaged 16 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks. She has been named All-Citrus Belt League all three of her seasons, and picked up All-State honors last year.

“Bre’ Anna has all the intangibles you love to see in a basketball player,” Gervasoni said. “She makes things happen on both ends of the floor by her quick reactions and court awareness. Bre’ Anna is active, has great hands, and always seems to be around the ball. She is an excellent rebounder for her size and will continually improve over her four years at Nevada.”

Brandi Jones-Fitzgerald from Canyon Springs High School in Moreno Valley, Calif., can play all over the floor from the point guard through the post positions. Her versatility will make her an excellent fit for Nevada’s motion offense system. She has experience taking a program to a new level with her high school team never having won a league championship before her arrival. In her three seasons the team has collected at least a share of the title every year and is currently ranked 10th in California. She led her team to the California Division IA semifinals after averaging 18 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals as a junior. She was named All-Ivy League three times, while taking All-State honors the last two.

“Brandi is one of the best players in the country’s 2005 class,” Gervasoni said. “Her versatility will allow her to flourish in our motion offense system. She has great court sense and basketball savvy, two things you can’t teach. Her excellent timing and reactions allow her to be an excellent rebounder and defender.”

From Troy High School in Southern California, Nikki Hayman averaged 15 points, 5 assists, 6 rebounds and 2.5 steals as a junior. She led the Troy team to a runner-up finish in the California Division II Championships. She played with current Nevada freshman Meghan McGuire as a sophomore to win the state title. She is an excellent shooter who understands the game. She is a committed player who can play at all the guard positions and knows what it takes to win. In the last three seasons her team has recorded a 97-7 record with Hayman being named All-State the last two.

“Nikki is one of the best pure shooters in the 2005 class,” Gervasoni said. “She has an excellent feel for the game. Nikki can handle pressure and wants the ball when the game is on the line. Her competitiveness and toughness will be contagious at Nevada. She is a proven winner at the high school level and I have no doubt that she will do the same in college.”

Puzey’s teammate at Douglas, Kayla Dunn, will sign with Georgia Tech in softball on Friday.

Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1281.