BC aiming to defend HCAC tournament title

By Tim Stried, SID

Not bad, for starters.

With a new head coach and a new conference in front of last season's Bluffton College softball team, there were many questions that needed to be answered. But Head Coach Ty Cook and her squad had the answers, and it resulted in a championship trophy from the 1999 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament.

BC finished second in the HCAC regular season race in 1999 with an 8-4 league mark. Hosting the conference tournament, though, proved to be just the ticket, as the Beavers knocked off Anderson University, who had a 12-0 HCAC mark, for the championship. BC finished with a 20-18 overall record for the season.

"The attitude is being carried over by the upperclassmen to this season," said Coach Cook as pre-season practices got underway. "They realize that everybody is out to get them. It's certainly not going to be easy."

And the HCAC tournament won't be on friendly soil this season, either, as Franklin College will host the 2000 HCAC Tournament May 5 and 6. "Anybody can win it," said Cook, the 1999 HCAC Coach of the Year who will be assisted this season by Kary Zimmerman and Beth Klocke. "It's a very competitive league."

Last season Bluffton finished second in the league in team batting average (.338), on base percentage (.381) and slugging percentage (.406). BC also played some pretty impressive defense, as their .951 fielding percentage was also second best in the league.

Several pieces of last season's team are back for Coach Cook, including 1999 HCAC Tournament MVP Erin Kurtz (Wooster/Smithville). As a junior pitcher in 1999 she fashioned a 9-8 record with a 1.96 earned run average and a conference-best 37 strikeouts.

But Erin isn't the only Kurtz on the team that can do some damage. Sister Emily Kurtz (Wooster/Smithville) also had quite a season, posting a 1.91 earned run average on her way to a 7-8 overall record.

Two first-team All-HCAC selections graduated from last year's squad--catcher Jen Schlabach and outfielder Jill Laughlin. Schlabach hit .333 with 11 RBI, while Laughlin led BC with a .362 batting average and added 16 RBI.

Junior Elizabeth Snavely (Defiance), who joined Schlabach and Laughlin on the All-Region team, returns at first base. She hit .336 in 1999 with a team-high 26 RBI and three home runs. Also back around the infield are second baseman Jessica Spain (Newark, .287, 6 2b) and third baseman Bree Wood (Wauseon, .211, 14 RBI), who was named the Most Improved Player on the 1999 squad.

Junior Heather Thornton (Mansfield/Ontario) is the lone returning outfielder. She hit .308 with five doubles and 14 RBI last season. Also back are juniors Amy Aschemeier (Napoleon) at shortstop and Erin Cook (Tiffin/Calvert, .170, 5 RBI), who can play nearly every position on the field.

First year players include second baseman Melissa Alexander (Norwalk), first baseman Melanie Erford (Continental/Paulding), outfielder Paula Fry (Edon), pitcher/infielder Stacy Herr (Bluffton), shortstop/outfielder Melissa Neal (Okeana/Ross), outfielder Dayna Betz (Oregon/Cardinal Stritch), catcher Amanda Spiegel (Oceola/Wynford), catcher/outfielder Anna Steiner (Bluffton), outfielder/first baseman Amanda Wannemacher (Lima/Shawnee) and infielder Shelly Wymer (North Canton/Hoover).

Aschemeier, Fry, Snavely and Wood are also members of the BC basketball team, while Steiner is also a soccer performer for the Beavers.

Bluffton will begin their season in the Rebel Spring Games in Orlando, Florida March 6-9.