The 2011 edition of the Lynn University softball team returns its top two hitters and pitchers but after that, a virtually all new supporting cast will have to contribute for the Fighting Knights to return to the NCAA Tournament. Among the returners is senior All-American Brittany Gross, who had arguably the greatest offensive season in Lynn history as a junior, while newcomer Mandi Brown will add some much needed speed, power and defense to the Blue & White’s lineup.
“We possess a lot of speed from top to bottom and should be much better defensively this year,” said third-year head coach Mandy Harris. “With more depth than in recent years, we have a lot of combinations that we can use and that is really exciting as a coach.”
A pair of seniors, Brittany Gross and Katrina Lavadan, will anchor the outfield with fellow senior Jordan Angel and Megan Mayfield fighting it out for the final spot.
An All-American as a junior, Gross will set the table offensively for the Fighting Knights at the leadoff spot. Last season she hit a program-record .435 with 83 base hits, both of which led the SSC.
“Brittany has been a sparkplug for us offensively the last three years. She has great speed and tracks down everything hit to her in right field.”
Lavadan should see the bulk of her time hitting just behind Gross in order to advance the runner. Last season she did just that leading the Knights with 14 sacrifice hits, but she also hit for power and average batting .378 with a team-high .451 slugging percentage.
“Trina had a great year last season coming off an injury. She is fully healthy now and we are excited to have her back in centerfield and hitting behind Brittany.”
Mayfield comes to Boca after earning three letters at Jensen Beach High School, the same school that produced Gross. As a senior, the lefty slapper led the Falcons to the State Semifinals.
“Megan will see most of the time in left field but she has the ability to play right field as well. She is very quick and will learn a lot from Brittany and Trina on the base paths and in the outfield.
A multipurpose player, Angel can play every position on the diamond except in the battery. Last season, Jordan was consistent with the bat and showed good plate discipline hitting .288 and drawing 18 walks.
“Jordan allows us to have many combinations defensively with her versatility. She is a great leader on the field, does everything that she is asked and is just a joy to coach.”
The Fighting Knights will feature an entirely different infield from last season but should be much better defensively. Up the middle, junior transfer Mandi Brown will lead the Blue & White at shortstop with freshman Anne Marie Van Casteren at second.
A transfer out of Santa Fe CC, Brown was a pain for opposing pitchers, hitting .324 and earning All-Mid Florida Conference honors as a sophomore. She will hit primarily from the third spot and should get a lot of RBI opportunities batting behind Gross and Lavadan.
“Mandi comes from a great winning tradition at Santa Fe and knows what it takes to be successful at this level. She fields everything that is hit in her direction, has a good eye at the plate and puts the ball in play.”
Another local product out of Palm Beach Central High School, Van Casteren batted .406 as a senior and was named an All-County selection. For her efforts, she was also picked to play in the Florida State Senior All-Star Game.
“Anne Marie had a great fall season making the transition from third to second base. She has good speed and with her improvement in the weight room she should be able to provide some pop with the bat.”
Kasey Murray will handle the hot corner while Callie Darlin will be at first base when they are not in the circle.
Murray is another newcomer that can hit for both power and average. In her senior season at Land O’Lakes, the right-hander batted .390 and hit a home run in the ASA National Championship Game.
Freshmen Marcella Carrozza and Carisa Cook can play both corner infield positions as well and should see time when either Murray or Darlin are pitching.
After being thrown into the fire last season as a freshman, Darlin will lead a trio of pitchers for the Fighting Knights as a sophomore. Returning from injury inside the circle will also be redshirt junior Marianne Johnson while Murray will also hurl for the Blue & White.
Darlin was the ace of the Fighting Knights staff last season with a 2.37 ERA in 180.1 innings. The flamethrower completed 22 of 26 of her starts and posted four shutouts.
“Callie is super competitive and has improved significantly since stepping onto campus. With injuries last season, she pitched in several big games for us and that experience will only help her this year.”
More of a control artist, Johnson made one appearance before going down but threw in 91 innings as a sophomore in 2009.
“We are so glad to get Marianne back from injury and it is great to have her back. She had several good games before going down and her experience will benefit our young pitching staff.”
A strikeout pitcher for the Fighting Gators, Murray fanned 160 batters in just 126 innings of work and earned All-Conference honors. Murray features a lot of spin on all of her pitches but also has the ability to throw one by hitters.
“Like Callie, Kasey is very versatile and she comes from a great summer program, the Tampa Mustangs, who won the club National Championship last year. She knows how to win and that will help us get to the next level as a team.”
Providing some power and leadership behind the plate will be junior-transfer Danielle O’Rourke. Out of Endicott, N.Y., O’Rourke led Tompkins Cortland CC to its first-ever National Championship in 2009. That season, she was named a JUCO First-Team All-American with four home runs and 33 RBIs while hitting .388. O’Rourke holds the TC3 record for career home runs, RBIS and walks.
“Dani is very solid behind the plate and the pitchers really like throwing to her. She also blocks really well and has a strong throwing arm as she threw out every base runner in the fall.”
Prior to going through the rigors of a tough SSC schedule, Lynn will take on several of the nation’s top teams, including North Georgia who was ranked No. 1 in the final regular season poll.
“We made this schedule on purpose in order to prepare us for our conference, which is among the toughest in the country. Playing teams like North Georgia, who advanced to the Elite Eight last year, will be a great test for our team before entering SSC play.”
The Knights open the season at Palm Beach Atlantic on Feb. 9 before heading north for the Hughston Sports Clinic Classic in Columbus, Ga. from February 11-13. There the Knights take on the Saints twice, as well as Ohio Valley and Columbus State.
LU will have its home and conference opener against Tampa in a three-game tilt on February 19-20.
Following the three games with the Spartans, Lynn will hit the Gulf Coast for the Eckerd College Invitational on February 25-27. Clashing with the Knights in Clearwater will be familiar foes Tampa and Eckerd, as well as West Florida, Flagler and UMass-Lowell.
Lynn then returns home to face Mercyhurst and Saint Leo before going back up to Georgia to play eight games in four days from March 9-12.
Another twinbill against PBA, this time at home on March 19, will be the final non-conference tilt for the Fighting Knights before getting into the thick of conference play.