DSU softball team young, but confident

Don't tell Kristen Fleury she says the word a lot. The Dickinson State softball coach already knows. Young. It's who the Blue Hawks are this year, and they know it. DSU returns just three seniors and will play seven juniors and six freshmen. "We'...

Vanessa Adame
Press Photo by Dustin Monke Dickinson State senior center fielder Vanessa Adame takes a cut during a game at Gress Softball Complex in the 2011 season. Adame is one of three seniors on a Blue Hawk softball team that describe themselves as "young."

Don't tell Kristen Fleury she says the word a lot. The Dickinson State softball coach already knows.


It's who the Blue Hawks are this year, and they know it.

DSU returns just three seniors and will play seven juniors and six freshmen.

"We're all trying to figure each other out and what our roles are," said Fleury, in her third season as head coach. "We're a whole new team in every aspect, a whole new lineup, a whole new defensive team."


The Blue Hawks already got their first feel for the field this season -- and it wasn't pretty.

They dropped five of six games on a road trip to Idaho in late February.

DSU gets back on the diamond again today when it opens a 16-game spring break trip in Tucson, Ariz., against Siena Heights University of Adrian, Mich., and Judson College of Marion, Ala.

"We're pretty young, but we obviously have a hope that we'll come through in Arizona and show the prospects that we have," said Jessica Huseby, a fifth-year senior shortstop. "Although Idaho was a little bit of a learning stage, we know what our weaknesses are and what we need to work on. Hopefully we can come out on top in Arizona."

The Blue Hawks combined to hit just .288 on the Idaho road trip with junior third baseman Lindsey Sullivan hitting .438 with a home run and five RBI.

Beyond that, DSU pieced together only short bursts of production and committed 12 fielding errors.

"My coach said it best. 'It's not how you start. It's how you finish,'" said senior center fielder Vanessa Adame, the team's four-year starter at the leadoff spot. "I know we have the potential on this team to make it every bit possible."

The Blue Hawks have power in Sullivan, junior first baseman Kristy Ortiz, freshman second baseman Janell LaRont and junior designated hitter Cherstin Dahlin.


There's speed with Adame, junior left fielder Dani Benito and senior first baseman Erika Nowack.

Huseby and junior Taysia Kaufman, an outfielder and pitcher, give DSU veteran consistency. Fleury also feels freshman Claudia Torres is coming along well behind the plate.

"We're really young, but we all have talent," said LaRont, who hit .353 in the first six games. "We all, individually, do different things for the team. We all need to stick together and grow as a team together."

The biggest question is in the pitching circle where Sara Jane Webster, the pitcher and outfielder who rewrote the school record book, is gone.

In her place are freshmen Regan Lawrence, Tiffany Morgan and Kaufman, who threw alongside Webster the past two seasons.

"In the circle, we're going to be young," Fleury said. "With our only three seniors, we're going to need them to step up big in some leadership roles, as well as performing for us."

DSU must finish in the top four of the NAIA Association of Independent Institutions rankings during the regular season just to reach the NAIA independent tournament.

Preseason No. 2-ranked California State-San Marcos and No. 10 Houston-Victoria are in the grouping of independent teams and are already off to flying starts this season, leaving DSU and 13 other teams very little wiggle room if they want to reach the unaffiliated tournament that begins May 3 in Columbus, Ga. There, the top two teams qualify for nationals.


In short, the Blue Hawks have goals like any other year: reach the conference tournament and then win their way to the national tournament.

"You can't look too far," Fleury said. "You've just got to win games and see where the pieces fall."

Dickinson State softball notes

Head coach: Kristen Fleury (third season)

Assistant coaches: Jamie Jung (fifth season), Jenna Kirksey (first season)

Last season: 31-13, 16-2 Dakota Athletic Conference. Lost in DAC championship game to Minot State.

2012 record: 1-5, DSU beat College of Idaho once while playing a pair of road doubleheaders and lost twice to Eastern Oregon.

Up next: The Blue Hawks face Siena Heights University at 11 a.m. and Judson College at 1:30 p.m. today in the Tucson (Ariz.) Invitational.


Returners: Vanessa Adame, Sr., CF (.317, 2 HR, 22 RBI, 3 3B, 2 2B); Dani Benito, Jr., OF (.500, 1 RBI, 1 2B); Jessica Huseby, Sr., S (.217, 3 2B, 9 RBI); Taysia Kaufman, Jr., OF/P (12-5, 2.43 ERA, 118 IP, 66 K); Erika Nowack, Sr., 1B (.281, 3 2B, 3 3B, 10 RBI); Kristy Ortiz, Jr., 1B/OF (.272, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 2 2B); Lindsey Sullivan, Jr., 3B (.320, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 2 2B).

Newcomers: Aubrey Ayala, Jr., C; Cherstin Dahlin, Jr., DH/1B; Britney Miller, Jr., C; Janell LaRont, Fr., P/3B; Regan Lawrence, Fr., P/3B; Brooke Schmitt, Fr., SS; Kaylie Strandberg, Fr., OF; Tiffany Morgan, Fr., P; Claudia Torres, Fr., C/3B.

Losses: Sara Jane Webster, P/OF (NAIA All-America, all-DAC); Nicole Youngblood, 3B/SS (all-DAC); Charnel Zetsch, P/2B (all-DAC); Nathalie Martinez, 2B (all-DAC); Brittney Rivas, OF (DAC Gold Glove); Trina Guillen, P; Carly Patterson, OF; Vanessa Guevara, OF; Jamie Belluscio, OF.

On the DL: Ikea Mauldin, a senior catcher and third baseman, will likely redshirt the season after having hand surgery earlier in the school year. Mauldin hit .254 with 5 HR, 7 2B and 27 RBI in 2011.

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