Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 MAAC Preview---Iona Gaels

2010 Finish: 2nd Place (28-26)

Departed Players: 2
Incoming Players: 2

Returning Players:
Allyssa James (.350)
Eileen McCann (.348; 11 HRs)
Jodi Petersen (.345)
Erin Kyle (.290)
Chelsea Sheehan (.280)
Tessa Earley (.246; 18 SB)
Melanie Gettins (.238)
Melanie Hay (.219)
Marisa Newman (.197)
Beth Kann (.190)
Alyssa Maiese (.182; 7-11, 4.13)
Cari Anderson (.000)
Tierney Markou (15 Runs)
Sarah Jackson (18-8; 1.96)
Deanne Algeo (3-3, 4.84)

Incoming Players:
Katie Jansson
Courtney Duncan (Transfer)

The bad news from this off season for the Gaels is that they lost their head coach. The good news is that new coach Roni Rivera inherits a MAAC Champion that is basically intact. Iona's starting 10 are all returning for the 2011 season.

The key returnee of course is the 2010 MAAC Pitcher Of The Year junior Sarah Jackson. Not only is Sarah a great pitcher with her MAAC leading statistics, but the confidence level of the whole team rises noticeably when she is in the circle. Sarah Jackson is a fierce competitor, walks few and strikes out many. In 2010 she hurled 3 no hitters, including a perfect game. She was 3-0 in the MAAC Tournament. As long as she is healthy, Iona is a threat. The Gaels were 10-18 in games that Sarah did not pitch, however Senior Alyssa Maiese did pitch well at times and may be able this season to give Iona a better 1-2 punch. Junior Deanne Algeo will contribute in relief.

A pair of freshmen helped push the Gaels over the top in 2010. MAAC Rookie Of The Year Jodi Petersen capped her great freshman season when she homered in extra innings in the opening game of the MAAC Tournament. A great all around player, the outfielder was a consistent threat all throughout her first season and will be a key player on the squad for the next three seasons.

Eileen McCann tied for the MAAC lead in home runs. She was also clutch in the tournament, driving home a pair of runs in the championship game. Another great competitor, tall, athletic and versatile, Eileen is a long ball threat every time she steps up to the plate. She was All-MAAC in 2010, and will be counted upon to drive home runs. She can also pitch an inning or two when called upon.

Senior catcher Melanie Gettins may not get all the offensive glory, but she anchors the Gaels' defense. An outstanding catcher (she led the team in fielding percentage in 2010) who has twice been named All-MAAC, Melanie contributed 19 RBIs last season. She played with Team New Zealand in this past summer's Softball World Championship; this is a senior the Gaels can count on for leadership.

Another senior to watch for is leadoff hitter Tessa Earley. A tough competitor who runs very well, the second baseman led the team in stolen bases last season while scoring 18 runs. She also led the team in assists, and was an All-MAAC player in 2010.

Now we come to a very dangerous player, and that is first baseman Allyssa James. Allyssa, an All-MAAC selection as a sophomore, led the Gaels in hitting in 2010. She is one tough player to pitch to. Tall and athletic, she'll go after anything, and hit it. I saw her swing at a ball about 18 feet over her head, with a tomahawk motion---she made contact and it hit inches foul down the line to the fence!! The Iona coach was actually laughing in the third base box, but she didn't chastise Allyssa. It wouldn't surprise me to see her hit .400 this season.

A player who snuck up on the batting leaders in 2010 was senior Erin Kyle, she has a career .303 average. Chelsea Sheehan chipped in with a solid .280 season. Marisa Newman struggled at the plate, but the smooth fielding sophomore shortstop has the talent to improve offensively. Outfielder Melanie Hay had 8 stolen bases in 2010; senior Tierney Markou scored 15 runs as the team's primary pinch runner. Sophomore Cari Anderson also saw duty as a pinch runner. Beth Kann saw action in the field and some in the circle. She hit 2 home runs while driving home 11. Joining the team this season is a very promising freshman, catcher Katie Jansson. Sophomore catcher/third baseman Courtney Duncan has transferred to Iona from the defunct Vermont softball team.

The only big change at Iona is a major one. The ex-coach left Iona in the middle of this past summer, leaving the school to scramble to find a replacement. They think they've found a good one in Roni Rivera. Coach Rivera has never led a Division 1 team, although she was an assistant at Dartmouth and Northridge. She did however pilot Division 3 Muhlenberg to a championship, taking the school from the bottom to the top in quick fashion. This is a great opportunity for her to show what she can do, and she will be immediately aided by coaching players who have championship experience. In fact, with Sarah Jackson only a junior, the core of this team will be together for the next two seasons. This will make her job easier, but she will be facing some tough competition and very seasoned coaches this year. Canisius and Niagara are loaded with upperclassmen talent, and will make it a challenge for the Gaels to repeat as champions. However, with their whole starting lineup intact, and with Sarah Jackson pitching, Iona stands a good chance to grab that championship once again in 2011. They open their season on February 12.

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