QU Softball Kicks Off 2014 Season With Five Games at USF Under Armour Invitational This Weekend

USF Under Armour Invitational
USF Softball Complex – Clearwater, Fla.

Quinnipiac University Bobcats (0-0, 0-0 MAAC)
Oakland Golden Grizzles (6-7, 0-0 Horizon League)
Campbell Fighting Camels (9-7, 0-0 Big South)

Georgia State Panthers (7-5, 0-0 Sun Belt)
Western Michigan Broncos (5-6, 0-0 MAC)
Florida Atlantic Owls (7-7, 0-0 Conference USA)

USF Under Armour Invitational
Friday, February 28, 2014

Oakland vs. Quinnipiac – 11:45 a.m.
Campbell vs. Quinnipiac – 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Georgia St. vs. Quinnipiac – 11:45 a.m.
Quinnipiac vs. Western Mich. – 4:30 p.m.
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Quinnipiac vs. Fla. Atlantic – 11:15 a.m.

And So It Begins
The Quinnipiac softball team will kickstart a new season and new era for the Bobcats as this will be the first season of newly hired head coach Jill Karwoski. The Bobcats are coming off a 17-35 season with a 9-11 record in their final year as a member of the Northeast Conference. They were just picked to finish seventh in the MAAC preseason poll released earlier this week as they return a strong roster with their three top hitters returning as well as their entire pitching staff form a year ago. They open the 2014 season with a trip down to Clearwater, Fla. where they will take part in a five-game tournament featuring the likes of Oakland, Campbell, Georgia St., Western Mich. and Fla. Atlantic.

All-Time Against the Competition
This weekend will feature the first all-time meeting between the Bobcats and three of the five teams (Oakland, Campbell and Georgia St.) but will be the fourth all-time meeting between Western Mich. and Fla. Atlantic. Quinnipiac comes in with a 0-3 record against the Broncos with all three meetings coming from the USF Under Armour Series. Their last meeting was back in 2012 when Western Mich. took down the Bobcats, 3-1.  The Bobcats are 1-2 all-time against Fla. Atlantic but haven't faced the Owls since 2008. Their only win came in the first ever game against Fla. Atlantic, with the Bobcats coming away victorious by a score of 5-0.

Scouting the Golden Grizzles
Oakland comes into the weekend tournament with a 6-7 record in the 2014 season and currently riding a four-game winning streak. OU completed a sweep of Ave Maria Univ. (Feb. 25) and earned a win each against Eastern Mich. and FGCU (Feb. 26) most recently. Erika Polidori leads Oakland with a strong start to her season at the plate with a .395 batting average closely followed by Morgan Muron's .385. Polidori has also contributed 17 hits, five doubles, two homers and nine RBI. Pitching has been a strong point as Erin Kownacki (3-4) has five complete games while Kaley Waalkes (3-1) has thrown three. Kownacki has recorded 34 strikeouts on the season in 42.1 innings pitched. Waalkes boasts just a 2.20 ERA in 30 innings pitched.

Scouting the Fighting Camels
Campbell enters the tournament already with 16 games played on the season and a record of 9-7. They rode a five-game winning streak throughout the middle of February but come in after having lost three of their last five games. Milly Martinet is the player to watch for the Fighting Camels as she comes into the weekend with team-bests in batting average (.432), home runs (5) and RBI (21). She is slugging an impressive .818 through 15 games played this season while their pitching staff features a respectable all-around 2.85 ERA. Katie Baker leads the pitching staff with a 4-2 record with three complete games, 47.2 innings pitched, 59 strikeouts and a 2.50 ERA in eight starts this season.

Scouting the Panthers
GSU has dropped four of its last five contests after opening the season with a 6-1 record. The Panthers' lone win in the stretch came in convincing fashion at home on Wednesday as GSU took down Mercer 17-3 in Game 1 of a doubleheader. Junior outfielder Ashley Christy is the key cog in the Panthers' attack, going 3-for-4 at the plate with five RBI and three runs scored, including posting her first home run of the season with a fourth inning grand slam. She capped the twinbill with another home run in Game 2 and finished with 13 total bases and eight RBI on the day. Christy is now second in the Sun Belt Conference with a .522 batting average after hitting safely in five consecutive games. She has recorded hits in nine of her last 13 at-bats with four extra-base knocks, including two home runs.

Scouting the Broncos
Western Michigan comes into the weekend with a 5-6 record. WMU comes in with a red-hot offense after registering 11 extra base hits (nine doubles, two home runs) at the TSU Tiger Classic with wins over Dayton and host Tennessee State. WMU now has 17 doubles and seven home runs on the season and is pace to eclipse the single-season mark for doubles (75) set in 2006 and is on pace to match the third-most home runs in a season (31) from 2009. Sophomore Sabrina Gamboa led the Broncos with a .533 average throughout the tournament. She led the Broncos in average, slugging percentage (1.067), on-base percentage (.632), doubles (5), walks (3), defensive assists (17) and double plays fielded (2).

Scouting the Owls
The Florida Atlantic Owls come into the tournament with a .500 record at 7-7 and the best pitching staff in the tournament. The Owls feature two pitchers with a sub-2.00 ERA and another with one at 2.22. Overall, the Owls' staff of four pitchers come in with a combined ERA of 1.92. Kylee Hanson leads the way with an ERA of 1.54 to go along with a 2-3 record, five complete games, 41 innings pitched and 27 strikeouts. Supplementing Hanson is Amanda Wilson who comes in with a 1.85 ERA, 2-1 record and two shutouts in three games started.                                  

Preseason Selection
The Bobcats were picked to finish seventh in the MAAC preseason poll which was announced earlier this week as Quinnipiac garnered 58 points among the vote of the league's head coaches. Defending MAAC Tournament Champion Marist was voted as the preseason favorite in the league followed by the reigning MAAC Regular Season Champion Fairfield and 2013 NEC Tournament participant Monmouth.

Early Honors
A host of Bobcats including juniors Jordan Paolucci and Nikki Barba as well as sophomore Courtney Solt were all named to the College Sports Madness Preseason All-MAAC Team announced earlier this month. Paolucci and Solt each earned a First Team distinction while Barba was named to the Second Team. Paolucci had a banner year, establishing a new single-season program record with 44 RBI while also leading the NEC in home runs (12) and finishing third on the team with a .322 batting average. Solt broke the single-season hits record at Quinnipiac with 66 base knocks in 2013 to go along with a team-leading .375 batting average, 37 runs, nine doubles and NEC-high five triples. Barba's numbers improved dramatically from her freshman season as she raked .331 throughout 2013 with a team-high .421 on-base percentage, 31 runs, 13 doubles, four home runs and 23 RBI.

Last Season Recap
The Bobcats finished the 2014 season with a record of 17-35 and finished their final season as a member of the Northeast Conference in seventh place overall with a mark of 9-11 in NEC play. Quinnipiac failed to reach the postseason for the first time since the 2009 season, breaking up a string of three straight trips to the playoffs for the Bobcats.

In Steps Jill
Quinnipiac University Director of Athletics and Recreation Jack McDonald announced the hiring of Jill Karwoski as the head coach on Feb. 27, 2014. Karwoski comes to Quinnipiac from Providence College where she served as the assistant coach in 2012-13. Prior to joining Quinnipiac, Karwoski was the head coach at Merrimack College for the 2011-12 season. Before Merrimack, Karwoski spent four years as the associate head coach and recruiting coordinator at Boston College, a position she held from 2007 through 2011. She also has head coaching experience at Morehead State University where she manned the helm from 2004 through 2007.

You Will be Missed
The Bobcats graduated a core of four seniors last season that were all significant contributors not only in 2013 but throughout their four years at Quinnipiac. The Bobcats said goodbye to one of their best shortstops in program history, Alex Alba. She graduated with the most career doubles (45) of any player ever at Quinnipiac as well as the eighth-most homers (13) and fifth-most RBI (92). She also finished just five hits shy of becoming just the second player in Quinnipiac history to reach the 200 career hit club as she finished her four years with 195 base knocks. Also among the graduates was outfielder Lauren Salgado, the Bobcats' center fielder the last three seasons, who finished third all-time with 47 career stolen bases and 10th all-time in career hits (141). Two other major departures include third baseman Bridget Figmic (.243 batting average, 21 runs, 19 RBI, 19 walks, .962 fielding percentage) and first baseman Kourtney Kesses (.220 batting average, 23 runs, three home runs, 12 RBI, team-high 20 walks, .959 fielding percentage). Quinnipiac will need to fill three big departures across their infield and one in the outfield if they hope to compete in the 2014 season.

Back With Vengeance
Coming off a 2011 NEC Rookie of the Year and All-NEC First Year season, catcher Jordan Paolucci missed most of 2012 due to injury. Paolucci ended up redshirting in 2012 and returned fully healthy in 2013 as the starting catcher wherein she finished with another stellar season as the team's main backstop. As a redshirt sophomore in 2013, Paolucci led the team with a stellar all-around campaign including a single-season program record 44 RBI, NEC-high 12 home runs, .322 batting average, 22 runs, five doubles, .611 slugging percentage, .401 on-base percentage and three stolen bases. She led the team in every slugging category in addition to her holding the top spot in the NEC in home runs (12) and RBI (44). Paolucci's successful comeback season garnered recognition on the 2013 NFCA Division I All-Region Second Team honors in the Northeast region. She also pulled in NEC First Team and College Sports Madness All-NEC First Team honors for her impressive season.

Home Run Frenzy
Paolucci's incredible 2013 campaign featured a couple more statistical highlights as she recorded a hit in over 90 percent of the team's games which also included a home run in nearly 23 percent of the games as well. She also became the first Bobcat in program history to record multiple seasons with at least 10 home runs including three grand slams in 2013 with her signature moment coming on April 20 when she crushed a walk off grand slam in the eighth inning to win it for the Bobcats.

Solt of a Good Player
The first season for outfielder Courtney Solt won't soon be forgotten as she broke a 17-year-old program record, finishing with 66 hits to break the single-season program mark established by Kerri McMahon back in the 1995 season. Solt finished her first season with the Bobcats with a .375 batting average, tied for the third-most triples in a single-season in Quinnipiac's history (five) and also finished with the eighth-most runs scored (37) in a single-season at Quinnipiac. Her defining season granted her College Sports Madness All-NEC Second Team accolades for her efforts.

Tied at the Top
Solt also became just the second Bobcat ever to win three NEC Rookie of the Week titles in 2013 as she joined Krista Seeman who accomplished the feat back in 2007. Her success from 2013 has carried over into the 2014 preseason accolades as she was the only Bobcat to garner a MAAC preseason All-Conference selection.

Nikki Breaks Out
Another Bobcat who broke out in 2013 was their then-sophomore second baseman Nikki Barba who took home her first career All-NEC distinction with Second Team honors following strong season. She went from sixth on the team in batting average in 2012 all the way up to second with a .331 mark at year's end. Her average was good enough for a Top-10 spot in the NEC in 2013. Barba improved across the board in terms of hits (49), runs (31), RBI (23), home runs (4), doubles (13), walks (20), stolen bases (7), on-base percentage (.421) and slugging percentage (.500). She ranked in the top-three on the team in all respective categories and did so while starting all 52 games at the second base position for the Bobcats.

Hot Streak
Barba strung together an 11-game hitting streak early in the 2013 season which finished as the longest streak for any Bobcat hitter throughout last season. She hit a combined .444 (16-for-36) throughout the hitting streak with four doubles, nine runs and five RBI.

Position Movement
Expect to see plenty of Bobcats playing in new positions in 2014 as Quinnipiac will need to replace four starters in critical positions (centerfield, shortstop, third base, first base). Only one player on the team, Sydney Robey, is not listed as a utility player entering the 2014 campaign.

On the Mound
The Bobcats were hard pressed to replace their best pitcher in program history last season but they are lucky enough to have all four of the five pitchers who saw action on the mound return for another season at Quinnipiac. Junior Hannah Lindsley had a breakout season as she finished 2013 with the best stats in every pitching category for the entire Quinnipiac pitching contingent. She tallied 7 wins with a 4.10 ERA, 9 complete games, 121.1 innings, 64 strikeouts and two saves. Linsley will be counted on to step in as the team's ace after she put together a solid 7-12 record after pitching in just one game during her freshman season. Other pitchers who will be counted on include senior Katie Alfiere (1-8, 6.19 ERA) who will be looking to bounce back from a difficult 2013 campaign while sophomore Sydney Robey (6-8, 5.27 ERA) showcased some dynamic ability from the mound in spurts last season and will be looking to round herself into a consistent contributor for the Bobcats in 2014.

A Slew of Newcomers
The 2014 Bobcats will include a significant amount of newcomers as freshmen Keilani Finley will join fellow classmates Taylor Schussler and Kathryn Vitale in their first seasons with the team. Finley hails from Alameda, Calif. and will look to help fill the hole vacated by Lauren Salgado in the Bobcats' outfield while Schussler, who also played for Quinnipiac women's rugby team, will provide some much needed depth at the infield position, as well as Vitale who figures to see time in the outfield. Also joining Quinnipiac for their first season with the team is sophomore walk-on outfielder Katie Strong who hails from South Windsor, Conn.

Big MAAC Moves
Quinnipiac softball will be competing in their first season as a member of the MAAC in 2014 after being a member of the Northeast Conference for 12 seasons. The Bobcats will be facing a brand new slate of competition as they played three different MAAC foes last season a total of six times. Quinnipiac finished with a 3-3 record in those six games against their new conference foes as they split two games each coming against Monmouth, Fairfield and Manhattan. Included in their six-game stretch was an impressive 6-4 victory over MAAC Regular Season Champs Fairfield on the road as well as a convincing 8-1 victory over NEC Tournament participant Monmouth.

Contact: Maxx McNall; maxx.mcnall@quinnipiac.edu