Weekly Coach Rodolph Interview :: 01/31/13 :: Season Preview

Lacey You've got several new faces on this year's team as well as some younger players. Who are they and what do they bring to the table?
Kathy Rodolph: With only four seniors, three juniors a slew of sophomores and some freshmen we're fairly young but we're excited about the freshmen. Makayla McAdams, a pitcher from Tucson, I think Mac is going to be a strong addition to the pitching staff. Some of the sophomores I think that I really expect to step up, Tina Cisneros did some spot hitting and pinch hitting and got some timely hits for us last year. We expect her to work her way into the lineup. She's a big, strong left-handed bat. Lacey Rother is a sophomore transfer from South Carolina. She's originally from Southern California. We've got her playing behind the plate. Emma Adams is from Albuquerque and she's a left-handed stick with power. Thai Ramirez is from Carlsbad and is a utility player for us. Tatum Reedy is a catcher for us out of Phoenix. Ayssa Vargas is a player we redshirted last year that's a power hitter that will be playing some one and adding to the offense. Brennalyn Nakamura, we picked up Brenna at the start of the semester. Brenna is a second baseman from Maui and is an extremely talented young lady. She's a lefty and as a second baseman she's working with Tehani Ka'aihue. Tehani and Kristi [Covarrubia] are both back from their knee injuries and doing well in the middle infield again. You had maybe one of the most trying seasons with injuries and sickness. How are all those kids doing in terms of health and how have they bounced back?
KR: Well I feel like losing Tehani and Kristi in the middle infield, especially with a pitching staff especially Alex [Newman], relying on her defense, it really took a bit out of us. Then also having eight kids down with mono. But Kristi and Tehani are back and all of my mono kids have recovered. I feel like the trying season probably brought us closer together and helped us get more determined. Some of the freshmen, Malena Padilla, Staci Rodriguez, some of those kids stepped in and got an awful lot of experience and playing time because of injuries and sickness of the others.

The four seniors are Alex Newman, Teresa Conrad, Amber Olive and Tehani Ka'aihue and they're really doing a fantastic job of really setting the bar and really bringing the energy every day.

We've got a really small junior class in Kristi Covarrubia, Celisha Walker and Alyssa Ruiz. We're going to rely heavily on the seniors to lead and give us the courage because we're going to have a tough preseason. It seems like just yesterday that we were talking about your seniors as freshmen. Conrad and Olive were named preseason All-WAC but any of those four seniors are All-WAC caliber players.
KR: I think absolutely. They each bring a very significant part to the team. I really like their energy and enthusiasm. They all really like to play and it shows. Energy is contagious and so this fall we took a retreat to Brush Ranch and we did a high ropes course and spent a weekend together and really became a lot closer. I'm really proud of the way those guys have stepped up and they're willing to lead us and they really want this to be a special year. With the WAC and so many teams changing it's going to be interesting because a lot of us are going to go into new ballparks that we haven't played in. Alex Newman as a senior pitcher, San Jose, Utah State and Louisiana Tech have all seen her and Celisha Walker and Karysta but a lot of kids we're going to be seeing them for the first time, they're going to be seeing us for the first time and I really think the WAC is going to be wide open this year. Your sophomore class got a lot of experience last year due to the injuries and illness and it really feels like that group is poised to be like the senior group you had in 2011, your NCAA year.
KR: I agree. There are a lot of similarities. Good-sized class, the 2011 group came in as freshmen and they played an awful lot as freshmen and they had to get tougher and tougher and learn how to play at this level and I think the experience these sophomores got last year will definitely pay off this spring there's no doubt. Your pitching staff with Alex Newman, Karysta Donisthorpe, Celisha Walker and Makayla McAdams, what are you looking for out of them this season?
KR: Alex really needs to anchor us as the senior. She's been there, she's been in the playoffs, she has the experience and she needs to be able to keep us in games and just do what she does. She does a great job of hitting spots, changing tempos and keeping people off balance.

Celisha Walker, a junior, had the lowest ERA on the team last year and Celisha has always had a dominant change up but I feel like she's still learning to use that change up in complement with her other pitches.

Karysta Donisthorpe has got some amazing movement. She's a very determined pitcher and she loves the pressure games. She really got a lot of playing time last year, pitched some really great games and I really expect her to help us in our quest to win the WAC championship again.

Makayla McAdams is a young lady that throws hard, has a heavy ball and I feel like as she gets more and more experience at this level that she's going to be a real key and a standout pitcher here. Karysta was a highly touted freshman last year and got a lot of playing time in the circle. What growth have you seen from her over the offseason?
KR: Sometimes as a freshmen you feel like the game is happening to you instead of you being a willing participant in it and everything can get in fast forward. Karysta had great movement but I think she really grew over being able to face outstanding hitters and trust that her movement could get out great hitters. I feel like she's come back more poised, she understands what the drill is now. It's not like sprinting a marathon and she's excited to go up against the top teams. She had some great games last year. When we were playing Arizona in game two and she was pitching the game of her life. We were up 5-1 before Kristi [Covarrubia] went down with a blown ACL and we ended up losing 6-5. She has legitimate movement and has the potential to be an All-American this year. In that sophomore group you had a couple of big bats and I thought a couple of really standout players like Kelsey Dodd and Malena Padilla and Staci Rodriguez and as freshmen showed some pretty big things.
KR: I think Cat [Heifner] was probably the most pleased with Kelsey Dodd's eye at the plate. She's a tough out and she's a left-handed bat and she is really good under pressure at really deciphering what the zone is and she doesn't swing out of the zone a lot. She gives us an opportunity to know that she's going to go in and have great zone command. She's gotten a little stronger this year.

I think Mo and Staci Rodriguez were huge last year. When we had some sickness and Tiare got sick with mono, Staci and Mo went in and held down the fort as freshmen. Mo is a very, very tough out at the plate. She's only about 5'3" but proves that dynamite comes in small packages. She can really wallop the ball. She definitely loves to hit.

Staci as a freshman played centerfield and had some huge shoes to fill in filling Kandis Jones' spot for us out there in center. Staci has gotten a lot better, a lot more determined at the plate, a lot more confident and I think a lot of it just has to do with the experience they got. Defensively you've been very proud of your team's defense. How is this year's team shaping up to be defensively?
KR: I think we have the potential to be very strong defensively. When Kristi went down Teresa [Conrad] moved over to short and now we're moving her back to third and I feel like Teresa and Kristi are doing a great job on the left side but really getting used to each other and playing together. Tehani and Kelsi Dodd are getting comfortable playing together on the other side. Brenna Nakamura, a freshman, is an outstanding second baseman and she's going to see some time this year too. Emma Adams can go for us too and she adds another dimension with her left-handed stick Tina is going to be spending some time in the outfield in right and has a cannon for an arm out there. Chelsea Dohrwardt is someone who as a freshman pinch ran for us last year and as a sophomore she has really worked on her slapping and bunting and has legitimate wheels, probably the fastest on the team. I expect Chelsea to be a strong addition in the outfield and provide us with speed at the plate.

All-in-all I think that we are going to continue to get a little bit better defensively as we get a little game experience under us and just pure communication. I love how hard this team works. Celisha Walker is one of your best athletes and she did see some time in the infield last year with all the injuries. Will she be primarily a pitcher or will you use her in other roles as well?
KR: In the fall when I didn't have Kristi or Tehani back, CW was a mainstay at short but what I find is when we have such limited hours to practice, I definitely think she has the ability to do both but when we have to split time with her hitting and pitching and defense then something kind of gives and I really think that her strength on this year's team is going to be in the circle. In terms of your schedule you open up this weekend with Nebraska, Illinois-Chicago and New Mexico and when you look at the overall non-conference portion of the schedule it's another tough slate
KR: Cat's the one who puts our schedule together and I think she does a fantastic job and what she tries to do in the non-traditional part of it, the non-conference scheduling, is to really give us a variety of challenging opponents from different regions to give us the best opportunity to really be ready when conference play gets here. Our non-conference schedule is going to be tough. We play Nebraska four times, we play Arizona in a doubleheader at home, we play Arizona State there. I expect Notre Dame to be very strong. They've got solid pitching. It's not that I don't feel like everybody on the schedule is going to be really tough but I feel like we're going to have to bring our 'A' game many, many times in this pre-conference season to really be ready for conference. The thing we're really trying to get out of it is to be ready under pressure so that when we get into the conference part of the season that we're ready for it and excited to go into that part and not worry whether we're at home or on the road. We tried to divide it up, we have our two tournaments here then we go on the road for three tournaments so that we have a good variety of playing at home and on the road before conference gets here. When you look at the conference schedule you're going to be facing a bunch of new teams that you've not seen before or haven't traditionally played against. What's the challenge in that especially when they're conference games?
KR: In our conference's schedule you either play four series at home and three on the road or vice versa and it rotates every year. This year we get four series at home and to me that is huge in having the home field advantage. I believe that having Seattle here versus having to adjust to Seattle up there, that's going to be a huge advantage in our favor. Texas State was picked as the top team and I'd expect that they're going to be very tough. They won the Southland Conference last year. Their coach is a former Aggie, played here and I expect them to be very tough and we play them there. UT-Arlington comes in here and we have a brand new coach in Kristy Fox that was a standout shortstop at Arizona and was an assistant at Texas Tech when we played them in the NCAAs. I expect she'll definitely have them playing very hard. UTSA comes to us. We got to San Jose, we go to Utah State and then we have Louisiana Tech here and then the conference tournament at Louisiana Tech. I like the conference schedule mainly because we have four home series and three on the road. Just looking at the schedule, you do get three of the four new teams at home. Is that a nice added bonus to having the four series at home that you don't have to travel to these new places?
KR: It is just because trying to get used to the new field, the new atmosphere, how the ball travels. The ball travels differently in the desert than it does in the humidity. I definitely think that going into a new stadium the advantage goes to the home team. As far as the opening weekend what are some things that you're specifically looking for from your team?
KR: I really want to see us be able to play solid defense and allow our hitters to get into a flow. I'm expecting our pitchers in the circle to be able to use their experience, stay poised, hit their spots, very their tempo and keep us in the ballgame. At the end of the weekend if we can come out of there playing solid defense with great communication and allow us to adjust to the new lineup then I'll be very happy. As you go into the new season what do you believe is the strength of your team and what is something you think you'll need to work a little harder at as the season goes on?
KR: I'd like to hope that our number one strength is our pitching because of having four solid pitchers. I think that's a huge advantage and then having three with a ton of experience. I believe that the team is very confident playing behind the pitchers.

Offensively, we're always going to be able to hit, we're always going to be able to score runs. I just think Cat's challenge is a lot of kids in new parts in the lineup. They're going to have to get comfortable with the roles that she needs them to provide.