bleedCrimson.net: Give us a position by position look at how the team is going to shape up for the 2015 season.
Kathy Rodolph: We’ll start behind the plate. It looks like Tatum Reedy and more than likely Lacey Rother. Lacey played right for us last year and we really feel like it might be more beneficial to have her fit in behind the plate. We recruited her as a catch, we just hadn’t caught her. Tatum Reedy has definitely earned the top catching spot as far as managing the pitchers and managing the game.
Moving into the pitching circle, Karysta Donisthorpe is healthy this year. I’m excited that she’s come back strong. I think with her movement, we’re going to have great things from her.
Dallas McBride is a new freshman pitcher from Phoenix, a hard throwing left-hander. I think she’s added a whole new dimension to the circle. Along with Karysta and Dallas, Makayla McAdams is a strong drop-ball pitcher, a junior out of Tucson, has really developed an off speed and a changeup over the summer. I think that’s really going to help her be a lot stronger this year.
Nikki Diaz is a senior, local from Las Cruces. Nikki has really worked on really improving her accuracy and I think she’s going to get some innings this year.
We’ve got a real good battle going on for first base between Fiana Finau and Kelsey Dodd. Kelsey has left-handed power and Fiana has right-handed power and we feel like both of them are doing very well at first. It probably depends on what Cat is looking for in the lineup. Fiana is probably going to hit in the four-hole for us and Kelsey has always been a good three-hole or six-hole.
At second base, Brenna Nakamura, a junior for Maui, has the experience but Staci Rodriguez’s little sister, Rachel Rodriguez, is a very talented incoming freshmen who is going to see quite a bit of playing time as well. She’s a left-handed slapper. Brenna gives you a left-handed power bat and Rachel gives you more of a speed/quickness type.
At shortstop, Haley Nakamura, Brenna’s younger sister who is a sophomore, Haley is probably either going to be in the leadoff or in the nine-hole for us. She gives us a lot of different moves, left-handed with good speed.
A local young lady, Lucy Mendoza has really been doing well coming on, adjusting to the speed of the game, playing in the middle infield. I think she’s going to get some innings for us too. She’s a left-handed slapper with good speed.
Emma Adams anchors third base for us and I think she’s going to be a mainstay. We have a new incoming freshman who is going to be a mainstay. We have a new incoming freshman who is a good-size kid, about six-foot from Hawai’i in Nue Sivia. She’s out right now, she may not be able to play this weekend but she is a big, strong, powerful bat. I think she’s going to find her home at third base this year.
In the outfield, centerfield is anchored by Staci Rodriguez. Staci is living up to senior expectations so far. She’s excited to play and has been a terrific leader for us.
Left field is probably going to split time between Malena Padilla, a senior that has played quite a bit for us in left, and a brand new freshman from Tucson in Amy Bergeson She’s a left-handed slapper, great speed, good arm in the outfield. She’ll probably be starting this weekend. Malena has been a little under the weather. She’s going to spot time this weekend but probably not play as much time as much as she has in the past. We’re trying to get her back healthy.
In right field, my little lefty pitcher in Dallas McBride, she’s a terrific hitter too, she’s going to probably play some in right and will probably start on Thursday.
Misty Hoohuli is another outstanding outfielder, great defense, she’s working on becoming more consistent offensively.
Jasmine Stokes is an incoming freshman who has been plagued a little bit with a shoulder injury, she’s going to be a great baserunner for us. She may see limited time on defense because of the shoulder.
Freshman incomer Corrin Green has had a little bit of a shoulder injury. She was slated to be the one or two catcher behind the plate but we’re letting her shoulder rest. She’ll be DP’ing for us all year. She’s a terrific hitter.
bc.net: I had to take a look back to see the last time you had a left-handed arm in the circle and it was all the way back to Vanessa Fitzgerald in 2009. You talked about Dallas adding a whole new dimension in the circle but that really is the case.
KR: The thing about Dallas is I think she’ll be one of the top five hardest throwers in the game. Some people shied away from her early in the recruiting process because she threw really hard and was kind of wild. I believe as a junior she hit 41 batters and as a senior she hit 20 and now she has absolutely come into her own. She can flat out pitch. She has that personality to back it up.
bc.net: What kind of versatility does that give you? You don’t see a ton of good left-handed arms out there.
KR: I totally agree and the fact that Dallas can hit as well as pitch gives you an opportunity to play somebody on defense that maybe is a better defender than an offensive player. She also has nice wheels and can play in the outfield and she also gives you the opportunity, because she can play defense, she can rotate in and out of the circle within at bats with somebody. As we get her comfortable and get some games under her belt we’ll look at having her some in the circle and some out in the outfield. She’s going to see a lot of time.
bc.net: This freshman class looks to have a lot of potential. How would you compare this freshman class with some of the other freshmen classes that you’ve had?
KR: I would say this group is probably equal to the 2011 group with Hoku, Kylie, Ashley and Kandis. They absolutely are extremely talented and they’re going to contribute their freshman year just like those kids did.
bc.net: Are you seeing with freshmen, especially now within the last four or five years that with the amount of travel and club ball that these kids play that they’re more ready to come in and contribute right away?
KR: I would say because of our success over the past couple of years we’re able to attract a higher caliber kid. Our 2015 class that we just signed coming in next year, they just keep getting better and better. We have outstanding hitting and pitching coming in.
Staci Rodriguez and Lacey Rother and Kelsey Dodd and Malena Padilla and Nikki Diaz, they have experience but this senior group really wants to win that championship. They’ve gotten close but haven’t been able to earn the ring yet.
bc.net: You mentioned Staci Rodriguez’s sister joining the team and you’ve had some pretty good success attracting sisters to the program.
KR: Kristi and Kylie Randall are probably the first example of that, then Vanessa and Carissa Fitzgerald and now the Maui sisters in Haley and Brenna Nakamura and now Staci and Rachel (Rodriguez). I feel like the older sister has typically been a good mentor for the younger ones.
I think in the example of Staci and Rachel, the fact that Staci is a stud senior, leader on the team, it’s given Rachel the confidence to step out and really give it her all and has maybe prevented some of that learning curve. It’s definitely proven to be a good situation with those two for sure.
bc.net: You see it a lot with a lot of the good programs where they get an older sibling and that starts a pipeline through the family. What do you think it says about your program?
KR: I think because we have a 100 percent graduation rate and we pride ourselves in getting those degrees, I think we have the faith and trust of the parents that we’re going to take care of their kids and that this is a great environment and that means a lot that somebody would trust us with their kids and with multiple kids.
bc.net: Who are a couple players that may not be household names yet but you think are going to have big-time years for you?
KR: Definitely Dallas McBride and Corrin Green. Those two absolutely standout. I think Amy Bergeson is going to be a silent assassin from the left and Rachel Rodriguez is just steady. She’s a joy to coach. Fiana Finau transferred in last January and had been out of the game for a year and a half and still hit in the 300’s. She is going to break out in a big way this year.
bc.net: Every senior class is different and every senior class is different in the way that they lead whether it’s vocally or by example. How would you describe this year’s senior class in terms of their leadership style?
KR: I think that each one of them has their own strength and they kind of lead by committee instead of one real vocal leader. Lacey Rother was the WAC Player of the Year last year, Staci was the year before. They’re very humble yet very competitive.
bc.net: This year’s roster has a good mix of experience of veterans but also fresh faces.
KR: I think the young ones absolutely helped raise the bar for the older ones. I think we have a very talented senior group but make no mistake, they have been pushed day in and day out by this freshman group. They know they’re going to have to bring their very best every day or they’re going to get beat out.
bc.net: In terms of the schedule, you have always been able to put together strong schedules, but looking at this year’s schedule, this may be the strongest schedule you’ve every put together. Going through and looking at the teams you’re playing against, there are of course the big names on there but there are also teams that were either picked to win their league or picked to finish in the top half.
KR: I definitely think this is the toughest schedule we have ever put together. Cat does our schedule and I joked with her that she’s outdone herself this year. I honestly believe that we really need to challenge this team because they have a ton of potential. I think they’ll play to the level of the teams that we play against.
We were disappointed because we fell short of our goal last year. I tip my hat to Grand Canyon and to Utah Valley but we honestly feel like we were a better team that the way we finished and it’s really fueled us to come back and really challenge ourselves. To get to play ten teams of the top 25, it’s going to be a great challenge for us. We want to have an opportunity to be in the mix and be that mid-major to go as far as we can go. The only way you can do that is to play really good people and learn to play fast, hard and aggressive.
That’s what we’re trying to do. Learn to play fast without panicking and play very aggressive and the fact that we have 31 home games plus the conference tournament, we’re excited. We always feel like we always play well at home and we’re excited we have a lot of home games and hopefully we’ll have the support from the Las Cruces community by bringing in quality teams.
bc.net: How much of an advantage is it to have 31 home games, I was looking at one of your opponents, North Dakota, who will only have 13 home games this season.
KR: Our entire season last year, I think we were at home 17 games. We’ve almost doubled that. I believe that playing on a field that you’re comfortable with, that you’re familiar with, sleeping in your own bed, as well as being able to be the home team because it’s such an advantage in softball to be the home team, I think it sets you up to really get on a roll and really boost your confidence going into the biggest time of the year. Then being able to host the WAC tournament after we’ve played 31 home games is really going to be a bonus for us.
bc.net: The two notable home conference series are obviously Arizona and Arizona State. How great is is for your program but also for Las Cruces to be able to have both of them willing to come to Las Cruces and obviously Arizona has been willing to come in the past.
KR: I think it’s a level of respect. I feel like I have a great relationship with a lot of the top coaches. They feel like Las Cruces is a great venue, they love our facility and they love the atmosphere and then you have AggieVision on top of it. It’s a great game for some of those big teams as well to prepare in non-conference.
bc.net: A few of your freshmen are from Arizona. How nice is it for them to be able to play against their home state schools?
KR: I think anybody from a state is really going to find that as a big rivalry type game and really want to prove yourself and really prove what you can do. I’m excited about the opportunity to play them. We also get to go to Arizona State so we will actually play them three times this year.
bc.net: How much does that help in recruiting?
KR: A lot of our recruiting is out west and the biggest thing kids want to know in picking and choosing to come here is that they’re going to play out west where their parents are going to get a chance to see them. There’s great softball out west. This year we go to San Diego, we go to UNLV. A lot of the parents are going to get to see some good home games as well as some road games.
bc.net: This weekend’s opening schedule you take on Montana and Texas Tech on Thursday, you’ve got Nebraska who you’ve developed a pretty good non-conference rivalry with them, UTSA and then Colorado State which is another team you’ve had some great battles with.
KR: I think it’s going to be a very challenging weekend and I’m excited with the caliber of teams coming in. We’re friends with Jamie Pinkerton the new head coach of the brand new program at Montana. He was at Tulsa and Arkansas and then Iowa State. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to put together a good program there.
Nebraska coming out number 18 in the country, extremely well coached. We love to play them. They’re very competitive games. Hopefully we’ll be able to have solid games all weekend.
Texas Tech has a brand new coaching staff and a lot of new kids. I expect them to be tough. UTSA, always swings it well. Colorado State has been a great rivalry, they’re a very good team in the Mountain West, I expect that game to finish the weekend on a very high note.
bc.net: When you look at your team as you head into this opening weekend, what are some things you think they’re doing very well and what are some things you know they’re not quite as good at right now but you want to see them improve on this weekend?
KR: We really challenged them hard this spring when we came back for two-a-days, to really play defense with a sense of urgency, a lot of pride, really attack the ball every single pitch that is hit, it needs to feel like it’s everybody’s ball and we’re converging on it. We’re playing defense with a lot of pride and I really like that.
Offensively we’ve really upgraded speed so we have speed to go along with the power but we’re still having to mesh that. Because a lot of the speed is new, we’re trying to make sure our speed kids have a high on base percentage and just trying get the offense on a flow. I have no doubt that our offense will come through.
I feel like we’ve upgraded in the pitching circle and I think we’re going to be able to show multiple looks that are going to be able to keep us in games against top level teams?
bc.net: You’ve had very stable coaching staff for a long time and in the offseason one of your long-time assistant, Tiala Togaloa, left to take a head coaching position of her own. How proud did that make you feel as a head coach and also who has replaced her position?
KR: Cat coached Tiala back in junior college and so we’ve known Tiala since she was 18 years old. T coached with us for nine years here and when the UT Permian Basin job came open, Cat convinced her that she was ready and that we would support her and helped her through it. I think this year might be a little tough for T because she’s going into a situation where she doesn’t have a full-time assistant. Hopefully they’re going to get that figured out but we’re extremely proud of her and we definitely believe that she’s going to do a great job there.
Kate Singler who is now Kate Malveaux, she was our GA and she was a former catcher for Bradley. She’s moved up into the assistant position and I was able to pick up Kacie McCarthy as my graduate assistant who was Mountain West pitcher of the year for Colorado State. I love the energy of the two young guns. It’s fun to mentor young, quality women who come into the coaching field.
bc.net: What do you want to see overall from your team this weekend. Obviously wins are great but what would make this a successful weekend for your squad?
KR: I’d like to see the pitcher be able to work quick, have quality innings, attack the leadoff every inning, great strike to ball ratios, really limit the time we’re on defense and get us back to our sticks. I’d love to see our defense really communicate well with each other and make sure not only are we making the first plays but also the secondary plays.
Offensively, I’d love to see us attack early and often.