The Lady Rams got off to a great start to the 2012 season as they swept their first two games against Chowan College, winning the opener 5-2 and taking the nightcap 6-1.
West Chester is coming off one of its strongest campaigns in 2011, where they finished the season 34-19 and advanced all the way to the PSAC Championship game, where they lost to Indiana University of Pennsylvania. After feeling that they have been snubbed by the NCAA for the past two years, the Lady Rams are ready to get back on the field and prove their doubters wrong.
Despite reaching the conference championship game last year, West Chester was picked to finish third in the PSAC East division in the preseason coaches poll, behind favorite Kutztown and Shippensburg. East Stroudsburg and Millersville were tied for fourth which rounded out the division. In the other PSAC divisions, Bloomsburg is favored in the Central, and Mercyhurst in the West. Bloomsburg is ahead of defending champion IUP, followed by Lock Haven, Mansfield, and Clarion.
Out west, Mercyhurst is favored, despite receiving fewer first place votes than second place Cal U of Pa., and Gannon, Slippery Rock, and Edinboro round out the division.
The Lady Rams bring back a very experienced squad from last year, consisting of nine letter winners. They have a big hole to fill in leftfield though, as All-American Erin MacNamee graduated last spring.
All-League catcher Katie Kmiecinski is the only other starter who didn’t return from last year’s squad.
The pitching will be there again this year for the Rams as both right-handers Devon Utterback and Kim Murl return to the circle.
The junior and sophomore are two completely different kinds of pitchers which will cause problems for opposing batters. Utterback is a flyball pitcher and Murl is more of a groundball pitcher. As far as catching, senior Nicole Cruts looks likely to replace Kmiecinski behind the plate.
The Golden Rams bring everyone back in the infield from a year ago. Sophomores Jillian Murray (1B), Jessica Norris (SS), and Jess Schuck (3B) join senior Abby Block (2B) as all four started for last year’s team. Freshman Ashley Ford is an exciting young player for this team who only lacks in-game experience at the college level. Outfield is a completely different story as sophomore Megan Kelly looks to be the only constant in centerfield. Transfer Charlotte Conaway appears to be the leading candidate for leftfield, but she played second base for Rhode Island a year ago and can play just about any position on the field. Sophomore Brianna Rowlands seems to be favored to receive the nod in right, but transfer Jess Russ may challenge her for playing time.
Overall, West Chester is still a relatively young squad that has tremendous experience despite its youth. They are in the tough PSAC East which will really test this team and see just what kind of season they are in for.
The Lady Rams got off to a great start as they traveled to North Carolina to sweep a doubleheader with Chowan College. In the opener, Utterback (1-0) picked up the victory and Conaway went 3 for 4 with an RBI and a run scored in her West Chester debut.
Kelly Anderson went 2 for 4 with a double and a run scored to help the Lady Rams win easily 5-2. The nightcap was much the same as Murl (1-0) again shut down the Chowan hitters as she picked up the win, 6-1.
West Chester will come home as their doubleheader on Sunday against Barton in Wilson, N.C. was cancelled. They will use this week to get ready for next weekend’s travel back to North Carolina for the Catawba College Invitational beginning on Friday.
The Lady Rams will play two games Friday through Sunday beginning with Wingate and Winston-Salem State on Friday. Lenoir-Rhyne and Glenville State will face the Rams Saturday afternoon, and they finish the weekend with Queens and Catawba Sunday afternoon. West Chester won’t play its home opener until March 4 when Shepherd pays a visit for a doubleheader.
Riley Wallace is a third-year student at West Chester University. He can be reached at RW718681@wcupa.edu.