PHILADELPHIA - After a long offseason waiting to take that one final step and win an Ivy League title, the Penn Quakers softball team will have to wait an extra day. Saturday's season opening doubleheader against Lafayette was pushed back to Sunday due to the expectation of inclement weather, but that is not dampening the enthusiasm that the team has for the upcoming season.
Penn is coming off the winningest season in the history of its softball program. With an overall record of 23-19, the Quakers won the Ivy League South Division and advanced to the league championship series, where they fell to Harvard, two games to none. Still, the experience of playing for a title was exciting for the team.
"We learned a great deal from our first venture into postseason play," said head coach Leslie King. "We had come off a two-week break of reading days and finals, got off a bus and played for a championship. We clearly weren't game sharp. But we now have that experience in our back pockets and we will be better prepared mentally in the future. I know the returners are dying for another shot at a title."
Those returners include two of the most prolific offensive weapons the Quakers have ever had in senior tri-captains Annie Kinsey and Christina Khosravi. Kinsey, a unanimous choice as the 2007 Ivy League Player of the Year, hit .450 last season with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs, becoming the first Quaker to reach double digit round trippers. All three were career highs for Kinsey, who was second-team Easton All-America and first-team Mid-Atlantic All-Region. Kinsey also put up a stunning .519 OBP for the year. Kinsey has been a first-team All-Ivy selection all three years thus far.
Khosravi, the 2006 Ivy League Player of the Year, hit .296 last season with six homr runs and 25 RBIs. At shortstop, Khosravi led a defense that led NCAA Division I last season with 0.60 double plays turned per game. Meanwhile, she and Kinsey are already Nos. 1 and 2 in the Penn record books in home runs and RBIs, and are two of the top four in batting average and runs scored.
"Our two seniors have been the backbone of this team for three years now, and I know they will be wonderful leaders for us again this year. Certainly in my time at Penn they have been the most talented and dedicated athletes Penn softball has had."
The seniors bring a winning attitude and experience that will help what is going to be a young Quaker team this year.
"We set the bar last year, and now we expect to win," said Khosravi. "We want to be competitve all the time and we want to perform well for our pitching staff in the field and at the plate."
Meanwhile, that offense will be aided by a pitching staff topped by junior tri-captain Emily Denstedt. Denstedt, whose 13 wins last season tied a Penn school record, is already closing in on school records for career wins and strikeouts. With just six victories this season, Denstedt will tie the school record of 31 careet wins set by Betty Tuppeny from 1979-82. A first-team All-Ivy selection last season, Denstedt pitched 16 complete games and led the staff with a 2.44 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 135.0 innings.
Amongst the other returners for the Quakers is Keiko Uraguchi, who garnered 2007 honorable mention All-Ivy status for a freshman season that saw her bat .260 with 10 RBIs and a team-leading five stolen bases. She was one of just six players to start all 42 games for the Quakers last year.
Junior Anna Puglisi, an outfielder who hit .231 last season in 20 games, is one of three juniors on the team who will be expected to step up their leadership on an overall young squad. Puglisi scored seven runs, including a 1-for-1 game with a run scored against Sunday's opponent, Lafayette.
Addy Crocker, who saw time in the outfield and at shortstop in her first two seasons, got her first extra-base hit last season against Villanova when she doubled in a run. A .250 hitter last season, Crocker will be expected to spell Khosravi and Kinsey in the middle infield this year.
Sophomore Susan Miller saw time in the circle last season, earning her first collegiate start against Columbia. This year, though, she will be expected to take over a role at first base, where she played for part of the league championship series against Harvard alst season.
Although Penn will be returning several of the most talented players the program has seen, the story of the 2008 Quakers will be youth. On a roster just 14 players deep, eight Quakers are freshmen and only four are upperclassmen.
"Many of the freshmen are going to be asked to start immediately," Coach King said. "That certainly didn't daunt them in the fall - collectively they had a great fall ball season. Offensively they are going to need to produce to protect Annie and Christina in the lineup, and the young pitchers will need to step up and supprt Emily in the circle."
Jessie Lupardus, Tory Satagaj and Taylor Tieman will fill in the rotation behind Denstedt. Lupardus, named the 2005 Pitcher of the Year by the Birmingham News, led her team to the 2004 Alabama state championship, earning tournament MVP honors along the way. A strikeout artist with Hoover High's single game, single season and career records, she was an all-state pitcher from 2005-07.
Satagaj also led her team to a state championship, helping Mercy High win the Connecticut Class LL state championship in 2006. Behind her pitching, the team was the three-time Southern Connecticut Conference champions from 2005-07.
Tieman, a three-time team Most Valuable Player, helped her Palos Verdes Peninsulateam win back-to-back Bay League championships in California in 2006-07. She was twice honored as first-team all-league.
Offensively, Alisha Prystowsky will be expected to step in as a catcher/first baseman. A two-time Colonial Hills Conference champion in New Jersey, Prystowsky was a four-time first-team All-Colonial Hills conference honoree at Montclair Kimberly Academy.
Kelsey Wolfe, also expected to contribute at catcher and first base, led her Coronado High team to the 2007 Sunrise Region championship in Nevada. She earned first-team all-region honors last season.
Diana Ark, who also fences for the Quakers, will roam the outfield this season. As a senior, she was first-team all-county and all-conferenc at Ridge High in Basking Ridge, N.J.
Hilary Sheridan, who will be a valuable asset at all the infield positions, is coming off a senior season in which her Ernest W. Seaholm High team reached the Sweet 16 in the Michigan state tournament. She was an all-region and team MVP honoree her senior season.
The Quakers also added Bridget McDugall to their roster, a walk-on from Philadelphia who led her Penn Charter team to three league championships from 2004-06. Last season, she was named team MVP.
Although the Quakers are a young team, Khosravi says that they are "the best team skill-wise since I have been here. We have given the freshmen a lot of responsibility already, but all of us chip in. We want to get it across that this is a team responsibility. The freshmen have been great. They push the upper class in the locker room and on the field, even. They are very vocal. They haven't been timid, and that's a good thing."
The Quakers open the season Sunday against Lafayette, and then travel to Delaware for a doubleheader against the Blue Hens on Tuesday. Khosravi says that the team is expecting success before heading to Florida for their spring break trip to the Rebel Spring Games.
"We want to get four wins under our belt before spring break," she said. "We all are going in with that goal, and accomplishing that will give us a huge confidence lift. We just want to play with that confidence all season long and get the swagger that can lead us to a championship."