DICKINSON, N.D. – Dickinson State University opens the 2014 season in Crete, Neb. on Sunday (Mar. 8) with a doubleheader against Grand View (IA.). The Blue Hawks have 12 returners who have previously seen action in a Dickinson State uniform.
Head Coach Kristen Fleury returns for her fifth season at the helm for the Blue Hawks after guiding the team to a 25-14 record and an appearance in the NAIA Tournament.
"We had a tremendous 2013 season," Fleury said. "We are returning the core of our team and we are looking to build off of the success from last year. Reaching the National Tournament gave twelve of our returner's experience that they didn't have before. We are all hungry to get back there again."
Offensively, Dickinson State looks for another strong season from Janell LaRont. LaRont hit .426 last season for the Blue Hawks with an on-base percentage of .510. She also clubbed nine home runs and drove in 44. LaRont led the Blue Hawks in stolen bases (18), total bases (101), slugging percentage (.783), and runs scored (47).
"LaRont is an all-around athlete. She can get it done on offense and defense," said Fleury. "She is a natural leader and we will continue to look to her to be one of our top performers. Having someone like Janell who can pitch, play anywhere on defense, hit for power and average, and be a threat on the bases is a huge advantage in any lineup!"
Alex Vargas finished the 2013 campaign with a batting average of .381. The shortstop hit nine round trippers and drove in a team high 55 runs. She finished second on the team in total bases (99) and second in slugging percentage (.712)
Rebecca Lopez played in 41 games and hit .390 for Dickinson State. Lopez hit three home runs and drove in 32 runners. She also scored 28 runs and was 7-for-7 on the base path.
The Blue Hawks will also get one of their top offensive performers from the 2012 season back in the lineup. Lindsey Sullivan led Dickinson State in average (.407), home runs (8), runs batted in (51), slugging percentage (.669), on-base percentage (.456), and total bases (97). Sullivan received a medical redshirt in 2013 after suffering an ACL injury.
Fleury added, "Lindsey not only brings power to our lineup, but she also brings leadership to the team. Having to sit out what was going to be her senior season was tough after suffering an ACL injury last fall. She has continued to rehab and get better every day to make a full recovery. She loves the game and we excited to have her back in our lineup for the 2014 season."
Justeena Gutierrez played 35 games last season and had a batting average of .359. Gutierrez hit three home runs, drove in 23 runs, and had a slugging percentage of .522.
Monique Yslas hit .358 in 41 games during the 2013 campaign with six triples and 26 runs batted in. She tied the team high in hit by pitches with four. Yslas swiped six bases and led the team in sacrifices with 20.
"This season we brought in 5 true freshmen, all of which have an opportunity to make an impact right away for us," said Fleury. "McKenzie Kenobbie is a lefty slapper who will lead off for us and play center field. She knows the game and takes control in the outfield and at the plate. Freshman Kailey Olcott is one of the hardest working athletes I have coached. She is in tuned to the game and a very smart player. She will find a spot, either in the infield or outfield. Freshman pitcher McKenna Kostelecky joined us at the semester from Florida State College at Jacksonville. A Longmont, CO native she has played the game for many years at a very competitive level. McKenna will give us depth in the circle. Not only can McKenna pitch she is also a threat at the plate. Shelby Ries and Brianna Grayson will both be fighting for a spot behind the plate. They both bring great presences behind the plate."
The Blue Hawks boast an offensive live ripe with experience and young talent.
Fleury added, "For us to be successful on offense we will have to be patient at the plate and have quality at bats. We have some top hitters that can hit the long ball but we don't want to rely on that. We will look to use our speed to our advantage and make things happen on the bases. As a coach I like to play small ball to move runners into scoring position and force the defense to make plays."
Not only did LaRont spark the offense, she was also a formidable force in the circle. In 12 games she compiled a 5-2 record over 52.2 innings. LaRont threw four complete games and two shutouts. She struck out 22 hitters and posted an earned run average of 2.53.
Regan Lawrence pitched in 15 games, while starting 11. Lawrence tallied 50.2 innings and a 7-4 record. She tossed three complete games and one shut out. Lawrence collected 26 strikeouts.
"The combination of our returns and new comers gives us an all-around very talented group of student-athletes," Fleury said. "They have bought into our style of play and have been working hard since the fall to be successful. As coaches we are very happy with the group of athletes we have and are excited to start playing games."
The Blue Hawks versatile pitching staff will make them a formidable unit in the 2014 season.
"All four pitchers have a different type of pitching style and that will help us keep teams off balance," Fleury said. "We will try to eliminate walks and use our defense. We aren't a strike out pitching staff, we will pitch to contact and let the defense make the play. "
The Blue Hawks' season opener is Sunday (Mar. 8) against Grand View and the home opener is scheduled for April 2 against the University of Jamestown.