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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pearsall prepares for powerhouse Cards softball season


We sat down for a delightful Q & A session recently with head Louisville softball skipper Sandy Pearsall. We're pleased to bring you this CARDINAL COUPLE exclusive and hope you, the reader, enjoy reading it as much as we did taping it.

CC: First of all, Coach...it's hard to believe softball season is here! First game is Feb. 10th?

SANDY: For us, it's just a normal time..we're used to this..but for everybody out in the world, it's like..'it's kinda cold to be playing our sport'. We're really excited about it. This is a great year..we've got some great players and a great staff. We're still young in a lot of ways with our freshman and sophomores...but they got some great experience last year and we're returning a lot of great players.

C.C. You've got the luxury of going south and west for some early tournaments...talk about that.

SANDY: Texas is where we open up and they're one of the major powers in our sport. They actually asked us to be the opening game...it's quite an honor and shows their respect for our program, We played them last year in Fullerton and beat them. They're a very talented team in terms of their offense and they have a great pitcher that is now a sophomore. It'll be a very tough match up for us to have early on...but it is a great matchup in the fact that it's an even playing field...no one will have a game before this. A very interesting first test for us. Northern Illinois is there also, they're a talented team with a great coach. Tulsa is going to be a very good team...they are a little different in comparison to Texas...maybe not the sheer power of Texas but a great hitting team for average. We have some tough matches early on. Then, the next weekend, we're headed down to Alabama..a perennial College World Series team ...tremendous amount of offensive power and great pitching. Also... probably what we would have not liked to have...but Syracuse is there also. It could be good and bad, to see how they've improved from last year.

C.C.: A revenge factor in that one for last year?

SANDY: I'd kind of like to hold that for our conference games with them and the tournament. They return their great Canadian pitcher who has a tremendous change up and they have great speed in their outfield. They probably feel like we do...good to see us early so they'll be better prepared for us in the conference.

C.C.: Were you pleased with the overall outcome of last year...3rd in the BIG EAST, runner up in the BIG EAST tournament and receiving an NCAA regional bid?

SANDY: I think we were disappointed a little bit with last year. We did well but we thought we should have done better. I thought we played poorly somewhat off and on in conference..we did do some great things..but some bad things, too. I was pleased with our run in the conference tournament..but, you know...we should have won that tournament. We underestimated Syracuse a little bit. We got past Notre Dame, which was a huge win, and we thought 'Oh, Syracuse..we beat them in a doubleheader earlier and they didn't show us much.' They were on a big roll coming into the BIG EAST Tournament and they played extremely well. We were excited about being sent to Knoxville for the NCAA Regionals. We got to the championship game (against Tennessee) and we just ran out of pitching. Tennessee ended up going to the College World Series.

C.C. Your team has been practicing a couple of weeks so far. Are you pleased with what you are seeing?

SANDY: Three weeks now and I'm very pleased with what I'm seeing. Defensively the team looks very good and we have a tremendous amount of depth so we have lots of options. Offensively I like what I'm seeing..we may have a tad bit more offense than we had last year. We'll miss the sheer power of a hitter like Melissa Roth but we've brought in a few players that are definite hitters. Let me say this about our pitchers. I really like where Tori Collins is right now, our lefty from last year, she's getting better as time goes on and her confidence is there. Chelsea Leonard is coming off that injury that shortened her season last year. She looks better than last year and has fixed her 'illegal pitch' problems we believe... so, she's in good shape. Our new freshman pitcher Caralisa Connell... she's young but she'll be a good one. She had a good fall.

C.C.: Talk a little about the loss of the seniors...Roth and Wadwell

SANDY: Kristen (Wadwell) kind of struggled on the mound last year...her senior year, she wanted a lot and I think she put too much pressure on herself..had a few bad innings and kind of let it get to her. There were many times she came thru and had great games for us, too. She may not have had the successes of her junior season but she still did quite a lot for us. Melissa Roth...what a tremendous offensive player...loved the game so much. Certainly, losing both those players is huge...two areas of the game you absolutely have to have is strong pitching and catching. We'll have young catching...but they both can hit the ball well and I'm sure they'll do a great job for us.

C.C.: Chelsea Bemis returns for you, who had an unbelievable hitting season last year. Give us an idea of some of the other 'big bats' returning for you...

SANDY: Jordy Trimble has power and hit very well as a freshman for us. Kristin Austin has been working so hard and I think she's in a good place right now and will have a big year for us. We have some incoming freshmen that have power, too. I really like Maggie Ruckenbrod...a catcher from St. Louis...has a great swing and hits the ball well. She set a Missouri record for hits last year. Taner Fowler, one of our Kentucky players, tremendous power..the thing with her is going to be how she handles the pitching at the next level. Katie Keller, another freshman that can hit the ball very well. I also think we're going to get a little more power out of Colby Wherry this year also. I've got high hopes she's going to increase her offense.

C.C.: The Big East coaches recently did a preseason poll and Louisville finished third in that. Who did you place your first place vote for? DePaul?

SANDY: No, actually I voted for Notre Dame. They pretty much return everybody from last year. They're very senior-laden, I think they are in a prime spot. They have pitching, the returning bulk of their offense. Our games with them are pretty spirited and hotly contested. We do have to go to their place this year...advantage for them...but I think it'll be a great series.

C.C.: Do you think third is about the right preseason ranking for your squad?

SANDY: It's pretty close between us and DePaul. I'm not sure if people are giving Syracuse enough credit either. We're not going to overlook them because they have a legit pitcher. You also have to consider South Florida as a dark horse...they sometimes come up with very good teams...last year they didn't have a great year but you have to realize that they have a great freshman shortshop coming in, their pitching should be improved. We will not actually see them in conference play this year. That's a disadvantage for us right now.

C.C.: Ulmer Stadium is a state of the art facility. Is there a little animosity out there amongst the other BIG EAST teams that the BIG EAST Tournament will be played here a fourth year in a row?

SANDY: Yeah, they were getting a little testy about it but it's moving after this year so that's it
and it'll probably be gone for a few years.

C.C.: Are there any softball facilities in the BIG EAST that match up to what Louisville has in Ulmer Stadium?

SANDY: Notre Dame just built facilities..theirs is probably just a couple of years old. It's very, very nice, too. South Florida is just now completing their facilities, I'm sure it's going to be nice. They're doing a softball and baseball facility right next to each other. Pitt, I think, is just finishing up theirs, too. A lot of the teams are starting to move on upgrades, so as they improve...we will try to keep pace.

C.C.: Like a domed stadium...

SANDY: (Laughing...) That's what I keep asking for..with a retractable roof!

C.C.: Compare the Big East with the other conferences in terms of ranking in women's college softball.

SANDY: Middle of the pack. I think it's very difficult because of our weather and the number of schools we have in the conference. There's no question that the SEC is a power in our sport...the Big 12, the PAC 10 and the Big 10...all powers in our sport. We're definitely not with those yet. We've actually lost a little ground to the Mountain West. Our conference also has a lot of basketball only schools...no football and that creates a whole different level of teams. We would obviously like to be up there with the SEC and the Big 10...but they are powerhouse football conferences...we have two schools that play football but don't have softball programs...Cincinnati and West Virginia. TCU, when they come aboard, they don't play softball.

C.C.: You're the only softball coach Louisville has ever had. Talk about your time here.

SANDY: (Laughing...) Yeah, I'm old...Obviously, I love being here. Sometimes, it's hard to believe I've been here this long but I really love it here. There are so many wonderful things here..not just the university but the community as a whole. It's wonderful to play here because of the support the community and fans give us. It's terrific. I'm having dinner one night downtown and some fans come in and started talking about Louisville and all of a sudden they realized I coached softball and they just went off...over and over about the program. There's just a great atmosphere in this town.

C.C.: Did you envision this long a stay when you sat down and talked with UofL about taking the job?

SANDY: You know, I didn't even want the job, I have to tell you...Originally I was not very interested in the job...because all I had ever heard about Louisville is that they're not very interested in women's sports...it just seemed so one dimensional...men's basketball and Denny Crum. You didn't really hear much else abut Louisville...sometimes football but when I came over I realized very quickly that these people know what they want to go in the future, they know how to go about it and they really want to create something great. Once I realized that, I realized that this is where I want to be. And, as time has gone along..I think to myself...why would I want to go anywhere else? The school has also done so many great things for me...how could I want to leave? Loyalty to me is huge and they've done a lot of things for me and this program. Because of that, I can't think that I'd ever want to leave. I've had some opportunities and (shrugging) I'm kinda happy here. No situation is always perfect...but the grass isn't necessarily greener...all the coaches here...we just want to do whatever we can and do it the best we can.

C.C. For fans who want to go to the next level of support for the program..you have the Bullpen Club?

SANDY: Yes! We have receptions before games and other activities...we're in the process of organizing those things now for the season and we'll have them on a regular basis this season. Fans can e-mail Lisa Pinkston (lisa.pinkston@louisville.edu) . She's our director of operations and is taking care of things like the bullpen club. We're also just sitting down with our marketing department and discussing some things.

C.C.: Will we ever get to the point where we'll start getting Cardinal softball on the radio?

Sandy: I'd love to see that happen eventually...we've just got to get enough people asking for it and letting the school and the station that they want to hear it. If UConn can do it, we certainly do it! Keep requesting it.

C.C.: Any final words for our readers out there?

Sandy: Just thank you for all your support and please continue to support us. We're looking forward to a great year and we're planning on really trying to bust this out this year!

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