Newcomers add depth to Huskies

By Kari Brackett

Even though the Huskie softball squad lost five players to graduation last year, the recruits for the 1989 campaign are learning to fill the gaps.

While there is a difference between veterans and young players, both NIU coach Dee Abrahamson and assistant coach Donna Martin feel good about the latest recruiting season and the ability the players have had to adjust to college ball.

“We couldn’t be happier,” Abrahamson said about her four newcomers.

The list includes three scholarship athletes and one walk-on. Lori Reimer, Kristin VandenHouten and Ree Zenner form the nucleus of freshmen this season, while Jen Blasky is a junior transfer student from Harper College. All provide strong depth to the 18-member team.

One of the many reasons for NIU’s success (16-1), is its ability to win with a variety of combinations on the field, and all four have contributed greatly to that strategy. Each member has played more than one position in the past, and while at NIU each person has either adapted to a new position or has been used at more than one spot.

Reimer played shortstop during her high school career and both shortstop and third base during summer leagues, yet with the Huskies she is learning the trade at second base—with some action at shortstop. The graduate from Hononegah High School in Rockton, Ill., said she chose NIU for many reasons.

“It was close to home, and it stressed academics,” the physical education major said. “I really liked the team, and the program is making a name for itself.”

Abrahamson said she first found out about Reimer from NIU women’s assistant basketball coach Deb Patterson, former basketball coach at Hononegah.

Reimer not only has been a catalyst on defense but on offense as well. The right hander holds a .389 batting average, which includes one home run and two triples.

“She’s made a good adjustment to the college game,” Abrahamson said. “We’ve moved her around in the batting lineup to look for different combinations. We are looking to eventually place her in the No. 1 spot, and usually you don’t do that with a freshman.”

Vandenhouten, while recruited primarily as a pitcher, has seen some playing time at third base and as a designated player. Abrahamson grabbed Vandenhouten from Green Bay, Wisc., but the Huskie coach only saw the pitcher play with summer teams. The 5-foot-9 hurler has proven herself well, holding a perfect 0.00 ERA in 13 innings.

“Kristin is doing a good job adjusting to 43 feet (the distance between the mound and home plate), because in high school it is 40 feet. She has been able to change her pitches, and that’s why she has gotten to play early.”

Vandenhouten said, “I was really nervous about playing (Division I), but I knew I would work on my self-confidence first, then get the coaches’ and team’s respect.”

Abrahamson’s third rookie, Zenner, was brought to the Huskies’ attention by an NIU alumna, Marilyn Wax—Zenner’s former high school coach at Evergreen Park High School.

“She has the abilities to play everywhere,” Abrahamson said. “She has played both (infield and outfield) for us and has experience in both.”

The pre-business major, hitting at a .209 clip, said entering this season was a bit unusual for the newcomers.

“All the talk was about how great last year was, so we had to prove we could play,” Zenner said. “I don’t think we’d be seeing action right away if we were not producing.”

For Blasky, it has been a long-time dream to play softball at NIU. In high school, the education major played shortstop, but she’s trying her talents at first base for the Huskies.

“She’s done a good job with what we ask her to do,” Abrahamson said. “Jen is learning the footwork for first. We’re pleased with what she’s done.”

Blasky admits she and the rest of the team want to go the NCAA Championships again, and she wants to be there to help.

“I want to come through on situations they ask me to, and be ready when they ask me to play,” Blasky said.

“Of course we want to get to Nationals,” Zenner said. “There are six seniors on the team who want to prove last year wasn’t a fluke, and we want to help.”