Florida trip no break for softball squad Huskies to begin ‘89 campaign

By Kari Brackett

NIU softball action is ready to begin—1989 style.

It’s a new season for NIU. And while the Huskies don’t want to forget about their regional title and the trip to the NCAA Division I Championships last year, it is inevitable that the 1989 campaign is a new look. NIU coach Dee Abrahamson knows the squad can’t rest on its laurels.

“It is distracting in a way,” Abrahamson said, “because people ask if we’re gonna go back. It’s like comparing it to the classroom. Sometimes students look ahead to the final exam. But you can’t look ahead that early. If (the student) does well and prepares early throughout the class, then when it’s time to take the final, he will be well prepared.

“It’s up to the players not to worry. We can control how we play, but not how others play.”

The Huskies officially begin their season on Sunday in Florida against Southern Illinois. It is an important game for NIU because SIU is in its region, and it is the only time the Huskies will face the Salukis. When it comes time for judges to choose teams to go to regionals, the outcome of this contest with SIU could be a factor.

NIU has not practiced on a field since October. The Huskies’ intentions of practicing all day Saturday in Tallahassee, Fla., were cut short, however, because the squad intended to fly Eastern airlines on Friday. But because of the strike, NIU had to find another airline and cannot leave until Saturday morning.

“We had to make a quick change,” Abrahamson said. “We went from practicing all day Saturday to practicing Saturday afternoon. I’m just glad we’re not having to leave on a bus, or we would have had no time to practice.”

The Huskies continue their play Monday against Florida A&M. After a one-day break, the NIU crew takes on Connecticut—a team ranked in the Top 25. March 17-19, the Huskies will compete in the Florida State Invitational, and the trip concludes March 20 against Florida State.

Abrahamson admits NIU is heading into this spring season a little bit differently than they did last year. The 35-11 squad of a year ago lost starters Pat Faletti, Sue Kause, Laura Peterson and Amy Veld to graduation, which means there are holes to fill.

“We went into last spring season with six positions solidly decided, one probable and one unsure,” Abrahamson said. “This year it’s the opposite. We have three positions probably definite, three up in the air and two entirely not known.”

Abrahamson said the pitching staff will be heavily relied on until she finds a chemistry that works. Seniors Beth Schrader and Shari Edwards and junior Maria Leake all provide experience that Abrahamson knows she can depend on.

Another catalyst for the team will be Jill Justin. The two-time First-Team All-America centerfielder ended last year with a nation-leading .484 batting average and a .985 fielding percentage. It was the second consecutive season Justin led the country in hitting. This season it looks as though she will fill the spot of shortstop.

“Everybody has truly a chance to be a regular player,” Abrahamson said. “For our players, it is more challenging. For our younger players, it is more exciting because they have a chance to play.

“Our rookies look great in the gym. We’re anxious to get out and see what they can do.”

The new kids on the block include Lori Reimer, Kristin Vandenhouten and Ree Zenner and transfer student Jen Blasky. Both Vandenhouten and Zenner are utility players, while Reimer and Blasky are looking for action in the infield.

Of course Abrahamson and her squad would like to see a repeat of last year, but Abrahamson admits that it’s not all skill that counts.

“Last year we played very well, and we had lucky breaks,” she said. “To get where we were, you have to have both. If you get in the position to get the lucky break, you have to capitalize on it. If you take advantage of the breaks, then you’ll make it to the Final Eight.”