"Thank you and good afternoon. I think that coming into this year I felt it was a transition year for the University of Wisconsin softball program. We lost several dominant seniors from our lineup on last year's team and I knew coming into this year with young players and new pitching staff that we would have to go through some growing pains. Surprisingly so, they have stepped up they have done a great job for our program. I like what some of our younger players are bringing to our program. We have some early success early on in the year and I think it really built some confidence for our young players and our team and we rode that for awhile. I think the reality checks have come probably at the right time for our program. We are certainly working through the growth stages of dealing with young players at this point. I like what we are doing. I like the energy on the team and we have a lot of talent on this team. I feel like we can compete with any team in the Big Ten at this point. I feel good about where we are at. Yes, 19 and 16 is the best record. I think we could easily be at 28 and 12 or so at this point. I like what are kids are doing. I think they are playing hard. I think a lot of our issues have been being on the road for eight of the past nine weeks. I think it takes its toll on a young team and any team. We talk often in softball about having to travel when you are a Midwest university. I think it does take its toll on players and student athletes. Hopefully, it is not a big issue. It is a big issue in our sport. We are looking forward to being home. I think these next seven games could be a very pivotal time for our season. I think it will be indicative of what goes for the rest of the season for us. I am looking forward to this week. I am looking forward to being home more than anything because we aren't home very much. I know our kids are looking forward to playing on Goodman Diamond again. We have some tough competition. UIC and Loyola are some tough non-conference opponents, then going back into the Big Ten weekend with Northwestern and Michigan State, two excellent programs. We have our work cut out for us. I like what some of our players are doing. I think we really need to have a good week, quite frankly in order to continue our success this year."
Karen, with the road trips and those 35 games on the road is there anything you can do to even out the schedule in the future?
"That is pretty much what we have to deal with. It is a huge discussion for Big Ten coaches. We are really pushing for a starting date at this point. The dilemma and the issue is Florida State can play 30 games before we can play five. Obviously the weather and the climate is a huge issue in that regard. We are continuing trying to investigate what we could to do. We talked about moving the (Softball World) series back a couple of weeks similar to what baseball does. It kind of gets shot down by the NCAA time and time again. It's a difficult process. I think right now we have to deal with this. It is important for our kids to get out and play other teams before we compete in the Big Ten. That is what every other Big Ten team does and we are all in the same boat at this time."
Not having that dominant pitcher that you had a year ago has that challenged your team?
"We have a different type of pitching staff. We obviously don't have the dominating pitcher that we had in Andrea Kirchberg, but we have a pitching staff that has surprisingly done a good job for us. They are finesse pitchers, if their ball is not moving, we are in trouble, but for the most part they have stepped up. They stepped up to the challenge knowing they had to fill some big shoes. We have had Katie Layne, our junior pitcher, has done a really good job and has really stepped up her level of play. Our freshman Eden Brock has come in here and has really done an awesome job. She set the tone for some really big wins for our program. Just recently Sarah Gonzalez is back from an injury and I really think she is going to help us in the Big Ten season. I feel good about our pitching staff. I think they need to get the experience and go through the growing pains. But right now we are not hitting. That is more of the issue than our pitching. We are actually getting very good pitching. If you look at the wins, we actually have more wins now than we did the entire season last year. We are doing some good things. Right now I am concerned about our offensive attack not really supporting the pitching staff."
Karen, who do you expect or would like to pick up the offense?
"Well I really look to Kris Zacher and Boo Gillette as are our team leaders right now. I think they really stepped up in our second game against Ohio State. I expect that of them every game. I think there are some young players like Emily Friedman, a sophomore, who has been inconsistent, but has the potential of being a great hitter for us. And Athena Vasquez, who has been struggling a little bit at the plate going through her growing pains adjusting to this level of play. I think Kris Zacher and Boo Gillette are the main people I look to to get the ball rolling."
With so few seniors on the squad, are there any players you look to to bring in that leadership and is that the biggest growing pain you are going through?
"I think consistency is my biggest challenge right now and making sure we play at a consistent level. We have our down weeks, making sure the kids don't go to that level of frustration. We have worked hard on that this year. We do look for the leaders on our team to make sure our younger players are staying on task and not getting frustrated. We have a long season and we play a lot of games. As I tell our players, the beauty of this is we have another game, we always have another opportunity. Going back to that, I think Kris Zacher and Boo Gillette are our team leaders and I expect that from them day in and day out to make sure that the team is at even keel and if there are issues, to deal with them and move on."
You have described your team as young and rebuilding. Is that an exciting challenge or is it one that keeps you up at night?
"It has been an exciting challenge for my staff and I. You have to love the fact that these kids are eager, they are hungry and they want to learn. They want to be out there. I love working with athletes that have that momentum and that type of motivation. You know when you have that, good things happen. These kids come out every day and they are the same, and they play hard. They are talented. I just feel I have to be patient with them. I feel like I am being more patient this year because I have to be. There are times that your instincts as a coach kick in and you have to get on them a little more because the level of expectation is high. We did expect to come in and have a pretty good year and you want to get back to the Big Ten Tournament and eventually an NCAA Regional. I think you have to teach them right away what this level of competition is all about and they chose this challenge and they must to be willing to step up to it."
You mentioned the win total is already up from last year. What has gotten to you this year?
"We are more of a team. We are winning as a team. I think (last year) we relied a lot on Andrea Kirchberg to come in and shut teams down and if we got a run or two we were alright. We depended on Andrea too much. I think using all aspects of the game, consistent pitching, being offensively on task and playing great defense. I really think that has been a huge key for our success having 19 wins already this season. They knew they had to play defense, it is a different type of pitching staff. They knew the ball was going be put into play a lot more and we worked really hard on that. I feel like pitching and defense is going to win a lot of ball games for us. Right now if we can get a few runs for our staff I think we will be in pretty good shape."