Matadors Return to Arizona for Tough Competition on Opening Weekend
NORTHRIDGE, Calif. --- The Cal State Northridge softball team starts its 2012 season with five games in Tempe, Ariz., as part of the Kajikawa Classic hosted by Arizona State University. The Matadors will certainly get a tough test right out of the gates as they will play five teams that qualified for the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Among the five teams, CSUN will also face three teams that appeared in the preseason rankings (Stanford, Nebraska, Arizona) and one squad that received votes (Syracuse). Selected Northridge contests at the 2012 Kajikawa Classic will have live stats available. Fans should also refer to the Northridge Athletics Twitter site (@GoMatadors) for updates on all the action.
In the second year under the helm of head coach Tairia Flowers, big things are expected from a Northridge team that returns 10 letterwinners to go along with nine new faces. CSUN was picked to finish fifth in a preseason poll of the league's coaches and returns with ample offensive firepower this year.
Among the returning players are All-Big West First Team selections Jaci Carlsen and Mikayla Thielges. Carlsen, who has earned first team honors the past two seasons for her work at second base, enters her senior season poised to make it three straight years with the distinction. She finished among the league leaders in multiple offensive categories and led the Big West Conference with 19 stolen bases in 2011, establishing a new program Division-I record.
Thielges, the team's everyday catcher, had a breakout season at the plate in 2011. She finished second in the conference in slugging percentage, home runs and RBIs en route to the first team honors. The 12 home runs were the sixth-most in school history for a single season while the 45 RBIs checked in at fifth.
Other players expected to punish opposing pitchers are sophomore Madeline Sale, who batted over .350 during Big West play, and seniors Korinne Randazzo and Samantha Sloniker, who will look to conclude their collegiate playing careers with a strong finish.
In the circle, the Matadors will be led by junior Mia Pagano. After starting later in the year, Pagano finished 2011 at 2-3 with a 4.20 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 51.2 innings of work. Both wins last season came against Big West opponents, including her first career complete game in a win over Pacific. The team also expects to see contributions from juniors Alexa Limon and Shelly Tait and freshmen Brianna Elder and Crystal Maas in the circle.
This weekend, Northridge will face two teams from the talented Pac-12 Conference (Arizona and Stanford) who combined to go 5-0 against the Matadors in 2011. Nebraska enters the season in its first year of competition in the Big 10 Conference, but a preseason No. 20 ranking has the pundits believing the Cornhuskers will not have too many growing pains. Syracuse enters the season fresh off one of the most successful years in school history and Western Michigan, a team Northridge defeated in 2011, won its conference last season.
Senior Jaci Carlsen is coming off two-straight All-Big West First Team seasons for her work at second base. Last year, Carlsen hit .327 for the season with a career-high 50 hits, 31 runs, 12 doubles, nine home runs, 91 total bases, 23 walks and 19 stolen bases. Those 19 steals established a new program Division-I record and give her 29 for her career, tied for the eighth-most in school history. In Northridge's 7-1 victory over UCR, Carlsen tied a school record with three stolen bases. She enters her final season at Northridge on the verge of ascending into several school all-time lists. She has 19 career home runs, tied for the eighth-most in school history. Carlsen also has 79 career RBIs, five shy of moving into a tie for 10th in school history. Finally, at 26 career doubles, Carlsen is one shy of moving into a tie for ninth in school history.
Thielges Do Us Part
Junior Mikayla Thielges had a huge offensive season for the Matadors during her sophomore campaign, earning All-Big West First Team honors as a catcher. Thielges finished the year with a .317 batting average and set new career highs with 22 runs, 40 hits, five doubles, one triple, 12 home runs, 45 RBIs, 83 total bases and 29 walks. The 12 deep flies tied for the fifth-most in school history for a single season while the 45 RBIs ranked sixth in the school annals for a single campaign. Thielges added 10 multi-hit and 11 multi-RBI games during the season and batted .382 with three home runs and 15 RBIs during Big West play.
Time for Madeline
Sophomore Madeline Sale had a strong rookie season for the Matadors in 2011. Playing primarily at first base, Sale batted .311 with 46 hits, nine doubles, one home run and 25 RBIs while starting 52 of the team's 53 games. She was especially potent against Big West opposition, finishing at .348 with 22 hits, six doubles, one home run and 16 RBIs in 21 conference games. Her only home run of the season came in a dramatic spot, a three-run shot that lifted CSUN to a 3-0 win at Cal State Fullerton. She also had four three-hit games on the year and had a .980 fielding percentage in 303 chances.
Junior Mia Pagano enters her third season at CSUN ready to assume a greater role in the circle for the Matadors. Last season, she went 2-3 with a 4.20 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 51.2 innings of work. Both wins last season came against Big West opponents, including her first career complete game in a win over Pacific. Pagano also recorded her first save of the season and third of her career in the Matadors' comeback victory over Cal Poly on May 1. For her career, Pagano is 3-7 with a 4.60 ERA and three saves, 42 strikeouts and 94.1 innings of work.
Junior Samantha Sloniker returns for her final season with the Matadors looking to build off a successful junior season. In 2011, her first year at Northridge, Sloniker had 25 hits, three doubles, two home runs, 13 RBIs and scored 26 runs. She also had six sacrifice hits, the second-most on the team, and added two sac flies. Additionally, Sloniker added four two-hit games and six two-run games during the year. A dependable arm in the outfield, Sloniker finished the season with a .955 fielding percentage after also seeing some time at shortstop.
CSUN boasts nine new players to its ranks in the 2011 season. In the circle, CSUN expects to see contributions from juniors Alexa Limon and Shelly Tait, who transferred from Mt. San Antonio College and Santa Ana College, respectively, Brianna Elder, a redshirt freshman, and Crystal Maas, a true freshman. Rookie Abby Linn is expected to see time right away in the outfield as is fellow freshman Sydney House, who is expected to see time on the infield. Tiffini Lucero, a transfer from College of Southern Nevada, should also see early time at shortstop for the Matadors.
As has been the case over the past several season, Northridge will face a tough slate of games in 2012. In all, Northridge will play a total of 21 games against 14 teams that participated in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Included in that total are five home games at Matador Diamond as CSUN hosts Harvard twice and Long Beach State three times. In the preseason rankings, CSUN will face tests from Stanford (No. 9), Arizona (No. 8), Nebraska (No. 20), California (No. 4), UCLA (No. 19) and LSU (NO. 22). Syracuse, BYU, Fresno State and San Diego also received votes in the initial national rankings.
Over the past three seasons, defense has a been a staple of Matador Softball. During the 2011 season, the first year under head coach Tairia Flowers, the Matadors led the Big West Conference and their region with a team fielding percentage of .967. That percentage ranked 55th among 300 teams in the NCAA Division I. Over the course of the season and in 155 more chances, Northridge committed three less errors than its opponents. In 2010, the team sported a .970 fielding percentage to lead the Big West Conference and rank 34th in Division-I.
CSUN will look to continue aggressively attacking the basepaths in 2012. Last season, Northridge finished second in the Big West Conference with 48 stolen bases as a team. Individually, Jaci Carlsen led all league players with 19 stolen bases, setting a new school single-season Division-I record. Among other returners for the Matadors who will look to engage in the art of base stealing are Korinne Randazzo (three steals in 2012), Leann Lopez, Tanna Bindi and newcomers Abby Linn and Serena Hernandez.
I Have the Power
Northridge packed a powerful punch at the plate in 2011. As a team. the Matadors led the Big West Conference in home runs (36) and in sac flies (13). The team also finished fourth among the eight league clubs in slugging percentage (.382), runs (195), RBIs (181), total bases (500) and third with 139 walks drawn. Individually, Mikayla Thielges finished second in the conference in slugging percentage (.659), home runs (12) and RBIs (45). Her teammate Jaci Carlsen also posted a powerful season, finishing fourth in the league in slugging percentage (.595), fifth in doubles (12) and fourth in home runs (9).