Zias adjust quickly

Dave Wagner

PORTALES – Barely two weeks after arriving on campus, Eastern New Mexico University interim softball coach Ron Landschoot is getting ready for his first games.

Landschoot said there is much behind-the-scenes work to do to get ready for this weekend’s four-game series against New Mexico Highlands at Zia Softball Field. While he’s having to handle a lot of things himself without a fulltime assistant coach, the 59-year-old Landschoot brings enthusiasm to the job and is quick to note that help from the support staff at ENMU has been “amazing.”

Landschoot, a former head coach at New Mexico State, was named in mid-January to replace Kathleen Rodriguez, hired only days earlier to start a program at Division I Texas-El Paso. Rodriguez and her husband, James, coached the Zias to a berth in the NCAA Division II national tournament in 2001.

Understandably, it’s been an adjustment for the players.

“It was kind of stressful,” senior first baseman-pitcher Dawn Murray said of the transition. “We were excited for coach (Rodriguez) because it was a good opportunity for her, but we wanted to make sure we were going to have a season.”

Now that someone is in place, she said the Zias can turn their attention to winning games.

“I think it’s good for us,” Murray said. “We’re having to work hard to prove ourselves. It’s bringing out a whole new attitude and pride.

“We have so much talent on this team, I can’t wait to see us play.”

ENMU returns several key players from last year’s 28-23 squad (10-10 Lone Star Conference South Division). Landschoot said the Zias should field a solid team, but added that lack of depth could be a problem.

“The strengths are going to be, I think, the personality of the team,” he said. “They’re energetic, they support each other and they work hard in practice.

“Our pitching is deep. We should be in the hunt to get to the playoff level. I haven’t seen the competition in the conference, but I don’t doubt we’re a playoff contender.”

Junior Maegan Rhoten, who belted a team-leading seven home runs and knocked in 44 runs, is slated to divide time between pitching and left field. Senior Vicki Davis (.308, 3 homers, 19 RBIs in 47 games) will also see duty in left, while freshman Nikki Gray has impressed Landschoot as “a
good all-around player” and will open in center.

The infield should include Murray (.282, 1, 21) at first base, either sophomore Kim Barajas (.300, 3, 22) or freshman Katie McDermott at third, and two freshmen up the middle – Tracy Jordan at second and Misty Torrez at shortstop. When Murray moves into the circle, sophomore Bobbi
Richardson (.347, 3, 15) or Hess could take over at first.
Junior Lauren King (13-7, 2.11 earned run average) and Rhoten (12-7, 2.98) lead the pitching corps. Also competing for time in the circle are Murray (1-5, 5.00), senior Katina Arocha (2-4, 4.64) and freshman Tonie Hutzler.

“We have an experienced and deep staff,” Landschoot said. “Some people think pitching is everything in (fast-pitch) softball – it isn’t, but it’s a nice luxury to have five quality pitchers.”

Murray, one of six seniors on the team, said the players have made the transition to the sudden change in coaches about as smoothly as could be expected.

“It’s been a challenge for all of us to stay positive about this, but now we’re starting to focus on how our team plays,” she said. “For the seniors, this is it and we want to go out with a bang. We have a lot to prove. We’ve been through so much so far, but we also have nothing to lose.”

Dalia Flores and Jessica Rowley, who played on last year’s squad, are serving as graduate assistants this spring.