New coach White takes reins for Ducks

Tristan Coolen

The Oregon women’s softball team will begin the first of five tournaments this weekend when it travels south to Tempe, Ariz., for the Kajikawa Classic.

The Ducks will match up with Notre Dame and Creighton on Friday afternoon and will get the first impressions of what’s in store for the 2010 season under first-year head coach Mike White.

White was hired after former Oregon coach Kathy Arendsen’s contract was not renewed following the Ducks 3-18 performance in the Pacific-10 Conference last year, finishing the 2009 season at 16-34 overall.

According to the team, things have fallen into place quite smoothly since White’s arrival, something that is not a guarantee when bringing in a new coaching staff.

“As of right now we’re a lot more confident,” sophomore pitcher Samantha Skillingstad said. “We like coming here and we like performing. It’s a positive outlook.”

White, a New Zealand native and 30-year coaching veteran, brought with him a pair of well-qualified assistants in Lisa Dodd and Jessica Allister. Dodd, a former All-American at UCLA, spent the 2009 season as an assistant coach at the University of Nevada. She helped lead the Wolf Pack to a Western Athletic Conference title and a 40-19 overall finish.
The equally qualified Allister was also an All-American in her playing days as a catcher for the Stanford Cardinal. She served as an assistant coach at her alma mater for the past three seasons, and the Cardinal received three straight NCAA Tournament bids during that time.

“Defensively we’ve covered all the angles,” White said. “As a staff, we work together on
the hitting.”

Dodd has worked primarily with the infielders during the offseason, while Allister handles the outfielders and catchers. White, a former pitcher for the U.S. National team — he became a U.S. citizen in 1994 — and bronze medalist at the 2000 World Championships, takes on the bulk of the pitching duties. But that’s not to say he hasn’t been beneficial to the rest of the position players as well.

“He’s just got so much information, especially as a catcher,” junior catcher Ashley Kivett said. “You know, this is the pitching guru. I’ve learned a lot from the pitcher’s point of view.”

Kivett is one of eight returning starters for the Ducks — three seniors, three juniors and two sophomores — and is one of several team members that are anxious to start getting outside and playing games.

“Personally I feel as ready as I’ll ever be,” Kivett said. “And I know that a lot of the other girls feel the same.”

Kivett’s twin sister Cortney also plays infield for the squad and enters the season ranked ninth all-time in stolen bases with 44 after just two seasons. Another set of twin sisters, Lindsey and Kelsey Chambers, will look to hold down the left side of the infield at third base and shortstop, respectively.

Oregon also returns arguably one of the best players in program history with senior center fielder Neena Bryant. The two-time All-Pac-10 Second Team selection ranks in the top-10 all-time in Oregon history in stolen bases, home runs, RBIs, and batting average, and is the only Duck returner to hit over .300 last season.

Bryant and fellow power hitter Monique Fuiava have both tried to utilize White’s pitching talent in batting practice to help better their games. But facing a crafty veteran like White has its challenges.

“In practice, especially after hitting off of Coach White who’s one of the top pitchers out there, you can get like really doubtful about your skills,” Fuiava, a junior first baseman said.

White’s skills and enthusiasm for the game could help the Ducks reach the postseason
once again.

“I have a passion to play,” White concluded. “I was very competitive as a player myself, and I want to carry that over to coaching and show the girls that there’s more to the game than just the physical side of things; there’s a lot of mental attributes as well that we need to work hard on.”

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