Zias freshman Nikki Varnell stretches for a grounder at third base during Friday’s softball practice. The Zias open the season Saturday in San Angelo, Texas. (Freedom Newspapers: Kevin Wilson)
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — Tracy Jordan has run the gamut with Eastern New Mexico University softball.
Recruited before the 2003 season, Jordan has played under a different coach every season.
“It’s certainly a challenge, but the team stays pretty much the same with a couple of exceptions,” said Jordan, who is from Rosamond, Calif.
Ron Landshoot took over the program in 2003, then was replaced the next year by Kevin Blaskowski, who left after one season to start a program at West Texas A&M.
Armando Quiroz was named head coach last season, but after the Zias’ first tournament he suffered a freak injury in practice when he backed into a batting helmet while coaching third base and severely dislocated an ankle.
Graduate assistant Amber Daniel took over the rest of the season, and has returned to that role with Quiroz back in the fold. Now, Jordan is dealing with role change — a three-year starter at second base for the Zias, she will be used as more of a utility player this season.
“Whatever they ask me to do, I’m going to do,” Jordan said as the Zias prepare to open in a tournament at Angelo State next weekend. “Whatever role they ask me to take, that’s what I have to do.”
Jordan, who has batted .279 while starting 139 of 146 games in three seasons, thinks the Zias (20-29, 3-17 Lone Star Conference South last season) will be fine despite a prediction of last place in the six-team South — behind even Blaskowski’s fledging WT squad.
“The only place for us to go is up,” she said. “We have a lot of seniors (seven active) this year. We’re just going to work hard and see what we do.”
Quiroz is also anxious to get going, although ENMU will be without some of its top players from last year. Senior pitcher Patricia Gonzales (6-9, 5.72 ERA) had knee surgery in December and is out for the season, senior center fielder Adina Taul (.271 batting average) is academically ineligible and third baseman Adrianna Reyes (.286) left school for personal reasons, Quiroz said.
In addition, senior outfielder Tori Picazo, who led the LSC in hitting last year at .486 with seven homers and 36 runs batted in, underwent shoulder surgery in the fall and her status is up in the air. Quiroz said he hopes she can still be a designated player this season.
Despite all that, he takes an optimistic approach.
“Fortunately, they play games on the field, not on paper,” Quiroz said. “I can’t really fault anybody for picking us last, but it’s up to us to change that mindset.”
Seniors Natasha Lindsey (6-7, 4.51) and Rosemary Moreno (4-9, 5.55) will handle the bulk of the pitching, with incoming sophomore Brittany Regaldo of Roswell possibly providing help.
The Zias, who led the LSC in hitting last year (.327), return a number of their top sticks in first baseman Elizabeth Whipkey (.396, 38 RBIs), shortstop Jessica Nocas (.394, four homers, 44 RBIs), left fielder Christina Helland (.387) and catcher Tina Whitt (.381). Nocas will move to second base this season, with newcomer Kelsey Kubik stepping in at shortstop.
Freshman Brianna Darnell and sophomore Nicole Bregler, an ENMU soccer player who is playing college softball for the first time, will compete at third. Helland and junior Dani Flores, who had a strong freshman year but was slowed by a shoulder injury in 2004, are candidates in left with junior college transfer Kristina Goodman in center and returnee Kristin MacRunnels in right.
Jordan, meantime, expects to see time at second base, right field or designated player.
“We have a lot of talent,” Jordan said. “People are just going to have to step up. We’re all college athletes, and we know we just need to step into our roles.”
Quiroz knows making the LSC’s postseason tournament (top three in each division) will be a test.
“We have to prove ourselves,” he said. “We’re shooting for that. If we do our job, I think that’s a real possibility.”