Softball preseason No. 8: Stanford

January, 27, 2009
01/27/09
11:31
AM ET
What better team to fill the eighth position in the preseason top 20 than a school founded in 1885 that sits on 8,180 acres and plays in a softball conference with eight teams?

Hey, it was that or a joke about Fibonacci numbers. Although come to think of it, these guys probably know their way around those as well.

Stanford

No. 8: Stanford

Last season: 49-15 (Lost to Texas A&M in the College Station Super Regional)

Preseason talking point: When Arizona State freshman Krista Donnenwirth ripped a pitch over the fence in the third inning of the opening game of the Women's College World Series finals against Texas A&M, the blast seemed to confirm that the Sun Devils simply had too much going for them for any opponent to stop.

But capping off a banner debut season, Donnenwirth's hitting heroics also offered a reminder that it's difficult to win a title without freshman production. It's so difficult that no team has done it this century.

Lucky for Stanford, the Cardinal add one of the country's highest-regarded freshman position players to the returning core of their run production. Infielder Ashley Hansen -- the only high school invitee to the selection camp for last year's United States Olympic team -- joins Alissa Haber, Rosey Neill and Maddy Coon, as well as one of the best pitchers in the country in Missy Penna.

Take a look at freshmen position players who started at least 75 percent of a team's games in its championship season. I'm including each player's gross production average, a more accurate measure of a batter's overall offensive production than OPS (to find GPA, multiply on-base percentage by 1.8, add slugging percentage and divide by four to produce a number scaled like batting average … .300 is very good, .400 is terrific, etc.).

2008 Arizona State Sun Devils
Krista Donnenwirth -- 69 starts, .347 GPA
Lesley Rogers -- 55 starts, .288 GPA

2007 Arizona Wildcats
K'Lee Arredondo -- 65 starts, .234 GPA

2006 Arizona Wildcats
Laine Roth -- 65 starts, .261 GPA
Jenae Leles -- 65 starts, .258 GPA

2005 Michigan Wolverines
Samantha Findlay -- 72 starts, .402 GPA
Alessandra Giampaolo -- 72 starts, .302 GPA

2004 UCLA Bruins
Lisa Dodd -- 55 starts, .251 GPA

2003 UCLA Bruins
Emily Zaplatosch -- 57 starts, .333 GPA
Caitlin Benyi -- 61 starts, .281 GPA
Andrea Duran -- 61 starts, .241 GPA

2002 California Bears
Kaleo Eldredge -- 75 starts, .252 GPA
Jessica Pamanian -- 75 starts, .231 GPA
Chelsea Spencer -- 75 starts, .221 GPA

2001 Arizona Wildcats
Leneah Manuma -- 47 starts, .417 GPA
Mackenzie Vandergeest -- 41 starts, .390 GPA

2000 Oklahoma Sooners*
Kellie Braitsch -- 70 starts, .301 GPA
Leah Gulla -- 71 starts, 68 .251 GPA

*The available statistics for Oklahoma's 2000 season didn't include enough information to precisely calculate OBP, so the GPA figures are an estimate.

Only Arizona in 2007 didn't get season-long run production from a freshman starter. And Arredondo, a natural shortstop playing outfield for the first time that season, provided a key glove for the Wildcats and a much-improved .253 GPA in Pac-10 play, when many freshmen tend to wilt. And even players like Cal's Chelsea Spencer found ways to make their presence felt -- in Spencer's case, with a home run in a 1-0 WCWS win against Florida State.

All of which could be good news for Stanford, as it looks to return to Oklahoma City for the third time overall and the first time since 2004. Add five other freshmen to Hansen and the Cardinal core, including speedy outfielder and potential opening day starter Sarah Hassman, and Stanford may have the ideal mix of youth and experience.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.

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