Women's Softball Team Experiences
Big Stage at NJCAA World Series


Going from a club team to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) World Series in five years is not a feat most teams can claim. But that's been the impressive path for the Mercer women's softball program. With a final record of 38-8, this year's team distinguished itself by earning the best record in school history and qualifying Mercer for the World Series for the first time since 1988. The roster included a group of young women committed to hard work and each other, making success a sweet experience, according to third year head coach Ryan Zegarski, who was named the Region 19 Coach of the Year.

Travel to the national tournament in Normal, IL, was impeded by bad weather in Chicago, forcing the Vikings to rent vans and drive for the second leg of the trip on May 15. The players did not receive their luggage and equipment until the following day.

The women's softball team before heading to the nationals: (back row, from left) head coach Ryan Zegarski, Danielle Juricic, Jackie Sasko, Rebecca Pacheco, Kathy Park, Patti Foley, and Robin Clausen; (front row, from left) Nicole Hover, Danielle Brossoie, and Sara Contento. Not pictured: Ashley Williams, Meghan Faust and Brittany Marcinkowski.

But when they came out in the opening game of the double-elimination tournament on May 17, there were no signs of lingering discomfort - or nerves. The Vikings recorded a 2-0 victory over the hometown favorite, Kankakee CC, a team that had been to the tournament six out of the last ten years. "We played a perfect game. Kankakee was shocked," Zegarski reported. "I was so happy we had gotten at least one win under our belt."

The second game against Phoenix - the three-time defending champ and the tournament's eventual winner - was closer than the Vikings' 11-1 loss would suggest. "We were winning 1-0 in the fifth inning. We were really close to an upset. The girls gave it a great shot," Zegarski said. By the time the Vikings played their last game of the day at 9 p.m., fatigue had set in and the Vikings went down 3-0 against Murray State CC.

"I wanted to show that we belonged out there. And we accomplished that goal," Zegarski said. "The players represented themselves and the college really well." Zegarski, an MCCC alumnus who played baseball during his two years at the college and traveled to the NJCAA World Series with the men's baseball team in 2000, is delighted to have given his team a chance to play on the big stage. "Not one of these players will forget the experiences they had during the season and, especially, at the nationals. As a coach, I know that I will remember it, because you never know when you are going to get back there."

Pitching was a key ingredient to the Vikings' success this season. Sophomore Jackie Sasko was stellar on the mound with a record of 19-3, allowing less than one run per game. Freshman pitcher Robin Clausen added to the effort on the mound with a record of 14-5. Sasko was a great hitter (.480), as was outfielder Ashley Williams (.460). The team defense also performed better than expected. "When you have good pitching, it raises the level for the whole team because you can practice at a higher level," Zegarski said. Sasko, who was heavily recruited at the nationals, will play at Rowan University next year.

Other key contributors were outfielder Sara Contento, who hit .376, shortstop Meghan Faust (.330), and catcher Danielle Brossoie. Both Faust and Brossoie were injured for three weeks simultaneouly during the season. "I had to juggle the line-up," Zegarski recalled. "It shows the heart and determination of this team."

In the Region 19 tournament April 28-29, the Vikings defeated Mercyhurst twice, 1-0 and 4-0, a particularly satisfying outcome given that Mercer had lost to Mercyhurst in the regional final by one run the last two years. Then the Vikings beat Orange CC (NY) twice in the district tournament - 4-1 and 8-4 - after losing to Orange twice during the regular season. The Vikings had a sense that they were destined for something special when they opened their season by traveling to a tournament in Myrtle Beach, SC, in early March and returned home with an 8-0 record. They had three notable winning streaks - 9 games, 10 games and 14 games.

According to Zegarski, in addition to talent and hard work, his team's magic had partly to do with a relaxed attitude. "Their free-spirited approach helped them achieve. They never got too high or too low. They stayed cool-headed and their chemistry was great. They left the worrying to the coach," he added with a smile. "I didn't plan on coaching women's softball. Now I wouldn't trade it for the world." Six players will return next season and a number of new recruits are expected to join the line-up.

Sasko, Williams and Brossoie were named to the All-Region and All-Garden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) teams. Sara Contento and Danielle Juricic earned All-GSAC honors. Jackie Sasko was selected as Region 19 Player of the Year and Ashley Williams was a runner-up. Sasko and Williams were named second team All-Americans.

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