Rams ready for big stage?

Editor's note: Graham Hays is counting down to the start of the 2011 college softball season with a look at each of the teams in his top 20. Check back daily for updates.

No. 18 Fordham
Last season: 49-12, lost in the College Park regional
Who returns: There is more to Fordham than Jen Mineau, which is saying something when you consider she ranked second in the nation behind fellow Atlantic 10 ace Sara Plourde in strikeouts per seven innings (12.50 to 12.47), third in the nation in ERA (1.05) and tied for seventh in wins (34) as a sophomore. But eight of nine players who totaled 100-plus at-bats for the Rams last season return. Senior Jocelyn Dearborn (12 HRs, 40 RBIs) is already second all time in school history in RBIs and fourth in total bases, while fellow senior Beckah Wiggins led the team in RBIs (60) and hit .328 in 2010. Recruited as a pitcher, Jamie LaBovick instead spent most of her time at first base and led the team with a .342 average as a freshman. Who departs: Attrition got only one swing against the Rams, but it was a costly one. Erin Fisher led the team last season in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, walks and stolen bases. She finished her career tied for first in school history in home runs and second in walks. Who arrives: Coach Bridget Orchard suggested that Becca Griswold, a second-team all-state pick from the Binghamton, N.Y., area, is likely to claim the lone open starting position. She'll take over at third base for Jocelyn Dearborn, who will in turn shift to center field to replace Fisher. Statistically speaking: Fordham was the only team in the A-10 to have three players with double-digit home runs and three players with double-digit stolen bases. Preseason question: Are the Rams ready for this?
Fordham won't need to wait until the postseason to measure itself against elite competition. It won't even need to wait for the A-10 showdowns against Plourde and Massachusetts. The season's opening weekend is highlighted by a pair of games against Georgia Tech in Florida, and the following weeks include games against DePaul, Texas, Washington, LSU, Alabama, Illinois, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Virginia, Maryland and Hofstra, among others. "I know that we've got to challenge ourselves early on," Orchard said. "If we expect to be the best, we've got to play the best. And I'm excited for the challenge, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't really nervous. Our team doesn't get nervous; I think I get more nervous than they do. They love it. They get excited for the challenge, and I'm the one that's usually nervous before the games and they're not -- which is a good thing." Fordham doesn't appear to be an offensive team on par with the likes of Arizona or Hawaii, but the Rams should be able to produce runs far more consistently than a team like Virginia Tech did when it reached the World Series with Angela Tincher in the circle. And while a larger sample size is needed from Mineau to know whether she's in the same league as an all-timer like Tincher, what the upstate New York native did last season goes beyond the realm of fluke. "We got the [NCAA tournament at-large] bid; we kind of made a name for Fordham last year," Orchard said. "I think this year is going to be even harder than it was last year because now there are expectations. She's a really smart, talented player, so it's a matter of managing those expectations and knowing that people are going to know who you are, as far as preparing for her. I think last year she surprised a lot of people, she surprised a lot of teams." But Mineau shouldn't have surprised Maryland and Oklahoma, not by the time she faced them in the NCAA tournament after putting roughly 250 innings on her body. Yet she came through with a pair of wins against the Terrapins and hard-luck 1-0 and 2-0 losses against the Sooners. So a busy schedule against the kind of competition that could cost her a few ERA points? "She's ready for that," Orchard said. "She's the one that really wanted us to do that." A big-time pitcher who wants the ball on the big stage. Perfect for the Big Apple.

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