MONCLAIR, New Jersey - Outstanding individual performances led to breakthrough seasons for several Division III teams, and this was undoubtedly in evidence as the NFCA named its 2009 Louisville Slugger/NFCA Division III All-America teams Thursday night at the national championship banquet in Montclair, N.J.
Of the eight teams at the championship, three will be making their first appearance (Gustavus Adolphus, Ohio Northern and Texas-Tyler), and two are returning after near-decade absences (Tufts and Messiah); Cortland State, Coe and Salisbury round out the bracket. With the exception of Messiah, each of these teams has at least one All-American, and there will be a total of 11 All-Americans battling it out on the field for a national title over the next five days.
Three teams boasted two first-teamers, including Christopher Newport, St. Thomas and Wisconsin-Whitewater. CNU's Jessie Atkinson and Taylor Morgan were named first team third baseman and designated player, respectively, while Alison Wright and Missy Bruggeman occupied two of three first team outfielder spots for St. Thoams. Wisconsin-Whitewater placed Jessica Stang on the first team as a pitcher, while Amy Gahl made the squad as an at-large player.
The USA South Player of the Year, Morgan led CNU to a 36-9 overall record and regular season conference crown. She led the league with a .563 average and .583 on-base percentage in conference play, and finished with a .439 overall average. Atkinson, a first team all USA South performer, led CNU with 44 RBIs and 93 total bases while setting a new single season school record for home runs with 14.
Wright, who received a second team all-American nod a year ago, is the MIAC career hits leader, including a 34-game hitting streak (third longest in DIII history) that began last season and ended in April. She finished with a .500 average, including 76 hits, 16 doubles, 10 home runs and 59 RBIs. Teammate Bruggeman paced the Tommies with a .514 average, scoring 45 runs on 72 hits. She also was 24-of-28 on stolen bases.
Stang was also named the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) Pitcher of the Year after leading the Warkhawks to a perfect 16-0 in conference, capturing the regular season title. Stang finished 21-3 overall, with a 0.84 ERA and 199 strikeouts in 167.1 innings of work. Gahl, a senior, was among the top ten in the WIAC in almost every offensive category and led the Warhawks with 52 runs scored on 67 hits, with 13 doubles and four home runs. She also broke the conference record for career hits, with 228, and school career runs record, with 184.
East Texas Baptist junior Ayrika Henderson took home first team pitcher honors after leading the nation with a 0.28 ERA. She was named the American Southwest Conference (ASC) East Division Pitcher of the Year after leading ETBU to its first division championship since 2004. Henderson finished the season with a 19-3 record and an ASC single season record 170 strikeouts.
Jamie Smrdel was named the first team catcher, leading John Carroll University to a program record for wins with 28. Smrdel, a four-time all-Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC) performer, was tops in the nation in on base percentage at .648 and led the OAC with a .516 batting average and 35 walks (15 intentional). She leaves JCU as the career record holder in hits (197), doubles (49), home runs (27) and RBIs (150). Hope College's Kelli Duimstra was named the first team first baseman and was also named the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Conference MVP. Duimstra batted .434, tying a school single season record for home runs with 10 and setting a new season record for total bases with 97.
The first team second baseman was Donnalyn Cross, who helped Cortland State become the only repeat national championship participant this season. Cross, who shared SUNYAC Co-Player of the Year honors (with fellow first team All-American Nicole Sabuda), leads the Red Dragons in virtually every offensive category, including a .404 batting average. Sabuda, who was named a first team utility player, led Buffalo State to a school record 33 victories and its first SUNYAC championship since 2000. Sabuda batted .331 with 50 hits and six home runs while going 14-2 with a 1.81 ERA from the pitching circle.
Rounding out the first team infield was shortstop Liz Decima, who has led Ohio Northern to both its first national championship appearance and first NCAA tournament appearance since 1994. The OAC Player of the Year, she leads ONU with a .493 average and a school-record 74 hits. Decima is also the program's all-time career hits leader with 195 and doubles leader with 40. The third first team outfielder was University of Texas at Tyler's Whitney Wyly, who was also named the ASC East Newcomer of the Year. Leading the Patriots to the school's first-ever Division III national championship appearance, Wyly tops all of Division III with 17 home runs and 74 RBIs.
Rowan's Jackie Sasko and Linfield's Staci Doucette were named to the final two first team at-large spots. Sasko, a senior who earned her second straight all-American award, went 21-5 with a 1.07 ERA. The New Jersey Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year, she led Rowan to the program's 18th NCAA tournament appearance, striking out 181 in 177 innings of work, with opponents batting just .157 against her. Just a freshman, Doucette started all 45 games at shortstop for the Wildcats and led the team in batting average at .447 and home runs, with 12. She scored 41 runs on 59 hits and nine doubles, and was also solid defensively, committing just four errors in 125 chances for a .968 fielding average.
(All stats are as of May 10, 2009.)