Head coach Randy Schneider announced today that the Valparaiso softball team has signed seven players to National Letters of Intent during the early signing period. The group of seven players, which includes an NFCA High School All-American and four players considered Top Prospects from the class of 2008 by Rivals.com, will join the Crusader program as freshmen for the 2009 season.
Joylyn Ichiyama-Nipahali is an infielder/utility player out of Redondo [Calif.] High School. As a junior, Ichiyama led the Sea Hawks with a .406 batting average and also paced Redondo in home runs and RBIs. She also recently started playing for the Mizuno All-American Gold Program in California. A versatile athlete, Ichiyama is one of the top basketball players in southern California and has also earned gold medals at the world championships in the martial arts.
“Joylyn brings a great deal of leadership, versatility and athleticism to the table with her,” said Schneider. “She has a charisma about her on and off the field. Her best years lie ahead of her, and we are excited that those years and her successes will happen on the Valpo softball field.”
Shaleigh Jansen is a pitcher out of Ottawa Township [Ill.] High School. A two-time first team all-conference performer, Jansen registered a 1.01 ERA as a junior and averaged over ten strikeouts per game. She currently plays travel softball for the Illinois Sluggers and was named one of the top prospects in the class of 2008 by Rivals.com.
“Shaleigh is a great addition to our pitching staff,” said Schneider. “The minute we saw her, we knew she had a great deal to offer our program. She really throws the ball hard and does a good job keeping it down in the zone. Shaleigh will have a great career at Valpo.”
Alex LaGesse is a pitcher/utility player out of Beecher [Ill.] High School. As a junior, LaGesse received Honorable Mention All-American honors from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA). A first-team All-State and All-Conference performer, LaGesse led Beecher to the Class A state title last season, going 21-3 with a 0.48 ERA and 14 shutouts. She also tallied 196 strikeouts against just 14 walks, and did not allow an earned run during the entire postseason.
“We are truly excited to have Alex at Valpo,” said Schneider. “She has great knowledge of the game and has proven herself as one of the best players in the Midwest. She is a very talented pitcher, but also brings a great bat and the ability to play multiple positions to our program. We are blessed to have Alex for our program’s future.”
Samantha McGee is a pitcher/first baseman out of Bloomington Jefferson [Minn.] High School. A first-team All-State selection as a junior, McGee earned Most Valuable Player and Most Outstanding Pitcher honors at the 2006 USSSA national tournament as a member of the tournament champion Minnesota Stars. She also played for the Minnesota Blizzard ASA team that won the 2007 Minnesota state championship, and is one of Rivals.com top prospects in the class of 2008.
“Samantha brings a wealth of experience on the mound,” said Schneider. “With opportunities to compete all over the country, she has proved that she can pitch against the top high school competition in the nation. She is also a great leader, having been named team captain in three different sports in high school.”
Kelsey Phalen is an infielder out of Batavia [Ill.] High School. A three-time All-Conference and two-time All-Region honoree, Phalen led Batavia last season with 45 hits and a .361 batting average.
“Kelsey is flat-out strong, athletic and a great leader,” said Schneider. “She swings a big bat and has the potential to make a lot of noise here at Valparaiso. Kelsey will make us better both offensively and defensively.”
Jordan Rutkowski is an infielder/catcher out of Alden [N.Y.] High School. Rutkowski, a five-year starter at Alden, has received All-State accolades each of the last two seasons. She already holds a multitude of career offensive records at Alden, including home runs (32), RBIs (197), stolen bases (121), batting average (.539) and on-base percentage (.737). Rutkowski has also played each of the last four years in the open division of the Empire State Games, and became the youngest player to ever compete in the open division when she debuted at age 14. She is listed among Rivals.com top prospects for the class of 2008.
“We are very excited to have Jordan on board here at Valpo,” said Schneider. “She will make an immediate impact on our program. She will provide a big bat, and she is also very knowledgeable on the field defensively. She also will bring tenacity to the program that we need for our future.”
Sara Strickland is an outfielder/second baseman out of Horizon [Ariz.] High School. A speedy left-handed slapper, Strickland is a three-time All-Region honoree and earned All-State honors for the first time as a junior. She plays ASA ball for the Arizona Hot Shots Gold, where she is one of seven players to sign with a Division I program. She also is listed among Rivals.com top prospects for the class of 2008.
“Sara is a class act,” said Schneider. “She brings experience as a leadoff hitter, having faced some of the top pitchers on the west coast. Her coach, Blaize Gatti, runs one of the strongest ASA Gold and high school programs in the country. Using her great speed and smarts on the basepaths, Sara should compete to lead off for the Crusaders as a freshman.”
“I truly feel this is one of the finest classes of players we have ever assembled here,” concluded Schneider. “This group of seven players really has the potential to take the Valparaiso softball program to the next level.”