Danielle Legee must feel at times like she’s a newcomer to a foreign land, rather than a recruit to a college softball team.
Legee is a pitcher for Grand Canyon University. The sophomore comes from Labanon, but not Lebanon the country in Western Asia – Labanon the city in Oregon.
But the import from Duck country is the only player on the 10-player GCU roster from outside Arizona.
And that didn’t change this week when head coach Ann Pierson announced the signing of two more local athletes, Haley Walker from Pinnacle High School in Phoenix and Nicole Upshaw from Hamilton High in Chandler.
Walker is an outfielder who will bring an advantage from the left side of the plate, where she hit .492 last season as a senior, while posting 17 RBIs and scoring 47 runs.
She also added 33 stolen bases to her resume. “Haley will add a tremendous amount of speed to our lineup,” Pierson explains. “She can bunt, slap, power slap, and hit away.”
Upshaw got most of her playing time at shortstop for the Huskies, but can play other infield positions as well. She hit .387 last season, with five home runs and 25 RBIs. And she, too, can scoot on the base paths, picking up 16 stolen bases.
“She’s also a quick, explosive base runner and has power to all fields,” says her new coach.
The program fully embraces the concept of using local talent. The entire coaching staff earned their softball stripes in Arizona.
Pierson was the lead assistant coach at Arizona State for seven seasons before taking over at GCU eight years ago to become the program’s first coach. One of her responsibilities with the Sun Devils was managing the recruiting process, and was able to bring those contacts with her to Grand Canyon.
But, so far, she hasn’t had to look far beyond the state’s borders.
Pierson also played shortstop for ASU during her college years and is still listed as No. 6 on the school’s all-time list for hits (245) and is ranked third in triples (11). The Tempe native also played on three gold medal-winning national teams.
Assistant coach Bryanne Norris, who is entering her third year on the bench, played at Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale and attended Paradise Valley Community College and earned two degrees at GCU. Her college ball included two years at Notre Dame de Namur University, which, like GCU, is a member of the Pacific West Conference.
Cristy Knight, the volunteer assistant, coached at Horizon High School in Scottsdale, Mesa High, and Paradise Valley High School. Prior to joining the GCU staff six years ago, she was a volunteer assistant at Arizona State for a couple of seasons.
And the latest addition to the coaching staff, Katie Cochran, is one of the best softball players to ever come out of Arizona State. A three-time Pac-10 Player of the Year, she won the NCAA batting title in 2007 with a .492 average and graduated from ASU as the school’s career leader in batting average, hits, RBIs, home runs, and doubles.
Last season was her first as a graduate assistant coach for the ‘Lopes and she has been spending her summer playing for the USA Softball Women’s National Team.
Two years ago, the ‘Lopes finished the season 43-13 to set a new school record, but dropped to 22-25 for the 2011 season, finishing in fifth place in the PacWest. It was the first time the program had failed to finish in third place since joining the conference.
They had started the season ranked No. 14 in the nation.
When the 2012 season begins, the roster will include five seniors to provide the leadership needed to climb back up in the standings – and enough local talent to fill the entire batting order.
(Photo: GCU Athletics/Tim Koors)