Local prep stars making GCU softball a family affair

Ann Pierson isn’t settling for tapping into a pipeline of local high school talent to fill her softball roster at Grand Canyon University.

Now she’s tapping into the families.

Pierson, the head coach at GCU who started the softball program at the Division II college in west Phoenix eight years ago, just signed four more standout players from high schools in the Phoenix Valley.  They will all complete their senior seasons in the spring and join the ‘Lopes for the 2013 season.

Two of those four already have kin playing for the Antelopes.

Kailey Regester, a pitcher/utility player from Basha High School in Chandler, is the cousin of Lauren Regester, a freshman who plays infield and catcher for GCU.  Amy Tarnowski, a pitcher/outfielder from Mountain View High School in Mesa, will join her sister, Lisa, a junior catcher/outfielder who played at Phoenix College before joining the ‘Lopes program.

Regester is a three-time All-Region selection at Basha, where she finished her junior year on the mound with a 19-5 record and 2.28 ERA to earn All-State honors; she was .356 at the plate with five home runs.

Tarnowski hit .377, with two homers, and struck out 59 from the rubber, while posting a 2.65 ERA in 60.2 innings.

They are joined by a couple of players who will be competing at shortstop: Hannah Kridler from Sandra Day O’Connor High School in Phoenix, and Nicole Newbury from Horizon High School in Scottsdale.

Newbury, who hit .598 last year, set single-season records at Horizon, accumulating 19 doubles and six triples.  And Kridler has been an integral part of  O’Connor’s success since her freshman year when she was a key player on the 2009 team that won the state championship.

Pierson, who played shortstop for ASU and spent seven seasons there as a lead assistant before taking over at GCU, is looking forward to the help at the plate that comes with this group:  “They give us a lot of options with their versatility and bring a lot of power to an offensive line-up that already has tremendous speed.”

This year’s squad is trying to bounce back from a year that didn’t reach expectations.  The 2011 ‘Lopes entered the season ranked No. 14 in the country and were picked to finish third in the conference, but a 22-25 overall record and 14-14 conference mark left them with a fifth-place Pac-10 finish.

It was particularly disappointing because the year before they set a new school record for wins by going 43-13 overall and 23-9 in the PacWest.  They were selected to play in the NCAA D-II Softball Championships for the first time in the history of the program.

This year, five players will be providing the senior leadership.  Yep, all five are from local high schools.

CJ Norvelle is a catcher from Mesquite High in Gilbert, Brittany Manzoline is an outfielder and pitcher from Cactus High in Glendale, Vanessa Ramirez is an outfielder from St. Mary’s High in Phoenix, Vanessa Chavez is an infielder from Salpointe Catholic in Tucson, and Kara Holtorf is an outfielder from Sunrise Mountain High in Peoria.

There are 13 Arizona high schools represented on this season’s roster, with Tucson’s Canyon del Oro High School filling three slots.  Sixteen of the 18 players hail from local schools.

And this year they will be able to play more home games, since the school installed lights at Stapleton-Pierson Field.  The 24 home games should give them a slight boost as they begin a 55-game schedule, with the home opener against CSU East Bay on Feb. 4 as part of their GCU Kickoff Classic.