Spring sports preview: What's in store for Judges?

A look ahead at the softball, baseball and tennis teams' upcoming season

Photos/Mike Lovett
With basketball season headed into the final week of the regular season, it's time to look forward to the spring sports campaign. Here's a look ahead at what softball, baseball and tennis have in store for 2011.


For the first time in school history, the Brandeis softball team has earned a preseason national ranking, claiming the 25th spot in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association's Division III rankings.

Brandeis is coming off one of the most successful seasons in school history in which they went 29-9-1 and reached the NCAA Division III tournament for the first time. The Judges went 5-3 in the University Athletic Association, tying for second place, and were ranked as high as 14th in the nation last season. They finished third at the NCAA New England regional. In 2010, the Judges were 10th nationally in Division III in home runs per game, 16th in scoring and 18th in stolen bases per game and slugging percentage.

In head coach Jessica Johnson's sixth season at the helm, Brandeis returns four All-New England members, including a pair of first-team All-Region selections in junior IF/OF Marianne Specker of South Windsor, Conn., (.416 BA, 13 2B, 35 RBI) and junior OF Brittany Grimm of Perkiomenville, Pa., (.400 BA, 10 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, 31 RBI, 41 R). Sophomore C/DP Stacy Berg of Owings Mills, Md., (.373 BA, .718 SLG, 10 HR, 43 RBI) was a second-team selection and senior 2B Melisa Cagar of Ridgewood, N.J. (.341 BA, 11 2B, 4 HR, 44 R, 30 SB) was on the third team. The Judges will have to replace graduated second-team All-Region pitcher Emily Vaillette of Milford, N.H., the program's all-time leader in wins and shutouts.

Brandeis is one of three New England schools in the Top 25 (No. 2 Eastern Connecticut, No. 18 Coast Guard) and one of two UAA schools (No. 14 Washington University). The Judges will face Washington twice in the UAA tournament, March 11 and 14 in Altamonte Springs, Fla., and Eastern Conn. at home on April 17. The Judges open their season at the National Training Center in Clermont, Fla., on March 7 against DeSales University. Their home opener is scheduled for March 23 against Rhode Island College.


On the baseball diamond, The Judges are looking to bounce back from a disappointing campaign in which they won just 11 games. Head coach Pete Varney, in his 30th season at the helm, welcomes back a pair of second-team All-UAA selections and his team's top four hitters. Leading the way are senior Tony Deshler of Pepperell, Mass., and sophomore Chris Ferro of Walpole, Mass. Deshler, the 2008 UAA Rookie of the Year, split time at third base and in the outfield last season, and was one of two Brandeis players to start all 35 games. He topped the squad with 44 hits, 33 runs scored, 12 doubles, two triples and 17 extra-base hits. Deshler is a .323 career hitter with nine home runs and 67 RBI who has never missed a game in his three-year career. Ferro also started at two positions for the Judges, 22 in left field and nine at catcher. He led Brandeis in hitting (.355), RBI (25), home runs (5), slugging percentage (.556) and enters the 2011 season on a 14-game hitting streak.

Junior Jon Chu of Hollis Hills, N.Y., started 34 of the squad's 35 contests, most of them at DH. Chu hit .325 with nine doubles and 22 RBI. Junior Sean O'Hare of Southampton, Mass., was the most consistent member of the Judges in the field, starting all 35 contests at shortstop, where he hit .298 with 11 multi-hit games and topped the squad with nine stolen bases.

On the hill, the Judges will also welcome back senior Pat Nicholson of E. Walpole, Mass., a lefty who missed his junior campaign due to surgery. As a sophomore, Nicholson led the team with five wins, four complete games, 56 strikeouts and was second with a 4.58 earned-run average. The rest of the starting staff will be anchored by sophomore Mike Swerdloff of Scarsdale, N.Y., who tops the Brandeis returners in strikeouts and wins, sophomore Dylan Britton of Poughquag, N.Y., and senior John McGrath of New York, N.Y.

The Judges opened their season on Tuesday, Feb. 22, with a loss to NAIA Davenport University, 7-6, allowing four runs in the top of the eighth inning. They'll also play Augustana, Framingdale and Grove City before University Athletic Association play starts in Sanford, Fla., in March. The squad's home opener is scheduled for March 21 against Salem State University.


The Brandeis tennis teams also opened the season over February break with a five-match trip out west to California. The Brandeis men defeated Occidental College, 6-3, on Monday, Feb. 21, and lost by the same score to Cal Lutheran University, currently ranked No. 7 in Division III. Finishing fourth in the University Athletic Association in 2010, they opened the Spring 2011 portion of their season ranked 30th in the nation. After winning their only dual match of the fall, 2010 UAA Coach of the Year Ben Lamanna has put together a challenging schedule for the spring. In non-conference action, the Judges will take on seven of the top 26 teams - including top-ranked Middlebury and No. 3 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps - in the nation in preparation for hosting the UAA championships, which will feature four more of the top 17 teams in Division III. Brandeis went 9-10 in 2009-10, but six of their losses came at the hands of nationally-ranked teams, while they defeated one ranked squad (Chicago) and programs from Division I (Bryant) and Division II (Bentley)

On the court, the Judges will be led by seniors Simon Miller of Plantation, Fla., and Nick White of Wellesley, Mass. As a doubles tandem, Miller and White are the fifth-ranked team in the Northeast region and 17th nationally after going 6-1 in the fall season. Miller went 17-10 in 2009-10 and was a second-team All-UAA selection at No. 3 singles as a sophomore. He went 2-1 in the conference tournament, including winning the clinching match in the Judges' opening round win over the University of Chicago. White, the team's No. 1 singles player, won 13 matches in 2009-10 for the Judges, his first after transferring from Trinity (Conn.) College. Sophomores Steven Milo of Woodbury, N.Y., and Dave Yovanoff of Eden, N.Y., earned All-UAA accolades at No. 2 doubles in 2010.

Brandeis's first home match of the spring is scheduled against cross-town rival, Division II Bentley University on March 9 at 3 p.m., to be played on the newly-resurfaced indoor courts of the Gosman Athletic Center.

On the women's tennis side, the Judges entered the Spring 2011 season ranked ninth in the Northeast and 28th in the nation as they, too, embark on a California trip. The Judges will face four nationally-ranked non-conference teams to help them prepare for the difficult UAA slate that features five more nationally-ranked squads.

Brandeis went 2-0 in the spring - including a 6-3 win over Wheaton (Mass.), a team receiving votes in the ITA's national poll - and boasts two of the top 20 players in the Northeast Regional. No. 1 player Rachel Rosman of Bonita Springs, Fla., is ninth in the region, while No. 2 Faith Broderick of Washingtonville, N.Y., is 18th. Rosman went 2-1 in the fall season and owns 52 career victories, while Broderick posted a 3-1 fall record and has experience playing at No. 1 as a rookie. The duo also team up as Brandeis's No. 1 singles team, where they went 3-2 in the fall season. Rosman and fellow senior co-captain Mackenzie Gallegos of Friendswood, Texas, were second-team All-UAA selections at No. 1 doubles as sophomores.

The Judges are coming off a 10-10 campaign that featured losses to six nationally-ranked foes and four NAIA and Division II powers on an early-season trip to Florida. In 2011, they opened their campaign on the left coast at Whittier College on Monday, Feb. 21, where they won 7-.2. They'll play cross-town rival Bentley on March 7 to kick off their home slate.

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