Jan. 17, 2014
By Michael Eldridge | UTAMavs.com
ARLINGTON, Texas - At the top of many of the hitting categories, two UT Arlington infielders have solidified themselves as offensive leaders heading into the 2014 season.
Juniors Meagan Michele and Nina Villanueva give the Mavericks' infield two cornerstones going into the Sun Belt Conference.
Michele is last season's leader in slugging percentage (.471), runs scored (21), hits (44) and RBI (24). Michele, a third baseman, stands next Villanueva at shorstop.
"We have taken ownership of the infield, and we are holding each other accountable for the expectations that we have," Michele said. "We have bonded so much on the field. The past four months we have just been saying how we can't wait until the season starts."
Villanueva is the returning leader in batting average (.328), on base percentage (.400) and doubles (8). She looks to build on her first year as a shortstop after transferring to the position in 2013.
"We definitely have a stronger infield," Villanueva said. "I made a lot of errors last year and need to fix that. We need to have a tighter defense and need to make sure that we keep the ball in the infield to not let them score."
Joining Michele and Villanueva in the UTA infield are sophomores Rebecca Stokes, Holly Murphree and three newcomers battling for positions in the lineup. The new players are transfers Mya Anderson and Jasmine Tanksley, and freshman Marisa Datko.
"I think there are people that have put themselves at the top of the list to start at this point," UT Arlington coach Kristie Fox said. "I have an idea in my head, but hitting is going to play a big role. The person that shows that they can perform defensively and offensively will definitely be a part of the lineup."
Fox said that she is looking for players that can complement UTA's left side of the infield to fill in the role at second base.
For Anderson and Tanksley, the experience for both includes all-conference selections and state championships, while attending Chipola Community College.
Datko enters the UTA program as a four-year letterwinner from Scripps Ranch High School in San Diego, Calif. Datko was a first-team selection and team MVP in her senior year.
With new talent to the Mavericks infield, Michele and Villanueva have used the opportunity to become leaders of the squad and help mentor the younger players as the team edges closer to the season.
"We are just telling them that it is a fun journey," Michele said. "We are telling them to stay on board with what we are trying to do here. It is a battle and we are here to win."