Creighton’s Tara Oltman and Southern Illinois’ Lauren Haas took home the top individual honors in Missouri Valley Conference softball, claiming the league’s Pitcher and Player of the Year awards, respectively, at Wednesday’s pre-championship banquet in Carbondale, Ill. Oltman is the third player in league history to earn back-to-back MVC Pitcher of the Year honors and is the first to accomplish the feat in her first two seasons. Haas is the first Southern Illinois player since 1997 to earn the Valley’s Player of the Year. Drake’s Brynne Dordel was named MVC Newcomer of the Year and the Creighton coaching staff of head coach Brent Vigness and assistant Abby Johnson were named MVC Coaching Staff of the Year.

Haas leads the league in hitting by 40 points, leads in slugging by 63 points, held the best on base percentage by nearly 20 points. She hit at a .396 mark overall with a slugging percentage of .632 and posted better numbers in league action, hitting .456 and slugging .750. Her 39 RBI are tied for the top tally in the league. Haas is in the league’s top 10 in seven offensive categories and, in conference play, holds the top spots in average, slugging, on base percentage and doubles and ranks second in hits, RBI and total bases.

Oltman posted a sparkling 16-2 conference record, striking out 141 hitters in 128.1 innings of work in league action and posting a Valley best 0.72 ERA. She has won 12-straight conference games. Just one time in the conference season did she allow more than two earned runs and registered eight complete-game shutouts in league action. With one more win this season, she’ll stand alone atop the Valley’s all-time single-season wins list. Currently, her 31 wins put her in the top-five in the country and have equaled Kellie Becher’s MVC record (1994). Her 0.96 overall ERA place her among the nation’s top 15 in ERA.

Drake’s Dordel was a 16-game winner in the circle this season, striking out an impressive 196 hitters in 177 innings of work in her rookie campaign. She limited opponents to a sub-.200 batting average and posted seven shutouts and 14 complete games. In just her third Division I start, she blanked the then-No. 12 Michigan Wolverines, and four starts later, would do the same in a 10-0 win over Arkansas. She is Drake’s first Newcomer of the Year since 1997.

Creighton’s Brent Vigness and Abby Johnson were named 2008 Coaching Staff of the Year. They led Creighton to its second-straight outright regular-season championship with a 21-3 conference record and posted 40 wins for the fourth time in five seasons.

Wichita State’s Ashly Bright was the only pitcher this season to post an MVC win over Oltman and made some Missouri Valley Conference history in her second season with the Shockers, setting a new single-season standard for strikeouts with 366 on the year. She has 10 double-digit strikeout performances against MVC opponents and 16 overall. She struck out as many as 15 on two occasions this season and her seven saves are the second best total in the nation and is 15th nationally with her 10 strikeout per game average.

Catcher TJ Eadus of Creighton is one of the league’s top power-hitters, ranking in the Valley’s top-10 in slugging and RBI and leads the league with 11 homeruns on the year. She threw out 6-of-13 would be base stealers and was one of three Bluejays with better than 30 runs batted in on the season.

Jaci Faidley of Drake earns all-conference honors at second base after helping lead her team to a seven-game improvement in the Valley standings. A .313 hitter in league action, Faidley was one of the top run producers in the Valley, scoring 15 runs and driving in another 16 while leading the conference in home runs with seven. She is second in slugging, tied for fourth in runs and sixth in RBI.

2007 Player of the Year Kara Nelson of Illinois State earns her second all-conference honor in as many seasons. She hit .416 in conference play and leads the Valley in runs scored, hits, triples and total bases and ranks second in average and on base percentage. She has 10 multi-hit games in MVC action and has scored at least one run in 10 of her last 11 conference games.

Junior shortstop Bailey Dawson of Creighton was one of three Bluejays to hit better than .350 in conference action, posting a .355 average with five home runs and 19 runs batted in. Her 19 RBI are a conference-best. She is tied for second in runs with 20 scored in MVC play and ranks in the league’s top 10 in average, slugging, on base percentage, runs, hits, RBI and total bases.

In the outfield, Drake’s Kristin Birocci put together an outstanding senior season in which she ranks among the Valley’s best in hitting (.348), on base percentage, runs, runs batted in and total bases. She helped spearhead the Drake offense with 16 RBI and 15 runs scored in league action while hitting four home runs and posting a perfect fielding percentage.

Jessie Buker of Illinois State is a repeat first-team honoree. In league games, the slugger hit .338 with five home runs and 16 runs batted in. She dots the Valley leader board in hits, runs, runs batted in and home runs. She hit nine homeruns and drove in 27 runs overall.

Jessica Wakasugi of Creighton is our third outfielder on the first-team. Wakasugi was the top hitter on the Valley’s top hitting team, posting a .412 average while scoring 13 runs – one of five Creighton players to score at least 13 runs in league games. The junior’s .474 on base percentage is third-best in the league as are nine sacrifices. She started all 57 Creighton games and was perfect in the field.

Wichita State’s Cynthia Verhulst posted a .328 average in conference play, slugging at .594 and reaching base at a .493 clip. She blasted five homeruns, tied for the fifth-best total in the league. Overall, she hit 10 homeruns and drove in 26, while slugging .526.

UNI’s Jen Larsen gets the all-conference nod, the Panthers’ first since 2003, after hitting .317 overall and posting the lowest ERA on the team. She hit .318 in conference play and posted an on base percentage of .398.

Missouri State pitcher Melissa Porche tossed 15 complete games in her 17 conference starts this season, striking out 156 hitters in 122.1 inning – her strikeout total is second in Valley games. She is one of four league pitchers to hold an overall ERA under two. Porche posted double-digit strikeout performances in eight conference games, including a high of 14 against Illinois State.

Creighton first basemen Renae Sinkler posted a .382 batting mark, with five home runs, 14 runs scored and 14 runs batted in. In all games, she led the league in total bases and doubles and was second in hits and fourth in RBI. Sinkler was named USA Softball National Player of the Week on April 15th after hitting .700 on the week and driving in nine runs.

Evansville’s, Brittany Herald ranks as one of the best hitters in the league, batting .382 in conference games with four home runs and 13 runs batted in. She slugged .662 with an on base percentage of .468. She ranks in the league’s top five in hitting, slugging, on base percentage and hits. In all games, she is the only hitter at the .400 mark and leads the conference in slugging and on base percentage. This is Herald’s second all-conference nod.

Illinois State, junior Amber Smith is a three-time first-team selection and is currently tied for the Valley’s all-time home run lead with 39 homers. Smith hit .342 in league games with 17 runs batted in and five homeruns. She makes appearances among the league’s best in hitting, slugging, on base percentage, hits, RBI and home runs. She also had the third-best ERA in conference games and earned nine Valley wins in the circle.

Illinois State second baseman Tiffany Prager is the Redbirds’ second-leading hitter in conference play at .353 and scored 12 runs and drove in nine in league action despite missing six games because of injury. On the season, she has scored 26 runs and has driven in 19. Her average and on base percentage are each in the league’s overall top 10.

Shortstop Meredith Simpson of Indiana State ranked in the league’s top 10 in hitting, runs, hits, homeruns, slugging, on base percentage and total bases. She was a .366 hitter in Valley play, with 14 RBI and 14 runs scored with six homeruns with a .430 on base percentage and a .676 slugging mark.

2008 Missouri Valley Conference Softball All-Conference Team
Pos. Player, School Yr. Hometown (High School)
P Tara Oltman, Creighton*! So. Cortland, Neb. (Beatrice)
P Ashly Bright, Wichita State Sr. Oklahoma City, Okla. (Putnam City/Cowley CC)
C TJ Eadus, Creighton* Sr. Tucson, Ariz. (Sahuaro/Central Arizona)
1b Lauren Haas, Southern Illinois Sr. Bremerton, Wash. (Olympic)
2b Jaci Faidley, Drake Sr. Colfax, Iowa (Colfax-Mingo)
3b Kara Nelson, Illinois State*#  So. Moline, Ill. (Moline)
SS Bailey Dawson, Creighton Jr. Lincoln, Neb. (Southeast)
OF Kristin Birocci, Drake Sr. Des Moines, Iowa (Lincoln)
OF Jessie Buker, Illinois State* Jr. Macon, Ill. (Okaw Valley)
OF Jessica Wakasugi, Creighton Jr. Woodbury, Minn. (Woodbury)
DP-Pitcher Jen Larsen, UNI So. Moline, Ill. (Moline)
DP-Utility Cynthia Verhulst, Wichita State Sr. Shawnee, Kan. (Bishop Miege)
At-Large Melissa Porche, Missouri State Sr. Buena Park, Calif. (Oxford Prep Academy)
At-Large Renae Sinkler, Creighton So. Lincoln, Neb. (Northeast)
At-Large Brittany Herald, Evansville* Sr. Old Hickory, Tenn. (Ezell-Harding Christian)
At-Large Amber Smith, Illinois State*^ Jr. Fairfield, Calif. (Fairfield) 
At-Large Meredith Simpson, Indiana State Jr. Mission Viejo, Calif. (Capo Valley)
At-Large Tiffany Prager, Illinois State Sr. Bloomington, Ill. (Olympia)
* 2007 First-Team; ^2006 First Team; $ 2005 First Team; # 2007 Player of the Year; ! 2007 Pitcher/Newcomer of the Year

MVC Player of the Year: Lauren Haas, SIU

Sr. Bremerton, Wash. (Olympic)
MVC Pitcher of the Year: Tara Oltman, CU So. Cortland, Neb. (Beatrice)
MVC Newcomer of the Year: Brynne Dordel, DU Fr. Chanhassen, Minn. (Chaska)
MVC Coaching Staff of the Year:  Creighton (Brent Vigness, Abby Johnson)
Missouri Valley Conference Softball Second Team All-Conference
Pos. Player, School Yr. Hometown (High School)
1b Marilyn Buss, Drake Sr. West Des Moines, Iowa (Valley)
3b Michelle Armentrout, Missouri State Sr. Broken Arrow, Okla. (Broken Arrow)
OF Brooke Kempker, Missouri State Jr. Jefferson City, Mo. (Cole R-V Eugene)
SS Britnee Barnett, Wichita State*^$ Sr. Peoria, Ariz. (Centennial)
OF Katie McGeeney, Wichita State^$ Sr. Derby, Kan. (Derby)