MVC Centennial Softball Team Has Redbird Flavor
Melinda Fischer
Melinda Fischer

May 30, 2007

ST. LOUIS - The release of the Missouri Valley Conference's Softball All-Centennial Team ended up reading like a Who's Who of Illinois State softball over the past 25 years. The Redbirds carried the most representation on the team with 10 selected players and current head coach Melinda Fischer, the winningest coach in Valley history, was tabbed as the head coach of the all-time team.

"Softball is a strong sport in the Valley and has been for the past four years," Fischer said. "The conference is strong and the players on this all-centennial team have been the building block for softball in this conference. They are the ones that set the pace through seasons of hard work."

The Redbirds were recognized at every position except for second base and shortstop, as Robin Chapman, Shae Wesley, Emily Krueger, Robin Smith, Heather Stella, Cutie Taylor, Priscilla Welch, Audra Rast, Jodi Burch and Nicole Kurth were all honored.

"I think this is a huge reflection of what the Illinois State softball program has done," Fischer said. "It also shows the type of quality of student-athlete that we having going to Illinois State and playing Redbird softball. Looking at the diversity of positions, we haven't been just a one-position team or a one-position program. We've been able to successfully recruit locally, regionally and nationally."

ISU landed a pair of catchers on the all-time team with Chapman and Wesley. Chapman was a two-time All-Valley selection (1989 & 1990) and was named the league's rookie of the year in 1988. Wesley ended her Redbird career in 2002 and was named first team All-MVC and claimed Easton All-America Second Team honors.

At first base, the Redbirds landed Krueger and Smith on the all-time Valley team. Krueger is ISU's and the Valley's single season home run leader with 18 during the 2004 season. She also earned first team All-MVC accolades and was named an Easton Third Team All-America. Smith was the Gateway Conference's Player of the Year in 1991 and was a first team all-league member.

Stella, the career Valley RBI leader, was a two-time MVC Player of the Year at third base for the `Birds. Earning the league MVP honor in 1998 and 1999, Stella was also a two-time All-Valley first team selection and a two-time Easton All-America, earning first team plaudits in 1998.

In the outfield, five first team All-Valley honors were shared by Taylor and Welch, with the latter earning three league awards. Welch was also the Valley's Rookie of the Year in 1994 and was a NFCA Third Team All-America selection in 1997. Taylor earned her Easton Second Team All-America honors in 2002.

The all-centennial team included three former Redbird pitchers, who each were named All-Valley First Team selections twice during their careers. In addition, both Rast (2002) and Kurth (2000) were named the league's tournament MVP, while Rast was twice named the Valley's Pitcher of the Year. Burch also was named the league's top pitcher in 1995, and both Burch and Rast received third team all-America honors.

In 2006-07, the Missouri Valley Conference celebrates a century of excellence as the nation's second-oldest NCAA Division I conference is in its second centennial as a leader in college athletics. As a part of the Centennial Celebration, The Valley is naming all-centennial teams for each of the Valley's sponsored sports.

Team composition for each sport has been determined through an on-line fan vote (www.mvc100.org) and by a centennial committee. Nearly 1,000 votes were cast for softball. Fans also designated an all-time coach as part of the on-line voting process. Twenty-two Valley softball players have earned All-American honors in the league's 24 completed seasons with teams competing in the Gateway Conference from 1983-92 before beginning play under the Valley umbrella in 1993. MVC softball has ascended among the nation's premier softball leagues, having earned multiple-bids into the NCAA Tournament in each of the past four seasons with three teams capturing berths in the past two years.

In the league's first 99 seasons, 32 members combined for 27 national championships, while 55 Valley student-athletes captured NCAA individual titles. In addition, Valley student-athletes and coaches earned 48 National Player or Coach of the Year honors in their respective sports. And the league had a myriad of student-athletes who collected All-America honors and earned national academic distinction in The Valley's first century.

Thirteen different programs have sponsored softball in the Gateway/Missouri Valley Conference including Bradley (1983-present), Creighton (1993-present), Drake (1983-present), Eastern Illinois (1983-92), Evansville (1995-present), Illinois State (1983-present), Indiana State (1983-present), Missouri State (1983-present), Northern Iowa (1983-present), Southern Illinois (1983-present), Tulsa (1993-96), Wichita State (1983-present), Western Illinois (1983-92).