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TEMPE – The Arizona State University softball program will welcome five talented newcomers to the squad next season, as head coach Craig Nicholson announced the 2014-15 signing class on Wednesday.
The signing class is comprised of INF Dani Nelson (Gilbert, Ariz./Gilbert HS), P Breanna Macha (Mesa, Ariz./Red Mountain HS), P Shea Keopnick (Phoenix, Ariz./Desert Vista HS), OF Nichole Chilson (Romoland, Calif./Romoland HS) and P Dale Ryndak (Downers Grove, Ill./Downers Grove North HS).
The group consists of three pitchers, an infielder and an outfielder. The addition of three pitchers was an important get for the Sun Devil squad, which loses standouts Dallas Escobedo and Mackenzie Popescue to graduation following the 2014 season.
“I think we had some definite needs that were important to address and I think we’ve done that,” Nicholson said of the signing class. “We’ve got a good group of kids who will do well on and off and the field and continue to represent Arizona State University with success and integrity.”
“You want to make sure you are recruiting quality people and quality athletes and the kind of players that you need to compete at the level that we need to compete at,” Nicholson added. “We’re happy with the class we’re signing and we know that these girls will come in and help to continue the success that has made our program so exceptional in the pass.”
A look at each of the individuals in the signing class can be found below:
Dani Nelson is a local product who will join the Sun Devils out of Gilbert High School where she plays under head coach Saundra Gutierrez.
As an infielder for the Tigers, Wilson is a four-year varsity letter winner and is coming off her best season at Gilbert. As a junior, Nelson batted .439 with 50 hits on 114 at bats. She had 10 home runs and 56 RBIs on the season to go with 47 runs scored.
“Dani is a local product that is extremely athletic. She has great size and great hands and she’s someone that going have an opportunity to play right away,” Nicholson said. “How she hits will dictate that but she will certainly help us on both sides of the ball. She has the ability to come in and be an impact player immediately for our program.”
Helping out as a pitcher for high school, Nelson went 8-0 in 11 appearances with a 1.56 ERA in 45 innings pitched. She was a second-team All Arizona Division I selection in 2013, where she was a teammate of current Sun Devil Marisa Stankiewicz.
Through three seasons at GHS, Nelson has a .411 average with 124 hits, 113 RBIs and 113 runs scored. Dani is known for her offensive power and her great range on the infield. Nelson was listed as #56 in the Hot 100 Seniors, an online ranking of the Top 100 Recruits of 2014 as noted by www.studentsports.com.
Nelson holds a 4.0 GPA at Gilbert and plays to study nursing at Arizona State. She is the daughter of K.C. and Annette Nelson. Nelson’s mother - then Annette Marie De La Cruz - played softball at ASU in 1985. She competes on the Arizona Firecrackers 18U coached by Randy Kaye.
Breanna Macha is another local product for the Sun Devils and hails from Red Mountain High School where she plays under coach Richard Hamilton and has been among the most impressive players in the nation during her prep career.
Macha was named an ESPNHS Softball First Team All-American as a sophomore as a multi-purpose player (hitting, pitching, fielding) and was named an All-Arizona first team selection by the Arizona Republic. She led Red Mountain to the state championship, a 35-3 record and a No. 3 ranking in the final PowerAde Fab 50 rankings.
“Brea is, in my opinion, just a competitor. She’s won three straight state championships and I feel like the bigger the game, the better she will pitch,” Nicholson said. “The ultimate thing I can say about her is that when the lights are brightest, she’s going to show up. We’re excited about what she can bring to this program.”
She went 14-2 as a pitcher with a 1.24 ERA that season while logging a .440 batting average at the plate with 47 RBIs and 10 home runs.
She would go on to lead Red Mountain to its third consecutive state title in 2013 and was named an Arizona Republic First Team All-State selection as a utility player. Red Mountain finished as the No. 1 team in the final Fab 50 rankings after going 33-5.
Macha was one of the most highly recruited pitchers in the nation and has been named to just about every state First Team selection list available. She was a nominee for the Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year in 2012 and 2013. Macha was listed as #70 in studentsports.com’s Hot 100 Seniors. She is known as “a big game power pitcher who outworks everyone to succeed.”
“I chose ASU because I grew up 15 minutes away and watched this program as a little girl,” Macha said. “It has been my dream school since I was seven years old.”
One of Macha’s fondest memories was being a bat girl for the ASU softball team nine years ago, marking the start of her “dream that has finally come true.”
Macha is the daughter of William and Jane Macha and plans to major in nutrition or kinesiology. She has three sisters, Melissa (21), Ashley (26) and Christina (29). She plays club ball with fellow recruit Dani Nelson for the Arizona Firecrackers under coach Randy Kaye.
Shea Koepnick is the final local product in the class out of Desert Vista High School where she played varsity ball under Chris Crowl and now competes under new head coach K’Lee Arrendondo.
Koepnick, a pitcher, has earned varsity letters as a freshman, sophomore and junior and maintained a 4.0 GPA during her freshman season. In 2011, she earned the Scholar Athlete/Activity Award. In 2013, Desert Vista compiled a 21-13 record. The 6-foot-4 pitcher has tossed 74 innings in high school, fanning 51 batters, and compiling an overall fielding percentage of .952.
“Shea is another local product that has huge upside. She’s 6-foot-4 and has long arms and long legs. We’re looking at where she can get a year-and-a-half down the road and that is something that we’re excited about,” Nicholson said. “She may not be a highly heralded, big-time recruit in rankings, but the packagae is someone that understands how to pitch and is going to come in and work hard and develop and be a reliable player at Arizona State.”
Koepnick is the daughter of Mike and Hollie Koepnick and has one brother, Brandon, who is 29. Shea has been involved with the Relay for Life in 2012 & 2013, as well as with the Best Buddies Program. Koepnick competes for the Arizona Hotshots 18 Gold team under coach Gary Davis. She plans to study kinesiology and physical therapy at Arizona State.
“I grew up not too far from ASU so I have been watching the Sun Devils for many years,” Koepnick said. “I always wanted to be on the Sun Devil softball team and now that I am officially committed, I’ve never been happier to call ASU my home.”
Nichole Chilson lettered in two sports at Heritage High School (Romoland, Calif.), earning four varsity letters in softball and three in tennis. She played second base and outfield under coach Angela Romero, becoming the varsity starter at second base as just a freshman.
She was her high school’s offensive MVP as a freshman, sophomore and junior and led the team in RBIs a freshman. Known for her strong left-handed bat, Chilson set two high school records at Heritage, posting the highest batting average in program history at .500 and the single-season hits mark at 47.
Chilson batted .500 in 108 plate appearances last year for the Patriots, who won the Sunbelt League. She also led the team in runs (29), RBIs (28) and doubles (10). She has a career batting average of .408 entering the 2013-14 season with 104 hits, 64 RBIs and 65 runs.
“Nichole is a left-hand hitting outfielder that has developed some big-time power over the last year and a half. We’re excited to see where that will take her down the road,” Nicholson said. “She went from being a high-average hitter as a sophomore and junior to someone who can really drive the ball to gaps and hit the ball out of the park.”
She earned MVP honors at the Stu Penter Tournament and All-Country Diamond Classic in 2012 and was a Sunbelt All-League selection in 2011 and 2012. She also competed in the USSSA World Series in 2010, earning tournament MVP honors en route to leading her team to a national championship.
She played club ball with Lights Out, helping the team to a 14-U National Championship and currently plays for Minors Gold under Lena Lovelace. Chilson’s parents are Larry and Marlene Chilson and she has two stepbrothers, Logan and Jordan (both aged 18).
“ASU was a dream come true,” Chilson said. “I set a goal to play for a top D-I program and while I was on my visit, the coaching staff and team made me feel right at home so the decision for me was an easy one.”
At ASU, Chilson plans to study biology and animal science and noted that she “looks forward to starting a new chapter not only in my softball career but also in my education.”
Dale Ryndak comes to ASU by way of Downers Grove North High School (Downers Grove, Ill.) where she has earned several varsity letters as a pitcher under former coach Mark Magro & new coach Eric Landschoot.
Ryndak has been named to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Daily Herald All-Area teams, earning second-team All-State honors from the Sun-Times and Tribune. She was an Illinois High School Coaches Association second team All-State selection and a West Suburban Conference First Team pick.
“Dale is a hard-throwing kid that has persevered and battled through some things. She’s a competitor and she’s going to go out and give you everything she can all the time,” Nicholson said. “The level she’s willing to compete at makes her a tremendous asset.”
As a freshman in 2011, The Downers Grove North Trojans finished the regular season 31-4. Ryndak & her sister, fellow pitcher, Kendall helped lead the team to setting a new single-season record for wins at Downers Grove North. During the regular season, she compiled a 13-2 record, only allowing 67 hits & 20 walks, while fanning 104 batters in 114 innings. She also helped the Trojans in the outfield when not pitching, as well as batting .406 with 5 homers and 15 RBIs.
As a sophomore in 2012, Dale led Downers Grove North to a 12-2 record with 129 strikeouts, while boasting an impressive 0.61 ERA. With Ryndak on the roster, The Trojans have won the West Suburban Silver Division Title each of her three years of high school. Downers Grove North also won the Regional Title in 2013.
Ryndak is also successful in the classroom as a member of the German National Honors Society and an honor roll selection every semester during her high school career and is known for her leadership and competitive spirit.
She is the daughter of Gary and Stacy Ryndak and has one sister, Kendall, who is 21 years old & plays softball at Lindenwood. Ryndak plays club ball for Illinois’ Premier Girls Fast Pitch Organization the Beverly Bandits (Team Premier - 18U) under founder Bill Conroy and coached by Head Coach Kevin Stephens and Assistant Coach Michelle Vucsko. Her pitching coaches are Pat Rzegocki and her Uncle Mike Johnson.
During the summer of 2012 with the Beverly Bandits, Dale was a dominant force on the mound with a winning record of 24-3 with a 1.28 ERA. She struck out 168 batters in 164 innings. Ryndak also showed her offensive chops, batting .401 with 84 hits, 8 homers, 1 triple, and 8 doubles.
“I chose ASU because I wanted to win a National Championship,” Ryndak said. “All of the girls are on the same page; everyone is a winner and wants to win in the classroom and on the field.”
“I am looking forward to becoming a Sun Devil because Sun Devils win. As much as it is an honor to be a part of the Sun Devil Athletic program, it means just as much to be a part of the academic opportunities that come with attending Arizona State University,” she added. “This is truly a dream come true and I couldn’t be more grateful for this opportunity.”