Owens Community College freshman Ashlyn Michalak is making an immediate impact on the Express softball team.
The Springfield graduate has done her part to help the team achieve one of the best starts in program history.
Owens entered the week ranked 11th in the nation in the National Junior College Athletic Association D-II softball poll with a school-record 24-0 showing.
Michalak owns an 8-0 record with a 1.736 earned run average with 51 strikeouts and eight walks. She ranks second among pitchers on Owens' roster.
"We've never started this way," said coach Duane Lanham, who is in his eighth season in charge of the program. "We're much more talented this year and we're pretty blessed within all the parts of the game."
Express sophomore Jordan Ratliff, a Summerfield High graduate, is the ace on the mound for the Express and has a team-best 10-0 record and an ERA of 2.26 with 50 strikeouts and 13 walks. Ratliff is playing in her first season at Owens after transferring from Lake Forest College, where she went 12-6 with an ERA of 1.69 last spring.
Meanwhile, Kristen Roz- noski, a sophomore outfielder, leads a highly productive Express offense that has averaged nine runs and 11 hits a game. The Cardinal Stritch graduate is a hitting machine, ranking second in the nation in batting average, .573 for the season with 43 hits, including five doubles and two triples.
Sophomore infielder Alaina Haubert, a Gibsonburg graduate, has also been a tough out and has a .521 batting average, which ranks sixth nationally.
As a team, the Express are tops in hitting among the junior college D-II ranks, with a nation-leading .432 team batting average.
"We probably have 10 girls who can hit really well," Lanham said.
But the Express success this season isn't entirely because of how well they've performed in the batter's box. Their offensive exploits aren't solely responsible for plenty of good vibes surrounding this year's team.
They've pitched well and have been steady in the field. The Express' .953 fielding percentage is sixth best in the country.
"We knew we had the makings of a good team, and I think a lot has to do with the chemistry," Lanham said. "Practicing during the winter months -- January and February -- can be long and hard because they're practicing inside.
"That can be tough when you bring them in from a lot of different schools, but this group developed as a team."
The Express roster is loaded with Toledo-area talent.
Annie DeTray (Oak Harbor), Matea Rice (Clay), Hallie Thompson (Clay), Kristen Shock (Northview) and Lindsay Bandeen (Springfield) are among the infielders.
Kelley Molloy (Whitmer), Ashleigh Whitacre (Central), Tabitha Britt (Maumee), Courtney Mowery (Genoa), and Morgan Gray (Clyde) are among the list of outfielders; Kasey Graham (Clay) and Elizabeth Weber (Oak Harbor) are Express pitchers.
Lanham said there's a sense of pride in the Express doing well with a team loaded with local talent.
Twenty of the 24 players on OCC's roster are from Toledo-area high schools.
Lanham believes the Express success promotes that good softball is played in area high schools and he doesn't have to look far to find talent.
"I have 24 full-ride scholarships to hand out, which is amazing and I'm going to provide 24 student-athletes a free education," he said.
In 2005, the Express finished the season playing in the national championship tournament and ended up in fifth place.
They were 44-12 overall that season, which included a 1-8 record to start.
Lanham considers this team to be in the same caliber, perhaps even better in the long run.
The Express coach said their season-opening eight-game schedule in Florida gave him an indication that this might evolve into something special.
They returned to Ohio and haven't skipped a beat.
"One of the things we decided after the trip was that we would come to practice every day and be focused and play fundamental softball," Lanham said.
"They know starting 24-0 in softball or baseball is unheard of. I know it [the winning streak] is in the back of their minds, but I don't think any of them are really focused on statistics or numbers."
The Express only want to continue with the winning for as long as possible.
Contact Donald Emmons at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6302