By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Ashley Chinn made quite the first impression on Stanford softball coach John Rittman. The second, third and all other impressions have been much better received.
Chinn is one of two seniors, with Melisa Koutz, who likely will be playing their final home games this weekend when Stanford plays host to one of 16 regional sites in the NCAA tournament.
Stanford, the 15th overall seed, meets Pacific on Friday at 6 p.m. in the double-elimination tournament. Nebraska and Fresno State play the first game at 3 p.m. Games continue Saturday and conclude Sunday.
The 12th-ranked Cardinal (38-15) will be playing at the same time the Stanford women's tennis team meets Northwestern in the Round of 16 and the Stanford baseball team opens a three-game set with Arizona.
The softball team, though, has a solid core of faithful fans that will support Stanford in its quest to reach its first Women's College World Series in seven years, and the third overall.
The Cardinal qualified for its 14th consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament and has won six regional titles.
Stanford also features one of the most dynamic players in the nation in junior shortstop Ashley Hansen, who leads the country with a .506 batting average. This week she was named Pac-10 Conference Player of the Year.
Hansen went 7-for-11 with three runs scored and a pair of RBI against Arizona State last weekend. The Sun Devils are the nation's top-ranked team and were awarded the overall No. 1 seed.
Chinn, who started the game Stanford won against Arizona State, began attending Stanford games when she was 10 or 11 years old. She attended a pitching camp at Stanford when she was 12 years old.
"There were so many people there, not everyone could pitch on the dirt," Chinn said. "I was pitching out in the left field and tore up the grass with my drag. Coach got mad because he liked to keep things nice."
Chinn, who starred at Carlmont High in Belmont, has been tearing up her opponents since arriving as a freshman. She owns a career record of 52-19, with 49 complete games and 15 shutouts over 454 2/3 innings heading into the regional and is enjoying her best season yet.
"I think Teagan (Gerhart) and I have established a pretty pattern," Chinn said. "We complement each other. It seems her strengths are sort of my weaknesses and some of my strengths counter some of her weaknesses. Teagan has done a great job and carried the bulk of the load. I just want to come in and do what I can to help the team."
With is plenty, according to Rittman, an assistant for the United States Olympic softball team in 2008 and 2004.
"It's been a fantastic year," Rittman said. "Ashley has been a consistent competitor for us and very reliable. She came in and had to sit two years behind (All-American) Missy Penna. Last year was the first time she was in that role of being No. 1 or No. 2. She had to deal with some adversity but when Teagan got hurt, Ashley had to fight through that and answer the call. She did a solid job."
Chinn and Koutz take an active leadership role on the field but both maintain a sense of team that allows anyone to speak up at any time.
"We've always tried to develop an open, strong and comfortable team environment," Chinn said. "We don't dominate team meetings because that's a time for any one to speak up or throw out an idea."
She is realizing, though, that she's nearing the end of her college career.
"I have to say it's been scary how fast it went by," Chinn said. "Every day I find new thing that is my last, fill in the blank. I'm trying to soak it all in."
Stanford finished fifth in arguably the toughest conference in the nation. Five different Pac-10 teams have won national titles, including a different school in each of the past four years UCLA, Washington, Arizona State and Arizona. California has also won an NCAA championship.
The Bruins won their 13th overall title last year and Arizona owns eight national championship banners. Texas A&M is the only other school to win more than one NCAA crown. The Pac-10 is responsible for 22 of the previous 28 titles.
"There's no better way to prepare yourself for the postseason than coming off playing the No. 1 team in the nation. We only took one of three but it was good competition and we took a lot of positives away from it."
Koutz has also been an important part of the team during her career.
"She has a great work ethic and goes about her business," Rittman said. "She doesn't say a whole lot and she's a pleasure to coach."
Hansen played second base for the USA junior national that won the World Championship in the Netherlands in the summer of 2007. The next season she was the only high school player invited to the Olympic team tryouts and was the final player cut.
"When she first stepped on campus I told myself I was going to enjoy every day I coached her," Rittman said. "Her attitude and her approach make her a wonderful leader. She makes people around her better."
She's the youngest of four softball-playing sisters. Tammi played at South Valley College, Tara holds a couple of school records and was a three-time all-MAAC pick at Fairfield and Megan was a top player at Texas A&M Corpus Christi for two years and then at Fordham.
"She made an adjustment with her batting stance," Rittman said. "She has better plate coverage now and is able to hit the ball consistently where it's pitched."
Hansen also has 24 doubles, nine home runs, driven in 43 runs, a slugging percentage of .833 and is 10-of-12 on stolen-base attempts.
Nationally No. 25 Stanford (10-11, 28-18) hosts its final four regular-season games, starting Friday, when the Cardinal plays Arizona (11-10, 32-17) at 5:30 p.m.
Two weeks remain in the regular season with NCAA Regional selections set for Memorial Day.
Stanford dropped two of three to Oregon last weekend, and currently shares sixth-place in the Pac-10 with USC, one game behind the Wildcats and two games behind California.
Stephen Piscotty is fourth in the conference with a .365 average, while Brian Ragira is sixth with 40 RBI. Tyler Gaffney is tied with Ragira for second in triples, each with five. Dean McArdle ranked fifth in wins with seven.
Stanford was one of 16 teams selected to participate in the NCAA Division I Championships, to be contested May 27-29 at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center in Gold River, on the waters of Lake Natoma.
It is the third straight year the Cardinal will participate in the event as a team. Stanford won the NCAA team title, as well as the I Eight title, in 2009.
The team championship is composed of 16 teams, with each team required to field boats in the I Eight, II Eight and Four classes. Stanford is one of five Pac-10 schools to earn bids to the NCAA Championships, being joined by California, USC, Washington and Washington State.
Defending NCAA team champion Virginia, Brown, Clemson, Dartmouth, Harvard, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Princeton, Wisconsin and Yale make up the rest of the championship field.
Stanford competes at the ICSA women's national championships beginning Monday at Cascade Locks, Ore.
The championships run through Thursday and feature 27 colleges.