Jessica Merchant, KJ Kelley And Kristi Stefanoni Join UMass Softball Staff

Sept. 1, 2006

AMHERST, Mass -- University of Massachusetts head softball coach Elaine Sortino has announced the hiring of Jessica Merchant, KJ Kelley and Kristi Stefanoni to the coaching staff. Merchant and Kelley will be assistant coaches while Stefanoni is the Director of Softball Operations. Merchant comes to UMass from the University of Michigan where she was a four-year letterwinner and led the Wolverines to the 2005 national championship. Kelley and Stefanoni are both 2006 UMass graduates.

A two-time NFCA All-America shortstop, Merchant is Michigan's all-time home run (46) leader and she shares the single-season mark with Samantha Findlay at 21. Merchant is also third all-time in games started (252) and fourth in both career RBI (155) and doubles (48). Last year, she was a member of the USA Softball Elite Team that won the Intercontinental Cup title. Hitting .500 with a home run and eight RBI, she was chosen the event's MVP. Merchant, a 2005 Michigan graduate with a degree in sports management and communication, served as a volunteer coach for her alma mater this past season. She recently just finished her second season with the Connecticut Brakettes of the National Pro Fastpitch League and advanced to the championship game. She was also just invited to the Women's National Team selection camp scheduled for September 18-22 in Chula Vista, Calif.

"Jessica brings a wealth of experience in terms of what it takes to excel at the collegiate level," said Sortino. "As a member of the national team pool, she will help us stay current with the latest trends of the game."

Kelley re-wrote the record book during her four-year stint as a third baseman and catcher at UMass. She shattered the UMass home run record last year and has kept adding on since then. The Rainier, Oregon native and 2006 team captain is a career .335 hitter, good for 10th place all-time at UMass. She has 32 doubles, 41 home runs and 153 RBI, also a school record. A 2005 first-team Easton All-American, each of this senior's four home run tallies rank in the top 10, including a school and Atlantic 10 record 14 last year. Of the 15 times in school history that a player has hit two home runs in a single game, Kelley has done it five times. She is tied for third all-time with 74 extra-base hits, first with 118 walks and third with a .619 slugging percentage. In addition, she has recorded 50 multi-hit and 38 multi-RBI games in her career. This senior has been a four-time Atlantic 10 All-Conference and All-Tournament member as well as a three-time NFCA All-Region pick. Defensively, she has been a rock behind the plate for the last two seasons after two stellar years at third base. The A-10 leader this season in pick-offs, she has also caught 30 percent of would-be base stealers in her career. Kelley played with the 2006 National Pro Fastpitch champions New England Riptide where she batted .250 with three home runs and 15 RBI in 2006. She graduated from UMass with a degree in Sport Management this past spring.


"I am so excited to give KJ a chance to give back to her alma mater," said Sortino. "She will give us a great sense of on-field experience, especially to the young catchers. Her playing experience speaks for itself and she will be a great extension of the battery."

Stefanoni begins her tenure as Director of Softball Operations today. She will be responsible for coordinating team travel, daily office work, monitoring the student-athletes' academic progress and maintaining the recruiting database among other things. A 2006 graduate of UMass with a degree in Psychology, Stefanoni was the other captain in 2006. She started just about every game at second base the past three seasons while one of the most disciplined players at the plate. Stefanoni showed great range in the field and compiled a career fielding percentage of .950 in nearly 500 chances. The native of Columbus, New Jersey scored 75 runs in her career while compiling a .350 on-base percentage. She dropped down 24 sacrifice bunts, stole 26 bases and successfully advanced runners almost 50 percent of the time in her career. Stefanoni had 14 career doubles, two triples, one home run and 27 RBI as well as 11 multi-hit and five multi-RBI games in her career.

"Kristi's organizational skills and work ethic will really benefit the program from behind the scenes," said Sortino. "I am really glad that we have the chance to keep her around as a part of the family."

-- UMASS --

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Elaine Sortino has announced the addition of Jessica Merchant, KJ Kelley and Kristi Stefanoni to the coaching staff.
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