Five games in three days, two against teams projected to finish in the top three in their respective conferences, and another projected to win their conference? That’s a helluva way to start a season, right? What’s that saying? If you want to be the best, you’ve gotta beat the best?
The Tigers’ early schedule isn’t for the faint of heart, that’s for sure, and things get kicked off early Friday in the Northern Lights Invitational in Leesburg, FL (a common site for early season ball, as you’ll come to see).
I was in attendance for Coach Anderson’s first media availability of the season, and what I came away with most of all? This team is excited and ready to go. Due to the weather (and time of year), the Tigers have yet to practice on an actual field.
“I’m excited to see how excited they are to be outside and on the dirt,” she said. “I know they’re going to be a little jacked up and probably a little giddy, but that’s a good thing, right?”
The team left Thursday for the long bus trip, and Anderson said she’d leave them with the following reminder: “There isn’t anything that anybody is going to do that you’re not prepared for. You’ve prepared for everything.”
No one is expecting the team to come out and dominate out of the gate. It’s early. And Coach Anderson isn’t expecting that, either. In fact, she’s hoping their opponents will help to expose some of their issues.
“When we play Virginia Tech [and all the other teams we’ll face this weekend], they’ll expose our weaknesses, and that’s what we need,” she said. “We need to have those weaknesses exposed so we know what we need to improve on throughout the year.”
Here’s a little reminder about this Tiger squad to kick things off:
2021 RECORD: 42-17 (ranked #8 nationally)
PROJECTED CONFERENCE FINISH: 5th in SEC
PRESEASON RANKING: #12 (ESPN.com/USA Softball), #10 (D1 Softball), #9 (Softball America)
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
- Grad Student Brooke Wilmes, Outfield: .373 avg / 59 G / 55R / 79H (5th in program history) / 16 2B (4th in program history)/ 13 HR / 55 RBI / 17SB / 13BB / 14K (least on team among starters) / .987 FP% with 6A, 1E. Named Softball America #26 player in Top 100 / USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year watch list / Softball America Preseason First Team All-American / 2022 Preseason All-SEC / 2021 NFCA Third Team All-American / 2021 NFCA First Team Southeast All-Region / 2021 Second team All-SEC
- Sophomore Jenna Laird, Shortstop: .369 avg (.410 in SEC play was 3rd highest in SEC)/ 59G / 187AB / 46R / 69H / 13 2B / 2 3B / 8HR / 38RBI / 12-12SB / 24BB / .943 FP% with 99A, 10E. Softball America #44 player in Top 100 / USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year watch list / Softball America Preseason Third Team All-American / 2022 Preseason All-SEC / 2021 SEC Freshman of the Year / 2021 First Team All-SEC /
- Grad Student Hatti Moore, Catcher: .320 avg / 59G (145 consecutive starts) / 175AB / 45R / 56H / 8 2B / 17 HR (tied for 3rd in program history) / 50 RBI (one of two Tigers to achieve this)/ 31 BB (team-high) / .988 FP% with 20A, 4E, 7CSB (.759 SBA%). Named 2022 Preseason All-SEC.
- Fifth Year Kimberly Wert, Third Base/DH: .299 avg / 57G / 174AB / 30 R / 52H / 9 2B / 17 HR (tied for 3rd in program history) / 48 RBI / 17 BB / .937 FP% with 78A, 8E.
- Junior Jordan Weber, Pitcher: 12-7 / 119.1 IP / 2.82ERA / 105 SO / 48ER / 49 BB / 5 CG / .180 BAA (team-high) / 1.06WHIP (team-high)/ brought no-hitter into 5th inning or later 7 times / .90 postseason ERA over 31 IP (May 13-30).
- Sophomore Laurin Krings, Pitcher: 11-3 / 97.0 IP / 3.68ERA / 29 appearances (13 starts) / 122 SO (team-high) / 51 ER / 37 BB / 5 CG / .238 BAA / 3.3 K/BB ratio (team-high)
- When we last saw the Tigers in action, they lost 7-2 to James Madison in game 3 of the NCAA Super Regionals (their first appearance since 2016). You can read my recap from the game here. James Madison went on to lose in the WCWS final to Oklahoma.
- The Tigers finished 4th in the SEC 2021, despite being picked to finish 8th. The Tigers have outplayed their rankings in each of Larissa Anderson’s years at the helm.
- The Tigers led the SEC in 2021 in slugging percentage (.552), on-base percentage (.402), runs scored (382), RBIs (342) and finished second in average (.320) in the SEC.
- Keep an eye out for freshman Kara Daly, who Coach Anderson said has been impressive in fall workouts. “She is 6-feet tall and has great athleticism. She moves very well at third base for someone her size,” Anderson said. “She is so athletic our women’s basketball program wants her to walk on to the team. She has tremendous, tremendous power.”
- The team is focusing on better pitch selection this season after facing a slew of All-Americans, and they’re working on controlling the strike zone a little bit more.
- After coaches Chris and Kate Malveaux departed for Tennessee in the off-season, Anderson is touting an all-female staff, from coaches to grad assistants to volunteers.
Let’s check in on the Tigers’ opponents, shall we?
WHEN: Friday, February 11 at 9am
2021 RECORD: 7-34 in conference-only season
PROJECTED CONFERENCE FINISH: 13th in Big Ten
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
- Bailey Parshall, Pitcher: 1-14 / 2.82 ERA / 83 SO / 89IP / 7 CG / 4.88 SO/BB ratio (5th in Big Ten, 47th nationally) / 1.33 BB/7 (4th in Big Ten, 48th nationally. 6th all-time
- Melody (Mel) Coombs, Infield: .238 BA / .425 SLG% / 19 H / 4 2B / 1 3B / 3 HR / 9 RBI /Had 3 multi-hit games and one multi-RBI game / Team leader in SB (9-9).
- Ally Kurland, Catcher: .234 BA / .468 SLG% / 22 H /5 2B / 1 3B / 5 HR / 14 RBI / 6 multi-hit games and 4 multi-RBI games
- While the Nittany Lions posted an abysmal 7-34 record last season, keep in mind that they only played a Big Ten schedule, and according to OnwardState.com, 18 of their 41 games were lost by just 1-2 runs.
- Senior pitcher Bailey Parshall is coming off an injury that sidelined her for the latter part of last season, so getting her back into the mix will be crucial for the team’s pitching depth
- In the offseason, top hitter Melina Livingston transferred to Michigan, leaving the already anemic offense in desperate need of a break out.
- Coach Clarisa Crowell is in her second year at the helm of Penn State, having previously coached at Miami-Ohio (209-182 overall record) where she was the 2019 MAC Coach of the Year.
WHEN: Friday, February 11 at 11:30am
2021 RECORD: 22-20
PROJECTED CONFERENCE FINISH: 3rd in Big East
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
- Jana Sanden: .346BA / 119AB/ 22R / 40H/ 7 2B / 8HR / 31RBI / .597 SLG% / .460 OBP% /.987 FLD% / No. 5 on D1 Softball’s Big East player rankings
- Payton Kinney, Pitcher: 11-11 / 2.99 ERA / 135 SO / 126.1 IP / No. 8 on D1 Softball’s Big East player rankings
- Reese Guevarra, Outfield: .346BA / 153AB / 25R / 53H / 13 2B / 1 3B / 3 HR / 19 RBI / 11 BB / 77 TB / .503 SLG% / .390 OBP% / 1.000 FLD% / No. 11 in D1 Softball’s Big East player rankings
- Briana Marcelino, Infield: .320BA / 128AB / 28R / 41H / 7 2B / 7HR / 31RBI / .539 SLG% / .388 OBP% / 18-18SB (led Big East) / No. 15 in D1 Softball’s Big East player rankings
- When we last saw the Huskies, they were playing Villanova in the Big East championship game. Meghan O’Neil (10-7) led the Huskies through 6IP with 6SO and only 2BB before taking the L.
- The Huskies led the Big East in both stolen bases and attempts last season, as well as home runs, and they return the majority of their production.
- UConn added a key transfer in Monmouth catcher Erika Coreth to bolster their depth, who’s .359 BA led the team, and was tied for fourth in the MAAC with 5HR to go with 27RBI, a .553 SLG%, .459 OBP, 15BB, and 24R.
WHEN: Saturday, February 12 at 2:30pm
2021 RECORD: 18-22 in conference-only season
PROJECTED CONFERENCE FINISH: 8th in Big Ten
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
- Kayla Konwent, Infield: D1 Softball’s Conference Player of the Year / No. 2 in D1 Softball’s Big Ten player rankings / 2019 unanimous First Team All-American / 2019 stats: .459BA, .582 OBP%, .859 SLG%, 1.441 OPS, 53RBI, 15HR, 78H, 21 2B
- Maddie Schwartz, Pitcher: 11-11 / 2.23ERA / 156.2IP / 1.05WHIP / 111 SO /.237 Opp BA / 4 shutouts / .980 FLD% / Pitched 11 SO in a game twice / No. 19 in D1 Softball’s Big Ten player rankings
- Fiona Girardot, Outfield: .324 BA / 105AB / 20R / 34H / 12 2B / 2 3B / 2HR / 16RBI / .540 SLG% / .432 OBP% / .946FLD%
- Per D1 Softball, the school announced after a pandemic-shortened 2020 season, that it would not seek any eligibility waivers for its spring athletes, so the 2021 season featured no fifth-year seniors, and no Kayla Konwent, who was the 2019 Big Ten Player of the Year and a First Team All-American.
- Wisconsin returns 16 players from the 2021 roster, including all of their projected starters.
(NOTE: The coverage of Wisconsin softball is reallllllly lacking)
WHEN: Saturday, February 12 at 5pm
2021 RECORD: 37-15
PROJECTED CONFERENCE FINISH: 3rd in ACC (received two 1st place votes)
PRESEASON RANKING: #10 (ESPN.com/USA Softball), #11 (D1 Softball), #12 (Softball America)
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
- Keely Rochard, Pitcher: D1 Softball Preseason Pitcher of the Year / D1 Softball No. 2 ranked player in ACC / Preseason All-ACC / 2021 NFCA First Team All-American / 38G, 348 SO, 29-10 record, 1.38 ERA, 348 SO (2nd nationally), .154 B/AVG in 244 IP with 70 BB / Threw ~72% of Hokies IP last season
- Emma Lemley, Pitcher: D1 Softball Preseason Freshman of the Year / high school stats: 0.80 ERA / 1,204 SO / 720 IP
- Kelsey Bennett, Infield: D1 Softball Preseason No. 6 Ranked Third Baseman/ Preseason All-ACC / .314 BA, 1.028 OPS, 7 2B, 3 3B, 13 HR, 42 RBI, .954 FLD% / Evenly split time between 3B/SS last season / Led NCAA in Postseason with 12H through Super Regionals round
- Kelsey Brown, Outfield: D1 Softball No. 15 ranked player in ACC / Preseason All-ACC / .384BA,5 3B, 20RBI, 46R, 31-31SB.
- Jayme Bailey, Utility: D1 Softball No. 20 ranked player in ACC / .309BA, 13 2B, 8 HR, 42R
- The No. 10 Hokies finished the 2021 season at the Los Angeles Super Regional, the best finish in program history since the 2008 World Series. Virginia Tech beat No. 2 seed UCLA 7-2 in the first game on 12 SO & only 3 H by Rochard, but UCLA took game 2-3.
- Keely Rochard is their ace, and every time she starts, the Hokies have a chance to win. She also threw 72 percent of their innings last year, so Virginia Tech needs to find her some help to alleviate that massive workload. She rested her arm all summer, according to reports, so she should be fresh and ready to go come this season.
- The Hokies need to tighten up their defense this season, because on the off-chance someone did hit Rochard, D1 Softball’s Fall Report noted that the infield had trouble making basic plays at times. A lot of early season practices have focused on this.
- In reference to the addition of freshman pitcher Emma Lemley: “We’ve had a couple of fall games and she has struck out 23 of 25,” coach Pete D’Amour said. “She throws hard, upper 60s with a good rise ball and competes. She has been very impressive so far this fall.”
- According to D’Amour, fans should also watch out for utility player Bre Peck, the 2019 Gatorade Pennsylvania Player of the Year, utility player Rachel Castine, who can play a multitude of positions well, and Elon transfer, Ally Repko, who earned first-team All-CAA honors last season and batted .340 with 34 RBIs.
- According to the NCAA’s site, this matchup is one of the “ones to watch” opening weekend:
Here is yet another top-15 showdown. The Missouri Tigers will take on Keely Rochard and Virginia Tech, two teams in contention for the WCWS. The Tigers return every single starter from last season, including the same four arms in the circle and a lot of experience and talent in their lineup. But Tech is incredibly experienced as well. Not only do they return one of the best pitchers in the nation in Rochard, but they also return nearly every major player from a team that reached the Super Regionals for only the second time in program history. According to D1softball, they also added one of the best recruiting classes in program history. This should be a good one.
WHEN: Sunday, February 13 at 12pm
2021 RECORD: 44-15
PROJECTED CONFERENCE FINISH: 1st in A-SUN
PRESEASON RANKING: #26 (ESPN.com/USA Softball), #24 (D1 Softball), #24 (Softball America)
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
- Lou Allan, Infield: D1 Preseason No. 9 ranked First Baseman / A-SUN Preseason All-Conference / .383 BA, 1.121 OPS, 9 2B, 11 HR, team-leading 45 RBI, .981 FLD% for Michigan Wolverines in 2021
- Kara Canetto, Outfield: A-SUN Preseason Player of the Year / A-SUN Preseason All-Conference / .385 BA, 75H (11th nationally), 10 2B, 19SB (team-high) / 2021 A-SUN All-Conference First team
- Emily Kirby, Pitcher: A-SUN Preseason Pitcher of the Year / A-SUN Preseason All-Conference / 2021 A- SUN Pitcher of Year, First Team All-Conference/ NFCA All-Southeast region third team. Posted 15-5 record and 1.92 ERA, 145 SO, tied for 10th in nation with 9 shutouts. Led ASUN in K/7 innings at 7.34.
- Carolina Hudson, Catcher: Started every game last season (59 starts), .991 FLD% with 296 putouts and 34 assists. Threw out 20-59 base stealers (.339)
- Karlie Keeney, Pitcher: 2021 A-SUN All-Conference Second Team / 17-5 , 2.43ERA, 9CG, 70 SO, 5 shutouts
- When you last saw them, the Flames lost their initial game to James Madison in 10 innings in the Knoxville Regional, then fought their way through the loser’s bracket, beating both Eastern Kentucky and host team/no. 9 ranked Tennessee. They ran into a JMU buzz-saw, however, who came storming back with a five-run fifth inning, ending the Flames’ season.
- Favored to finish atop the conference for fourth year in a row (consequently, all their years in the conference)
- In addition to Emily Kirby, Coach Dot Richardson has Karlie Keeney and her 2.43ERA to help shoulder the load. According to D1 Softball’s Liberty fall report, the duo took care of 70% of the Flames’ innings. They also figure to count on sophomore McKenzie Wagoner, the 2020 Gatorade Oklahoma Player of the Year, who Richardson said is now hitting 65-66 mph on the gun. Liberty brings back its entire staff, which led the A-SUN (and ranked 6th nationally) with 19 shutouts.
- The Flames will be without the hard-hitting Bishop sisters, who accounted for 31 home runs last season, as well as Emily Sweat and Madison Vea, all of whom graduated. This leaves Liberty with a total of 17 home runs from a year ago.
With softball season finally here, stay up to date with all our softball content by following me, @KarenSteger, and @RockMNation. I’ll have previews for each of Missouri’s series, as well as recaps when available (I’m not currently a FloSoftball subscriber so recapping these early games may prove difficult).
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism