Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics
After ending the 2016 season with a disappointing 12-40 record, Maryland softball is ready for a comeback with returning head coach Julie Wright leading a fresh, young roster.
The season opens Friday at the Texas Invitational with games against No. 16 Minnesota and Colorado State and the Terrapins hope that intense preseason preparation will have them ready.
“We’ve been doing everything we can do physically on the field and in the weight room, conditioning — all of that,” Wright said.
In January, the team went to Florida for 11 days to prepare for the upcoming season.
Senior catcher and captain Kristina Dillard described the time down south as a major contributor to preseason development for the team.
“Being in 80 degrees every day out on the field [helped a lot],” she said.
The team also focused on personal development during the preseason, emphasizing the importance of body, mind and spirit. Wright described the toll the early season can take on players, not only physically but mentally.
“This is an intense preseason schedule,” Wright said. “We leave every Thursday and we come home Sunday around midnight.
The team ended 4-19 in Big Ten play last season and is looking to prepare for Big Ten play over the next six weeks. The Terps have several weekend-long invitationals and tournaments in that time against out-of-conference teams.
“In the preseason, this is a group that’s going to grow and progress and get better and better,” Wright said. “It’s going to be really fun to watch them hit conference play and see what level they’re at.”
This year’s roster features five freshmen, three outfielders and two infielders, bringing some new faces and new talent to the team.
“They’ve got some great guidance with some veteran players,” Wright said about the freshmen.
The three freshmen outfielders will join three returners to vie for starting positions in the outfield.
Last season, junior outfielder and outfield captain Destiney Henderson started every game and will likely continue to be a force to be reckoned with in the outfield.
In the infield, two of four spots were left open by graduates Lindsey Schmeiser and Corey Schwartz.
Shortstop will be filled by junior Skylynne Ellazar, second base by fifth-year senior Juli Strange and third base by freshman Anna Kufta. However, a competition is still in the running for first base.
Junior Jacqui Pascual and senior Jordan Aughinbaugh are neck-and-neck for the position and it is yet to be seen who will start on Friday.
While the team may have mixed levels of experience this season, returning stars Ellazar and Dillard are sure to be strong anchors.
Ellazar finished 2016 with a .399 batting average, the third highest ever at Maryland, and will be looking to repeat the performance. Dillard had the second-best batting average at .342 and led the Big Ten in stolen bases last season.
Dillard, who transferred to Maryland from Louisville before last season, believes overcoming the past may be the biggest challenge for the team this year.
“We’re growing and trying to find ourselves and it can definitely be a challenge but we’ll definitely be able to get a good sense during that first weekend,” she said.
Edited by Max Marcilla
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