Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics
After almost inverse 2016 seasons, the Maryland Terrapins, who ended 12-40 last spring, and the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who finished with a bright 43-14 record, will meet in their respective season openers this Friday at the Texas Invitational.
The No. 16 Gophers defeated their fellow Big Ten Terrapins 9-0 in their last matchup, the final game of a series swept by the Gophers.
However, both teams have had roster shakeups since that game.
The Terrapins, led by second-year head coach Julie Wright, welcome five freshmen this year who will fill key positions and create some competition for others.
Three freshmen and three returners will compete for outfield spots, while the infield will see a new face at the hot corner with freshman Anna Kufta.
It’s not all fresh for the Terps, however. After three consecutive years of new head coaches, Wright is sticking around for a second season, potentially providing more stability and routine to the team.
Minnesota’s head coach Jessica Allister is beginning her seventh season with the Gophers. Although they have consistency among their coaching staff, this year’s roster is going to look very different than the last.
The Gophers have a 2017 team with nine of 18 spots filled by new players. Seven freshmen and two transfers are joining the team this season.
This includes a completely new outfield, which will test potential starters throughout the weekend invitational.
However, when it comes to the lineup, the Gophers are likely to stay strong. Minnesota returns three of its leaders at the plate: senior pitcher Sara Groenewegen, sophomore infielder Maddie Houlihan and senior infielder Sam Macken. Houlihan led the Gophers in hitting with a .366 batting average.
The Terrapins lineup doesn’t slack off either. Junior shortstop Skylynne Ellazar ended 2016 with a .399 batting average and will provide Maryland’s answer to Macken.
In the Gophers’ bullpen, Groenewegen had the most strikeouts in the NCAA last season and will be sure to return with a vengeance for 2017. The right-handed pitcher finished 2016 with a 2.03 ERA and threw three no-hitters and one perfect game last season.
For the Terrapins, senior pitcher Hannah Dewey brings experience and has pitched over 200 innings in her career, but freshman pitcher Lauren Graves is anticipated to make a big impact as well. Graves hails from Arkansas, where she was a three-time all-state and four-time all-conference selection during her high school career.
Minnesota is coming off of a program record setting season, having gone to the NCAA tournament for the fourth year in row. They beat five ranked teams, including Oklahoma, 2016 national champions. In the Big Ten, Minnesota finished 19-3.
On the other hand, Maryland’s last season was more frustrating than successful, as the Terps ended 4-19 in conference play.
Friday’s game will set the tone for how Maryland is going to fare this year. Against a team that has proven themselves against the Terrapins before, Maryland’s team will be tested on all of its preseason preparation.
Edited by Max Marcilla
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