CHICAGO – The University of Chicago softball team enters this spring coming off another successful run to the postseason in 2016. With a 27-10 record, the Maroons posted the second-most wins in program history and qualified for the NCAA Division III Championship field for the fourth time since 2010 and the 10th time overall. They reached the NCAA Regional final, and the hunt for the postseason will drive the Maroons again in 2017.
"We have traditionally had good success reaching the NCAA tournament and last year's team was no exception," said Head Coach Ruth Kmak. "We relied on solid pitching and complementary opportunistic offense to create situations for success last year. Our returning pitchers will have a year of growth and have experienced the intensity of the post-season, while the hitters on our roster have also been exposed to quality pitching and the rigors of another season. This can only help us be more diligent and focused in our efforts this year."
Kmak enters her 18th season leading the Maroons and has accumulated a career record of 363-231-1 (.611 winning percentage). After graduating four seniors, UChicago's 15-player roster features two seniors, two juniors, six sophomores and five freshmen.
The 2016 squad featured a nice balance of skills. The offense hit for a .313 batting average while the pitching staff limited opponents to a .232 batting average. Runners were aggressive on the base paths, with 60 steals in 76 attempts. Hitters were effective putting the bat on the ball, striking out less than half as much as their opponents (105 to 218). UChicago also displayed some power with 59 doubles, six triples and 15 home runs.
Kmak believes a balanced offense is critical to the team's success every year. "If you look at almost any season where we had the potential to be dangerous in the post-season, it is because we had quality pitching and a very balanced offense," she said. "This year should hopefully be no exception. We have the bulk of the hitters in our lineup returning, with a year of experience in hand. We have a bit of speed and some power to work in a complementary fashion to provide production from one through nine in the batting order. We should have some 'pop' throughout and there isn't a hitter in our lineup that an opposing pitcher can feel comfortable about."
In the pitching circle, the Maroons bring back a pair of hurlers with junior Molly Moran and sophomore Jordyne Prussak. Moran put up ace numbers last season, with an 8-5 record, 2.21 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 85.1 innings. The junior was particularly effective in the second half of the season, when she submitted eight scoreless outings in 12 appearances. Prussak racked up the wins as well, going 8-0 with a 3.23 ERA over 52 innings.
"Molly was our staff consensus #1 last year, and Jordyne Prussak had an 8-0 record versus some quality opponents as well," Kmak said. "Our pitching staff is very balanced this year. We expect them to work together and have success as complementary forces on a complete staff. We expect contributions from Molly, Jordyne and first-year Megan Stoppelman to be equitable and dynamic. They have worked quite hard preparing for the season and each of them has a different strength, a different 'go-to' pitch. Molly has a couple years of experience and should continue to build on her veteran guile as a third year. Jordyne threw well as a first year and we look to her to take that next step to continue to have success against our tough regional opponents, while first-year Megan should surprise some people right out of the chute."
The senior class of Maggie O'Hara and Anna Woolery bring plenty of veteran experience as three-year starters. At third base, O'Hara contributed a .264 batting average, six doubles, six steals and 12 RBI. Woolery served primarily at second base, posting a .345 batting average with five doubles, one triple, seven RBI and six stolen bases. They will be joined in the infield by returning sophomores Colleen Bennett (.308 BA, 15 RBI, 6 doubles, 7 SB) and Carly Schulz (.294 BA, 1 HR, 14 RBI, 5 doubles, 3 triples), both of whom saw plenty of action in their freshman campaigns.
Junior Sara Koniewicz (.333 BA) returns at catcher to handle the pitching staff. The corner outfielders are also back with sophomores Maeve Garvey (.267 BA) and Serena Moss (.333 BA, 11 doubles, 7 SB). Garvey displayed a power bat with four home runs, seven doubles and a team-high 27 RBI.
"We will count on our upperclassmen to lead the way with steadiness and passion, while our younger players provide some energy and excitement," said Kmak. "Our fourth years Maggie O'Hara and Anna Woolery have been consistent contributors in the starting lineup since they arrived on campus. Anna is a patient and effective hitter with an even-keeled approach at the plate, and is a source of consistency for her teammates. Maggie is our most vocal leader who will anchor our infield this year, while also contributing solidly on offense. Molly's pitching with be a key to our defense's ability to shut down the opposition, while Sara Koniewicz will continue to provide strength in her defensive versatility. After an outstanding year as a catcher last season, Sara will be a backstop again this year, but also see some time in the outfield to solidify that unit.
"Second years Maeve Garvey and Serena Moss return to anchor the outfield," the veteran head coach continued. "Both started there all year last year as first years. We are expecting defensive growth and offensive improvement from both of them. Carly Schulz was a very versatile player for us last season as a first year and we expect her to contribute at first base and potentially in the outfield, while being dangerous at the plate with a lot of explosiveness in her bat. Colleen Bennett will also return to the middle infield this year where she started most games last season as a first year. We'll be looking for more out of her bat as well. Jordyne will obviously be on the mound as previously mentioned. One of our most improved players is sophomore Kriza Sy. She has worked very hard to make significant improvements in her outfield defensive play and is always a tough out."
The five new freshmen will also be counted on to contribute to the Maroons from the get-go.
"Our first years are a competitive bunch, all working to break into the starting lineup right away," Kmak said. "All of them will have opportunities to prove themselves. Megan will be a regular part of our pitching rotation right away. Holli Jones and Danielle Allen will both see time at catcher and as offensive contributors. Christie Ambrose has great speed and looks to break in at second base or in the outfield. Emma Nelson, when healthy, should be our starting shortstop and we look forward to having her on the field with us as soon as possible."