By Alan Branch–
Feb. 12 marked the official start of the U of L softball team’s 2016 season, at the Islanders Invitational this weekend in Texas. In hindsight, this softball program has seen consistent progress from the moment head coach Sandy Pearsall has gotten her hands on this team in 2000. Her 16 seasons at U of L has produced six conference championships and most recently 12 consecutive NCAA regional appearances.
The Cards already have the bar set high this season after being voted to finish third in the ACC by their respected conference head coaches. That would certainly be a small improvement even after a remarkable, inaugural season in the ACC last year that concluded with a 16-7 record in conference play. Not to mention, winning six of their eight conference series and finishing fourth in the ACC. Although, the preparation and effort that went into this past offseason will look to accomplish much more than their peers and even their own expectations.
“What I really like is they are all working hard and learning, but they’re getting it, so we’re seeing them improve each day which is important to us,” says coach Pearsall.
Even with the departure of notable seniors Whitney Arion, Kelsi Jones and company, the Cards will be reloading with 12 letter winners and six starters from last year’s squad. The offseason also welcomed five new transfers and five freshman to the U of L softball family.
Certainly this group has been built from the inside out, and it starts with the 2015 All-ACC first team junior pitcher Maryssa Becker. Becker has stepped up as a co-captain for her team this year after leading Louisville in every pitching category, while posting a 14-9 record, a 2.12 ERA, and handing out 147 strikeouts last season. She also found the time to contribute on the offensive side, where last season she led the team with nine home runs and 39 RBIs.
“Maryssa has always been a great hitter for us and she will be one of our top hitters again,” Pearsall claims.
Sophomore pitcher Madi Norman will aim to help contribute in the rotation after bouncing back from a season ending injury in 2015. The pair of freshman, Megan Hensley and Kaylea Horn, will also be pitchers coach Pearsall will count on this season. At catcher, senior Morgan Hart and sophomore Alison Szydlowski both will find ways to contribute at their position.
The Cards’ infielders will be stockpiled with leadership and veteran experience offered by co-captains and fellow seniors Brittany Sims and Hailey Smith. The third baseman Smith, also known as “Boogs”, was second on her team with six home runs and batted an average of .288. For second baseman Brittany Sims, 2015 was a breakout year for her where she finished the season with a .325 batting average as well as coming in third on the team with five home runs.
Amongst the new transfers, juniors Jordan Lane and Sarah Lopesilvero look to make an immediate impact in red and black this season. Lopsilvero comes from Lake Land Community College where she led her team in six statistical categories as a sophomore. Before Lane was a Cardinal, she played for the College of Central Florida where she helped her team win a Mid-Florida Conference title in 2015.
Sophomore Jamie Soles, the younger sister of recent graduate Kayla Soles, comes from the University of Hartford where she started every game and was awarded with the America All-Rookie team.
Beyond the diamond, speedy outfielder Jordy McNarr will continue to be a reliable slap hitter for the team, which is just one of her several batting techniques that she has sharpened during the offseason.
“Speed wise, Jordan (McNary) has very good slapping and has added other things to her repertoire,” coach Pearsall said. Although her speed shines brightly when she’s on the run, successfully converting 6-of-7 on stolen bases in 2015. The last transfer, sophomore Jessica Adell, comes from the University of Tennessee. She returns to her hometown to play a vital part in the Cards’ outfield as well as a threat on the bases.
And finally, freshman Jordan Vorbrink will looks to see her high school success transfer to the collegiate level. A Gatorade Player of the Year nominee, Vorbrink led Mercy Academy to three regional and district titles, not to mention MVP honors for her play in the 2012 Kentucky State Championship as a freshman. A seemingly talented and young group that will certainly get their opportunity to shine this year, especially in big conference games against the likes of Florida State and NC State.
Louisville began their tournament play this morning at 11:00 a.m. (EST) where they defeated Sam Houston State 7-0. Sophomore Megan Hensley displayed a dominant performance that was not only showcased in the circle, but with an impressive 4-for-4 at bat, with a homerun and two runs scored. The second game of their double-hitter, the Cards fell 1-0 to the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Cards were slow all game offensively and were only able to connect on three total hits.
The Cards’ home opener will be on Feb. 26 at 1:00 p.m. against Cleveland State University to kick off the Louisville Red and Black Classic.