By Matt Bradshaw —

Student-athletes make their mark in sports history each year, gradually growing the legacy of Louisville Athletics. With its 20th season on campus, softball reaches a significant milestone and strives for another historic stint.

Leading the way into 2019 is the new head coach on deck: Holly Aprile. Her predecessor, Sandy Pearsall, coached the softball program from its inception in 2000 and accumulated 718 wins, 13 NCAA Regional appearances and four regional finals.

Pearsall’s Cardinals finished 2018 in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament, marking the second straight year without a NCAA Regional berth.

“I’ve been here a while,” redshirt senior Sidney Melton said. “This year is a new era for the University as a whole and for the softball program. Some hardware from the ACC is definitely something that we’re looking forward to.”

Aprile can certainly help with hardware, as she brings a top-notch resume from her previous job at Pittsburgh. After 10 seasons as head coach, she led the Panthers to a conference title in 2018 while earning ACC Coach of the Year.

Aprile’s staff arrived in Louisville last summer, matching with the team like fresh glove on willing hand.

“Everybody is really responsive to the new coaching staff,” senior Megan Hensley said. “Everybody seems to be on the same page. We’ve really been adapting well, coming together as a team.”

Also important is that U of L managed the coaching change without little to no turnover. Aprile has a strong selection of juniors and seniors to guide with maturity into a new era for the program.

“We have great leadership, which is a huge piece of our success,” Aprile said. “To have the whole group stay, it’s a testament to them. It’s a testament to how much they love the University of Louisville.”

Two seniors are preseason All-ACC selections: Hensley and Melton. With Hensley a threat from both the mound and plate, and Melton a prime leadoff hitter, the Cardinals have a fighting chance to follow their leaders for a conference title.

“We expect to make the NCAA tournament this year, that’s for sure,” Melton said. “We expect product. We expect to be successful within the conference and NCAA.”

Speed is one name of Louisville’s game in 2019.

Junior outfielder Celene Funke led with 17 stolen bases last season, along with leading in batting average at .356. Melton notched 15 stolen bases and the rest of the team combined for 19.

“We have to make sure we’re really good on the base paths, always looking at the ball so we know when to take advantage,” Aprile said. “We run well so we’ll utilize it.”

U of L welcomes five freshmen this season, along with redshirt freshman Taylor Roby. The newcomers add even more speed to the veteran-laden team and will certainly vie for playing time as the year progresses.

Roby, the only Louisville area native on the team, has already demonstrated her talent with quality at-bats in the Cardinals’ opening tournament.

“(Freshman) Charley Butler is somebody with infield/outfield versatility. She runs really well. Cassady Greenwood is another freshman that will see time behind the plate,” Aprile said. “They’re all going to make contributions in their own way.”

In the batter’s box, the 2018 team combined for a stellar .302 batting average and topped the conference in offensive production. Junior Caitlin Ferguson, sophomores Maddy Newman and Kyra Snyder are three of the standout bats.

On the mound, Aprile will depend heavily on Hensley, who enters her senior season among the program’s top 10 in career wins. Sophomore Danielle Watson looks to rebound from a stellar freshman year, when she posted 14 wins and 105 strikeouts. Senior Darrianne Hale, sophomore Paige Schindler, Snyder and Roby round out the talented bullpen.

Madison Cousineau and Greenwood will catch the pitchers behind the plate. Senior Cousineau brings the experience and freshman Greenwood the blooming talent.

Louisville opens the season with three challenging road stints before returning to Ulmer Stadium for its home opener. The schedule includes 17 games against 2018 NCAA Tournament teams, including defending national champion Florida State.

With a 10-12 record in conference play last season, the Cardinals notched their first ever losing record as a member of the ACC. Aprile hopes this season’s road games and non-conference schedule prepare her team for conference play.

“Through scheduling, we try to make sure it’s going to be challenging enough to help us prepare for the season,” Aprile said. “I wanted to put those opponents in front us of us because I think we can go out and compete with them.”

With a 3-2 record after the Titan Classic in California, Louisville softball travels to North Carolina for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Feb. 15.

You can catch softball’s first home game against Indiana State on Friday, Mar. 1.

You can follow the Louisville Cardinal on Twitter @thecardsports.

Graphic by Shayla Kerr / The Louisville Cardinal