It’s a bit late because the season is already underway but I’d like to draw some attention to a Maryland program that’s been quietly building a bit of under the radar success, namely the Maryland softball team. Coach Laura Watten arrived in College Park from Bethune-Cookman to take the helm of a team that in its eleven year history had made one NCAA tournament and had only once managed a winning record in the ACC. Though success wasn’t immediate, Coach Watten has led the team to its only 40 win season in 2011, to back to back winning records in the ACC, and to three consecutive NCAA appearances. Beginning her eighth season, Coach Watten will manage a team that brings a nice balance of experience and youth with four seniors and three eligible juniors, combining with five sophomores and six freshmen.
One of the big question marks heading into the season is who will replace last season’s workhorse in the circle, Kendra Knight. Knight, who graduated last year finished the 2012 season with 27 wins and 268.2 innings pitched putting her second in Maryland history in each category. This year’s staff represents a real youth movement with sophomore Kaitlyn Schmeiser who started 14 games and appeared in 23 as a freshman bringing the most NCAA experience. Senior Lexi Carroll has been primarily an infielder but who made 2 starts in 2012 and has pitched in 12 games overall is the only other player on the staff who has pitched in an NCAA game. Two freshmen, Brenna Nation from Georgia and Maddie Martin from Oklahoma, round out the staff. Unlike last season where Knight carried most of the pitching burden, Coach Watten told me in an exchange of emails that this season fans should expect to see “a mixture of the young pitchers” and that she plans “to use at least three pitchers on a regular basis.” The Terrapin fortunes this season may rest in significant part on those really good young arms.
At the opposite end of the battery will be sophomore catcher Shannon Bustillos. Bustillos started all 56 games last season as a freshman and in addition to a solid defensive performance by season’s end Shannon had become a real offensive threat including hitting a team leading seven home runs. Watten believes that Shannon’s big game, high pressure experience will be an advantage for her in bringing the young staff along. She thinks that Bustillos together with new pitching coach Jillian Callaway will play key role in developing the staff.
Another key for the Terps this year will be replacing the offensive firepower of Vangie Galindo who finished her Maryland career as the all time leader in hits and stolen bases. Watten expects a strong offensive performance despite not having her lineup set yet. Joining Bustillos, the Terp lineup does look to have plenty of threats with upperclassmen Sara Acosta and Candace Beards joining freshmen Lindsey Schmeiser and Juli Strange showing early production. Though not hitting for a high average, senior Melissa Mancuso has shown a knack for getting timely hits and leads the team in rbi after the first weekend.
Watten has set a challenging early schedule for the Terps viewing it as an opportunity to learn a lot about her team as well as a fun chance to travel and to play teams Maryland wouldn’t otherwise play. The Terps opening season tournament included games against number fourteen Michigan and 2012 NCAA Tourney participant UMASS. Coming up, the Terrapins will travel to Palm Springs where the field includes games against seventh ranked Missouri and PAC 12 powerhouses in number 8 Cal, number 16 UCLA and the Oregon State Beavers who received votes in the latest poll.
Individually, the roster looks like this:
Sara Acosta – Will generally play right or center field and has a solid .272 lifetime average. Look for her to spend a lot of time batting in the 2 hole.
Lexi Carroll – Versatile player will see time as DP, 3B and occasionally in the circle. Showed a burst of power as a sophomore slugging 7 HRs in only 105 at bats.
Nikki Maier – Started 53 games at second base in 2012 and gave the Terps a solid presence up the middle. Shows a knack for getting timely hits with 55 career rbi on only 60 hits.
Melissa Mancuso – Hampered for part of her junior season with a broken arm but will spray the ball around and has a .254 lifetime average.
Candace Beards – Had a breakout season as a sophomore hitting .318 and knocking in 34 runs. Expect her to see a lot of action as the DH and will usually occupy the 3 or 5 slot in the batting order.
Mandy Gardner – Transfer from Michigan will see her first action as a Terp in 2013.
Amanda McCann – Shared center field duties in her first two seasons. Look for her to be the leadoff hitter for 2013.
Jessica Warner – the UMBC transfer will red shirt this season.
Shannon Bustillos – See my comments above
Bridget Havermale – A true utility player who plays wherever she’s needed.
Liana Newton – Defensive specialist who showed some promise in limited at bats as a freshman.
Kaitlyn Schmeiser – Will be one of the three Terps in rotation in the circle.
Bria Taylor – Possibly the speediest of the Terps. Stole 15 bases in 18 attempts as a freshman.
Maddie Martin – Expect to see her spend a lot of time in the circle. Watten says she’s got a big arm and is mentally tough.
Brenna Nation – Two time Class A pitcher of the year in Georgia
Lindsey Schmeiser – Followed her sister Kaitlyn to Maryland and helped propel her high school team to four consecutive state championships. Showed some early offensive firepower in the Terps opening weekend.
Corey Schwartz – Another big bat in high school. Was selected to the Frst Team All-State in New Jersey
Samantha Schweikhardt – A true home grown product she was named the Montgomery County Player of the Year by the Gazette
Juli Strange – A California transplant with lots of power. Homered on the opening weekend.