In the first part of our interview with Maryland Terrapins head softball coach Courtney Scott Deifel, we talked about her return to Maryland, what it's like being part of the Big Ten, and some of the challenges she's faced since being hired in late July. We also had a chance to talk a little about recruiting and a lot about the state of the team.
The Late Start - with Courtney Deifel
TC: We talked earlier about getting a late start and the impact it had on putting your staff together. But not being able to get started until late July probably had an effect on your scheduling and recruiting. Let's start with the schedule.
CSD: The schedule was pretty much set. We were able to add a few midweek doubleheaders. When I got the job, we had, I think, 52 games scheduled so we just had to find a few weeks where we could fit in a few games. I think the schedule is pretty balanced and will be a good challenge for us.
TC: Well, that was easy. Now on to recruiting.
CSD: The late start made it a little tough just with the first class (2015-2016). We have five freshmen this year that were recruited by the previous staff. For next season, we have a great pitcher and catcher coming out from California. Right now they're the only players we have coming in. From this point it's just moving forward, identifying our needs, and recruiting those positions and getting them in place as quickly as possible. That's something the whole staff is working on.
Adding to the recruiting toolbox
TC: While we're on the subject of recruiting, has being in the Big Ten broadened your recruiting footprint?
CSD: It has. It's opened us up a little bit more to the Midwest which is something we thought would be the case. And it has been. Another way being in the Big Ten has helped is that it's more known. Even on the West Coast, when we tell people we're in the Big Ten, the West Coast kids know the Big Ten. They know the teams that are in the Big Ten and you don't always get that with some of the East Coast conferences. So, I think that's huge for us too.
One of our first commits is from the Chicago area. So we're really excited. It's nice because [assistant coach] Tommy's from the Chicago area. Obviously he's worked in Florida and New York. [Assistant coach] Yo's from Georgia. I'm from California. So we have a lot of the hot regions covered. The truth is that recruiting's a lot about who you know and getting out and networking. We feel like we're off to a good start.
TC: Has the proposed renovation to Cole Field House been something else you've been able to put into your recruiting toolbox?
CSD: Absolutely. I think that's huge for us. I think nowadays when you're looking at athletic departments and kids are deciding where they want to go, they're wowed by fancy buildings and nice facilities and I think the drawings for that look incredibly exciting. It helps with recruits to see that commitment to athletics.
In another instance of its increasingly outmoded and dated rules, NCAA regulations prohibit coaches from talking specifically or even mentioning the names of players who have verbally committed but who have not yet signed a National Letter of Intent. Thus, Deifel could only talk specifically about Californian twin sisters Andi and Ari Jarvis.
However, she did mention a pitcher from Chicago and, after a 90-second internet search, two sites confirmed that the pitcher is Caroline Hedgcock. The most recent stats on MaxPreps show that as a sophomore in the 2013-14 season, Hedgcock pitched 49 innings over 10 appearances. She had a 5-1 record, walked 15, struck out 51 and pitched to a 0.86 ERA.
To demonstrate that the staff is working hard (and how easily one can find names of verbal commitments), I found the names of two other players who will be joining Hedgcock at Maryland in Fall 2016. Both are from California. Pitcher Hanna Nilsen plays for a travel team that, in 2014 alone, sent a significant number of players to major programs such as Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arizona State, and others. Joining Nilsen in committing to Maryland, is catcher / third baseman Sarah Parten.
Deifel and company have also gotten a verbal commitment for 2017 from local star Hannah Eslick. The Glen Burnie native was being recruited by prominent programs such as Tennessee, Missouri, and the University of Central Florida.
What about the more immediate future?
TC: With the team coming off the worst season in program history, did you find, as Steve Aird did, that you needed to get the players excited about the game again?
CSD: A little bit. But I think any time a new staff comes in you're going to have to change the culture because it's going to have to fit how we coach and what we expect from our players. We've found our girls to be absolutely receptive to everything we've given them. When we got here, they were willing and ready to do everything we said we wanted them to do.
TC: Let's talk a bit about the health of the team right now. We can start with the Schmeisers.
CSD: I don't think KK [Kaitlyn Schmeiser] has ever felt better. She's really strong right now. She's fit. She's working her butt off. Pitching wise, she's looking pretty sharp. When we got here in the fall we had some work to do and she's really put the work in and the time. She's looking really good. I expect some good things from her this year. She is going to carry a heavy load. I think she's up for that and she's ready for it especially being her senior year. I think she wants to go out with a bang.
As for Lindsey, first of all, those Schmeiser girls are about as competitive as they come. They have that intangible quality that you just can't teach. Lu is feeling great. She's coming off her injury strong. She was out most of our fall and since we started getting her back in, she's been a workhorse.
TC: Amanda Gardner is another player who's been often injured.
CSD: Actually, I think this is the healthiest she's been, too. She's feeling pretty good. We have her in the circle a little bit. She hasn't pitched in four years. We're a little thin in pitching right now. That's probably where we have the most injuries. We have some girls who have really stepped up and they're going to help us and Mandy's one of them. She's been working hard on her pitching all fall and she's come a long way but when you've taken four years off it's a huge challenge to get back in there and be game ready. I think we'll get some good innings out of her here and there. She'll definitely help us offensively.
TC: Madison Martin and Brenna Nation also saw time in the circle last year.
CSD: Maddie had surgery and is going to redshirt this year. Brenna is also coming off surgery. We hope she'll be back in game form by March. Hannah Dewey will be pitching for us. She pitched a little bit last year. She's definitely going to step up her innings this year.
TC: So pitching is still the biggest concern?
CSD: Ultimately, your job as a pitcher is to give your team a chance to win and honestly, with the ERA we had last year [6.20], they really weren't giving the team a chance. I do think we'll see improvements there but it's probably my biggest concern. Our healthy pitchers right now have really stepped up. I'm curious and excited to see what they're going to do for us.
TC: The two biggest losses offensively are Candice Beards and Amanda McCann. How are you looking to replace them?
CSD: I'm excited to see what our offense is going to do this year. I think we have a lot of tools throughout the lineup. I think you'll see more production out of Sarah Calta. Bridget Hawvermale had some of our best at bats in the fall. So I think you're going to see it a little more spread out that you've seen in the past. Shannon [Bustillos] and Lu will do well.
TC: Shannon's been something of a workhorse at catcher. That's a very taxing position and I think she had an injury toward the end of last season as well.
CSD: She's coming off arm surgery on her elbow and has worked as hard as anybody to get herself in a really good place. She's actually never had a healthy year. Between the surgery and tweaking some mechanical things, we've got her arm feeling strong and she's looking good for us. We're going to have to maintain that because she'll be our catcher.
TC: And finally the freshman class. Should fans look for any of them to make an immediate impact?
CSD: Right now, I think the freshman who looks like she'll have the most immediate impact is Skylynne Ellazar. She's utility infielder. She's competing mostly at second and maybe a little at third. She's kind of our backup everywhere. She can fill any hole. She could even catch if we really needed her to.
And there you have it, softball fans. Although you have considerable time before the Terps take the field for a home game, you don't have long before the season gets underway. The Terps' first game is scheduled for February 6 at 10:00 a.m. in the Coastal Carolina Kickin' Chicken Classic and Maryland's first opponent will be erstwhile ACC foe Virginia Tech. In addition to two games with the 2014 NCAA participant Hokies, Maryland will play Lafayette and have two games with the host school.
Maryland will spend the entire month of February and half of March on the road. Their home schedule begins on Saturday, March 14, with a doubleheader rematch against Lafayette. Coach Deifel and her squad hope to see you there.