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Maryland softball 2016 preview: Terps, head coach Julie Wright hope to usher in new era

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The Terps hope to climb up the Big Ten ladder under new head coach Julie Wright.

Sammi Silber/Testudo Times

College softball season has arrived, and Maryland will look a lot different than it did last year. The Terps will be without their ace pitcher from 2015, Kaitlyn Schmeiser, as well as two of their biggest bats in Erin Pronobis and Shannon Bustillos. Maryland finished 27-27 and reached the Big Ten tournament a season ago, but the team’s coach, Courtney Scott Deifel, was hired away by Arkansas after just one season in College Park. Julie Wright was announced as the Terps’ new head coach July. In her last three years at Idaho State, Wright won three Big Sky championships.

"What you’re going to see from the team this year is a new identity," Wright said at the team's media day on Feb. 5. "This team this year has a great responsibility in that to leave a legacy for all the other teams that come through our program. It’s exciting to watch them go through that process."

Here are the players taking on such a responsibility:

Pitchers and catchers

Three Terps will see the bulk of the innings in the circle this season. Junior southpaw Hannah Dewey started 18 games in 2015, posting a 6-11 record and a 6.09 ERA (softball ERAs are per 7 innings, rather than baseball’s 9). Meanwhile, redshirt juniors Brenna Nation and Madison Martin are back after injury-plagued seasons. Nation only started 7 games last year, but was dominant in the fall, allowing 3 runs and fanning 17 in 13 innings. Martin missed all of 2015 with a foot injury, but was a key contributor in her freshman and sophomore seasons. Rounding out the pitching staff are freshmen Ari Jarvis and Sami Main.

The Terps also lost star catcher Shannon Bustillos, who was one of the program’s most decorated hitters. She’s the all-time Maryland leader with 30 home runs, 153 runs batted in and 46 doubles. She was also a major presence behind the plate; toward the end of her career, she was given the freedom to call her own games.

Junior Kristina Dillard, a transfer from Louisville, will serve as her replacement this season. She won’t call games at first, but she has quickly earned the respect of her teammates, who voted her as a captain in the winter. Her backups will be sophomore Haley Clements and freshman Andi Jarvis (Ari’s twin sister).

Infield

The middle infield should be the Terps’ strength this year. Seniors Lindsey Schmeiser and Corey Schwartz have been mainstays at shortstop and second base, respectively. The two started a combined 105 games last season. Schmeiser was a First Team All-Big Ten selection last year after hitting .369 with 11 homers, 43 RBIs, a 1.159 OPS and a school-record 21 doubles—and she wasn’t fully healthy, as is the case this year. Her 27 career homers are second in Maryland history behind Bustillos’ 30, so she has a chance to break her former teammate’s record this year. Schwartz, meanwhile, is coming off a breakout season in which she led the Terps with 15 homers and 45 RBIs.

Juli Strange, another veteran, was expected to be the everyday third baseman before tearing her ACL in the last game of the fall season. In her place will be Skylynne Ellazar, a sophomore from Hawaii. Ellazar made just 8 starts last season and none at the hot corner, but she’s a versatile player who bounced around second, third and short before coming to College Park. Junior Emily Libero might also see some time at the position.

First base is still wide open and could remain so for a while. Both Dewey and Martin are solid hitters and could be slotted at first when not in the circle. Juniors Sarah Lang and Jordan Aughinbaugh (a transfer from NC State) and sophomore Jacqui Pascual are all expected to see time there, as well.

Outfield

The departure of Erin Pronobis, who batted a team-high .373 last season and added 12 homers and 44 RBIs, places the onus on several underclassmen to step up. Junior Kylie Datil started 52 games last season (although some were at shortstop), while junior Sarah Calta hit .647 with 5 triples in the fall slate. The latter is likely the team’s best base-stealer: she swiped a team-high 9 bags last season despite not being a regular starter. She’ll play left field while Datil will start in center.

Hannah Dewey is expected to play some games in right field when she isn’t in the circle or at first. She’s a valuable addition to any lineup because of her ability to get on base. Last season, she drew 49 walks in 54 games and posted a team-high .519 on-base percentage. The other player expected to see most of the action in right field is sophomore Destiney Henderson, an ace defender. Sophomore Emma Mires has moved from catcher to outfield this season to add depth.

Schedule

Maryland will begin the season with six weekend tournaments before the beginning of conference play. It all starts this weekend with 5 games in 3 days at the Kajikawa Classic (hosted by Arizona State). The Terps’ toughest test in this tournament will come Saturday morning in the form of No. 6 Oregon.

Other top teams on the Terps’ schedule include No. 5 Alabama and No. 9 Oklahoma, both of whom will face Maryland twice. Once conference play begins, the target is No. 2 Michigan. The Terps will visit Ann Arbor for a three-game series from April 22-24. Minnesota is the only other ranked squad on Maryland’s conference schedule, although Nebraska and Ohio State received votes in the preseason poll.

It’s sure to be a demanding year for Maryland softball, but the team is on an upward trend after improving its overall record by 12 games in its first Big Ten season. ith a new coaching staff bringing a more aggressive identity to College Park, this should be a fun season to watch.