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Maryland softball looks to take a step forward in 2018

The Terps open a new season on Friday. Here’s how they shape up.

julie wright maryland softball Lila Bromberg / Testudo Times

After a tough 2017 season that resulted in a 11-39-1 record, Maryland softball looks to shake out of its recent skid of losing seasons. Julie Wright will be entering her third season as head coach, and with a combined record of 23-79-1 so far, 2018 could be an important year for her and the Terps’ future.

Here’s what’s changed since the end of last season, and what to expect this spring.

Key players lost

After suffering pitching struggles for most of last season, the Terps’ pitching staff will feature some new faces since their two highest volume pitchers, Madison Martin and Hannah Dewey, have both graduated. The duo combined to pitch 286.1 of Maryland’s 340 innings last year.

Infielder Juli Strange has also graduated and should leave a significant void in the Terps’ lineup. In 2017, Strange led the team in on-base percentage and was a consistent starter, starting in 49 of 51 games. Other players on their way out include catcher Kristina Dillard and outfielder Sarah Calta, both of whom started a significant amount of games for the Terps in 2017.

Returning players

One of Maryland’s problems that plagued them last season was a lack of offensive firepower. The good news is that most of the team’s productive hitters are returning this season.

The team’s most effective hitter, outfielder Amanda Brashear, will be returning for her sophomore season after a 2017 in which she led the team in batting average (.304) and hits (52). Repeating or even improving upon her production from last year will be key in the team’s offensive success.

The other productive freshman from 2017, infielder Anna Kufta, will also be looking to build upon her success at the plate last season. Kufta led the team with six home runs and 24 RBIs last year, and will be expected to carry a good chunk of the Terps’ offensive load.

Infielder Skylynne Ellazar, another one of the team’s leaders in batting average last season, will be entering her final year of eligibility. She hit .297 last season (2nd on the team), and should be a veteran presence for a team whose better players are still mostly underclassmen.

Rounding out the returning starters are sophomore outfielder Kassidy Cross (who hit .264 in 47 games), and senior outfielder Destiney Henderson (hit .255 in 48 games).

New additions

The 2018 Terps welcome eight new players: five freshmen and three transfer students. Of the transfers, pitcher Sydney Golden, who comes from Cal State-Fullerton, will likely be Maryland’s immediate ace after the departures of Martin and Dewey. The junior from Riverside, California, pitched 80.0 innings in 2017, having a 2.98 ERA and 48 strikeouts. Despite being a newcomer, she joins Ellazar, Henderson and Kufta as a captain this season.

“We got a release from her and it was something that we jumped on right away, knowing who she was,” Wright said of Golden’s transfer process. “Her and I developed a pretty good relationship right away and from there we just moved it forward and won the recruiting battle for her, so we’re really excited about that. She’s brought tremendous, tremendous competitive spirit and a winning attitude to our team and is one of our captains because of it.”

The incoming freshmen class is also fairly impressive, featuring three high school All-Americans: outfielder JoJo McRae, pitcher Ryan Denhart and infielder Sammie Stefan. McRae, a Texas native, brings speed on the base paths to this Maryland team, while Stefan set her high school’s record for most home runs and RBIs in a single season. Denhart will be counted on in the circle from day one, so she could be one of Maryland’s most important players.

Looking ahead

Maryland will officially kick off its season on Friday when it plays the first half of a double-header against Cal Poly in Los Angeles. For the first four weeks of the year, the team will be on the road for weekend tournaments. The Terps won’t play a game in College Park until March 8 when they host the Maryland Invitational.

“What I really want this team to focus on is what we can control,” Wright said on getting off to a good start this season. “I really honestly do not care who we’re playing. We’re just gonna put our pants on, throw the glove on and play hard in our moments one pitch at a time.”

A few non-conference games to watch will be when the Terps match up against No. 5 UCLA—which is in the second half of a double header this Friday—and on Feb. 23 and 24 when Maryland faces No. 2 Florida. The Terps upset the Gators last season before those teams headed in opposite directions.

As for the Big Ten slate, Maryland’s toughest challenges will be when the Terps play back-to-back series on the road April 20-22 at No. 18 Michigan and then April 27-29 at Ohio State.