Last year, the Maryland softball team finished with an 18-37 record but appeared in its first Big Ten tournament since 2015. However, the team enters 2019 looking much different. Thanks to graduations and transfers, there are only nine returning Terps and three returning starters.
The team is very young, with only three seniors and three juniors. While the Terps have lost half of their players from last year, they certainly gained a lot of young talent. The talent may be raw, but head coach Julie Wright expects the team to get better as the season goes on.
“I think we’re going to be a lot like the men’s basketball program in the growth during season,” Wright said at Maryland’s spring media day Jan. 28.
After the 2018 season, Maryland lost five players to transfer and four to graduation. On the offensive side, the biggest loss was infielder Skylynne Ellazar. Ellazar led the Terps in almost every offensive stat last season and it will certainly be hard to replace her. In addition to Ellazar, infielders Jacqui Pascual and Mikayla Werahiko and outfielder Destiney Henderson exhausted their eligibility last year.
Two of Maryland’s top outfielders last year, Kassidy Cross and Brigette Nordberg, are now at Jacksonville and NC State, respectively. Infielder Hannah Eslick, meanwhile, transferred to George Washington, and pitcher Lauren Graves left for Arkansas.
But perhaps the most notable loss to transfer was Ryan Denhart, who transferred to Grand Canyon. Denhart led the team in innings pitched with 181 innings and 93 strikeouts, which were the most by a Maryland freshman since 2006. While multiple pitchers transferred in, Denhart will be difficult to replace in 2019.
There may be three returning starters at College Park, but only two of them started in more than 25 games last season: infielder Anna Kufta and outfielder Amanda Brashear, who will be very important for the Terps’ offense this year. In the previous season, Kufta ranked second on the team in both home runs (three) and RBIs (23) and Brashear ranked third on the team in hits (37) and total bases (46). The other returning players that are looking to get more starting time and make an impact are pitchers Sydney Golden and Sami Main; infielders Bailey Boyd, Sammie Stefan and Taylor Wilson; and outfielders JoJo McRae and Shelby Younkin.
The Terps brought in in six freshmen in their 2018 class: pitcher Amelia Jarecke, catchers Gracie Voulgaris, Katie Dustin and Caitlyn Koenig, and infielders Taylor Okada and Regan Kerr. Wright describes the class as “super athletic,” and that athleticism should play an important role in Maryland’s success this season.
Freshmen and sophomores make up two-thirds of this team, so Maryland will be less experienced than almost everyone it plays. One position in particular to watch will be catcher, as the three backstops on the Terps’ roster are all freshmen. It’s a position where experience is often at a premium because of the connection with the pitcher, but Wright is optimistic Voulgaris can step up in her freshman year. “We expect that [Voulgaris] will do some great things behind the plate this year,” Wright said.
Along with the incoming freshman class, the Terps also gained three transfers. Micaela Abbatine, an outfielder who last played at North Carolina, will bring her speed to the Terps as she had 13 stolen bases through 66 games. Victoria Galvan and Kiana Carr are two pitchers looking to make an immediate impact for Maryland’s staff. Carr had previously pitched at Phoenix Community College, where she finished with an impressive record of 37-2 and tallied an outstanding 246 strikeouts last year.
State of the circle
Last season, the majority of Maryland’s pitching was done by Denhart and Sydney Golden. Denhart has since transferred from College Park, but Golden is back for her senior year. She finished 2018 with an 8-15 record, pitching 152.2 innings and totaling 61 strikeouts. Now, she figures to be the leader of a deeper rotation.
When asked about the pitching rotation, coach Wright explains that she’s excited because they now have “five pretty good pitchers and they all are very different. So it’s not so much a rotation as it is a matchup.”
It will be interesting to see how this different type of strategy will play a part in the Terps’ 2019 season. In recent years, the Terps have heavily relied on two or three pitchers but with the addition of a freshman and a couple transfers it will give Wright a lot more flexibility.
The Terps’ season starts on Friday with the Trojan Classic tournament in Troy, Alabama. During this tournament they will go up against, Murray State, Troy, and Alabama. After that weekend of games, Maryland will continue to compete in weekend tournaments on the road until they return home to host the Maryland Invitational starting March 14.
After all the tournaments, Maryland will take on Virginia, which will then be followed by all of their Big Ten Conference series. The team’s conference games kicks off against the Big Ten reigning champs, the Minnesota Golden Gophers, on March 22. Another challenging part of their conference games will come at the end, where the Terps’ host the Michigan Wolverines, who are currently ranked No. 19 in the preseason Coaches Poll.