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Maryland softball still looking to break out of the Big Ten’s basement

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State of the Program continues with a struggling team that needs a big 2020.

Julie Wright Maryland softball Photo by Maryland Athletics

It’s the middle of the Maryland sports offseason, and we’re still recapping a wild year for Terrapin athletics. There were national championships in men’s soccer and women’s lacrosse, and a trip to the title game in field hockey. Maryland athletes won some of the highest honors in their sports. But there were also some lows, both on and off the field.

This summer, we’ve been taking an in-depth look at each of Maryland’s varsity programs, exploring where they’ve been and where they’re going. We’ve hit 11 sports so far, and now let’s look at the softball team, which has struggled mightily since moving to the Big Ten.

Maryland softball

Established: 1995
All-time record: 706-665-2
Best season: 1999 (51-23, NCAA Regional Finals)
Last 5 years: 88-174-1, 28-87 Big Ten
The coach: Julie Wright (entering fifth season)
Spring 2019: 20-31, 4-19 Big Ten

Where it’s been

This program now has 25 seasons under its belt, but hasn’t done much to establish itself. Maryland made one NCAA Tournament appearance in Gina LaMandre’s 11 years, then had a run of three in a row from 2010-12 under Laura Watten. But the Terps had just four winning records in the ACC and finished better than third in the conference only once.

After Watten left and Courtney Scott Deifel stayed for just one season before taking the Arkansas job, Maryland hired Julie Wright ahead of the 2016 season. The Terps went 12-40 that year, then followed with an 11-39-1 mark in 2017. They improved to 18-37 and made the Big Ten tournament in 2018, then started this past season strong and entered conference play with a 16-12 record. But then came another 4-19 league record — Maryland’s third time posting that mark in four years — and another last-place league finish.

The Big Ten tournament features 12 of the conference’s 14 teams, so to miss out three of four years is quite discouraging. Maryland’s struggles have seemingly alternated between hitting and pitching throughout its time in the league. Last year’s offense took major strides forward, improving its average from .236 to .288, and the OPS jumped from .631 to .755. But the pitching took a step back, with the staff ERA spiking from 4.75 to 5.84.

Where it’s going

If you want to be optimistic, start with the youth on last year’s roster. Maryland had just three seniors and three juniors compared to five sophomores and seven freshmen, and the younger players made notable impacts. But the Terps were similarly young in 2018, and a handful of those players — including rookie pitcher Ryan Denhart and a couple other starters — transferred out after the season. Right now, it seems like the key underclassmen will be returning, but even without attrition, there’s a long way to go.

The Big Ten had three elite teams in 2019 — Michigan, Minnesota and Northwestern — but has been wide open in the middle for a couple years now. It’s a reasonable long-term goal for Maryland to become a mainstay in that middle pack, but the Terps still have to get out of the basement first.

Names to know

The offense returns as much production as it has during Wright’s tenure. Eight Terps hit over .270 last season, and seven of those players will be back (assuming no transfers, which is always possible). Infielders Anna Kufta and Sammie Stefan were Maryland’s top power options, while outfielder JoJo McRae hit .317 last season. Then there’s second baseman Taylor Okada, who was hitting .426 as a freshman before missing all of conference play with an undisclosed injury.

In the circle, the Terps will have to replace seniors Sydney Golden and Sami Main, the team’s two most reliable arms in 2019. Remaining on the roster are Kiana Carr, Victoria Galvan and Amelia Jarecke, who combined for a 9.12 ERA last season. Maryland’s 2019 recruiting class includes a pair of in-state pitchers in Courtney Wyche and Trinity Schlotterbeck, but the group still has a long way to go collectively.

The mission

The 2020 season will be Julie Wright’s fifth. It’s probably not a stretch to say Maryland will need to show serious improvements for her to keep her job past the following spring (new coaches usually receive contracts of four or five years). That certainly means making the Big Ten tournament, and it probably means finishing better than .500 overall or finally reaching 10 wins in the new league.

If the Terps can finally make the leap next spring, there’s enough young talent on the current roster to think the program can keep building. But if 2020 is more of the same, then changes could be on the way.