Maryland softball will begin its 2021 campaign this upcoming weekend in the Leesburg, Florida, bubble. The Terps kick off the season with three consecutive doubleheaders — Minnesota on Friday, Illinois on Saturday, and Wisconsin on Sunday.
After an abbreviated season in 2020, head coach Mark Montgomery returns for his second season as head coach of the Terrapins. While playing only one conference game in 2020, Maryland finished the season 12-11, which was tied for seventh in the conference.
Montgomery said that the team is “happy to be able to have the opportunity once again to compete against other schools.”
“We are extremely happy to have the opportunity to compete against another team again. We have a no-excuses mindset this season,” Montgomery said, “We have done a terrific job as a team following COVID protocols and our team has been very good at making sure we do not have an outbreak.”
Key players lost
Maryland will return a vast majority of its roster, as only three players from the 2020 squad will not return to the team in 2021. However, Maryland does lose Anna Kufta, the Terps’ leader in just about every offensive category last season. Kufta hit an astounding .424, drove in 12 runs in 23 games, and got on base in just about half of her plate appearances (.494 OBP).
Maryland also lost starting infielder Amanda Brashear, who started in all but one game last season and hit .242 at the plate. The third player Maryland will lose is pitcher Kiana Carr, who appeared in 10 games in the circle and went 2-0 with a 9.95 ERA.
Top players returning
The infield will be led by junior tandem Regan Kerr and Taylor Okada. Both Kerr and Okada hit over .350 last season as sophomores. Kerr also led the team with 13 steals in 15 attempts. Sophomore Taylor Liguori also will be featured more this season; Ligrouri hit .231 as a freshman and was voted as a captain by her teammates for the 2021 campaign.
Junior catcher Gracie Voulgaris also returns after a stellar year behind the plate. She had a .983 fielding percentage and she also threw out a staggering 12 of 19 would-be base stealers. Voulgaris was also voted as a captain by her teammates.
“There is no way to describe how much being voted as a captain means to me,” Voulgaris said.
Maryland’s outfield will return all three starters from last year. Seniors Jojo McRae and Shelby Younkin will return with sophomore Campbell Kline. Kline was extremely impressive as a freshman, hitting .306 and playing in all but one game. McRae and Younkin were also key contributors last year, each playing in at least 20 games.
The pitching staff will be led by returning sophomores Trinity Schlotterbeck and Courtney Wyche. Last season as freshman, the duo took on an extremely large role for the Terps, combining to start 21 of 23 games. Schlotterbeck led the pitching staff last year with a very respectable 3.72 ERA, also throwing six complete games while putting up a 6-5 record. She pitched 69.2 innings while Wyche tossed 47.
Maryland will welcome seven new freshman hitters to the team in 2021. Montgomery spoke very highly of all seven freshman, particularly outfielder Jaeda McFarland.
“Jaeda will likely be taking over in center field,” Montgomery said. “She is a very special athlete, has a great glove, and we love her arm. We think she is capable of having a special career at Maryland.”
Maryland does not have any freshman pitchers but will welcome senior transfer Jennifer Brann from Penn. In seven starts last season, Brann led the Ivy League in complete games (six) and wins (five), and was second in strikeouts (40) and innings pitched (41). Maryland will also welcome junior utility transfer Haley Ellefson from Florida Southwestern College.
It has been a tough transition for freshmen coming to college during the pandemic, but for Maryland softball, having a veteran core has helped make things easier.
“All of the freshman have done an excellent job of reaching out to upperclassmen when they have needed us,” McRae said. “We know it’s been very tough for them.”
The road ahead
Last season, the strength of the Terrapin team was the bats, with the Terps combining to hit for a .272 average. Of the nine players who played In over 20 games last season, eight will be returning to the 2021 team.
A key for Maryland to be successful in 2021 will be improving their pitching from last season. The Terps’ four pitchers from last season combined for a 5.34 ERA. That is a number that Coach Montgomery believes will go down.
“I believe the pitching will be drastically improved thanks to the development of Schlotterbeck and Wyche as well as the new players (Brann and Ellefson),” Montgomery said.
After the initial weekend in Florida beginning on Friday, the Terps will return to Florida on March 11 to face off against Purdue and Iowa. Maryland will then start traveling to other Big Ten campuses, beginning on March 26th to face Ohio State.
The first home game will come Friday, April 2 against Northwestern. That will be Maryland’s first home game in 699 days, having played none last season.