Coming off of a competitive season in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference, the Seattle University softball team begins play today with high expectations.
The Redhawks, who open the season with a pair of games today at UC Santa Barbara’s Gaucho Classic, went 16-32-1 last season but 11-9 in the conference, finishing third in the Mountain Division. A strong core of returners are joined by a talented group of newcomers and SU coach Dan Powers said his team has worked hard to prepare for the season.
“I’m excited and believe we will continue to improve as we move forward with our transition into Division I,” said Powers, who is in his eighth season of leading Seattle U. “Our returning players have gained a valuable experience last year about the expectations and rigors of playing a competitive DI schedule. …Our goal this season is to continue to build up our momentum from where we finished last season.”
That goal begins today when SU plays Western Kentucky at 10:45 a.m. and Wichita State at 1 p.m. The Redhawks then play a double header with Western Kentucky Saturday and finish the tournament Sunday against UC Santa Barbara.
That’s the beginning of what should be a tough schedule. Seattle will play tournaments at Arizona State, Boise State, Washington and UNLV. The Sun Devils, Broncos and Huskies are all ranked in the preseason ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25.
The first home games will be March 26-27, when SU plays four games against the University of British Columbia. The first conference game is April 9 with a four-game home series against Weber State. The Redhawks will meet defending Mountain Division champion Portland State at Logan Field in Seattle on April 22-23.
“Looking at our schedule, we are very excited to play Santa Barbara, Arizona State and San Diego,” Powers said. “We are looking forward to playing in warmer areas of the country until spring comes to Seattle. Portland State will be a great series for us in PCSC play and we get them at our place this year.”
Seattle U has seven letterwinners, including five starters, back this season, led by sophomore pitcher Jessica Ulrich. Ulrich went 4-11 with a 5.52 ERA last season but is being counted on to step up and become the ace of the squad this year. Ulrich is also a top bat in the lineup. Last season, she led the Redhawks with 30 RBI, hitting five home runs which ranked second on the team.
“Jess is throwing hard and hitting spots, and her bat will continue to be a big factor in the middle of our lineup,” Powers said.
Seattle U returns a pair of seniors at catcher in Jessica Amador and Kate Zender. Amador played in 42 games last season, hitting .214, and Zender batted .263 in 24 games.
Katie Gould is the only returning outfielder. The senior hit .235 last season while recovering from a knee injury and Powers is looking to her to bat at the top of the order.
Sophomore Allegra Wilde returns at third base after an all-conference season as a freshman, when the Kennewick native hit .261 with six doubles and 16 RBI.
Junior Hannah Klein, who went 4-8 with a team-best 3.77 ERA last season, is moving from the mound to a corner infield spot. She was a second-team all-league pick last season as a pitcher while hitting .211 with 10 RBI.
“I think her bat will be back to the form she had her freshman year and she will bring some needed run support to our lineup,” Powers said.
Theresa Clark returns at second base after hitting .264 with 24 runs and 24 RBI.
“Theresa came onto the scene as a walk-on last year and took over second base halfway through the year,” Powers said. “She has a lot of pop in her bat and will continue to help us out in the middle of the order.”
Powers will be looking to seven newcomers to fill in spots and make immediate impacts, led by outfielder Natalie Leyland, a transfer from Walla Walla Community College who is a member of the Great Britain National Team.
“Natalie is going to be a major contributor to our offense this season,” Powers said. “She had a great fall for us and looks to be our leadoff hitter with some power potential.”
Richelle Ashburn, a freshman from Post Falls, Idaho, was solid on the mound during the fall season and should give the Redhawks a reliable arm to go with Ulrich. Freshman Kellie Demianew of Pendelton, Ore. will contribue at pitcher and the outfield, where she brings some power to a lineup that needs it.
Brianna Guerrero of Buena Park, Calif. and Karina Smyth of San Luis Obispo, Calif. should see time at middle infield and Sarah Petosa of Ashburn, Wash. brings some speed and defense to the outfield. Holly Martinez of Fort Collins, Colo. will also try to break into the outfield rotation. All four freshmen are being counted on to play right away.
“I am looking forward to seeing their progression over the season and them developing into impact players,” Powers said.