Equipped with a mix of experienced veterans and talented newcomers, the Case Western Reserve University softball team has its sights set on a successful campaign this spring.
The Spartans will look to pick up where they left off last spring, ending last season on a four-game winning streak and winning 11 of their last 14 games. CWRU hit .348 as a team during that stretch and averaged 5.6 runs per game, while the pitching staff recorded a 2.33 earned run average.
The Spartans will be returning a number of pieces from a team that hit .317 and slugged 18 home runs, with the pitching staff notching a 3.45 team ERA. CWRU's success came despite playing a challenging schedule, which featured 11 games against teams that would go on to make the NCAA Division III Championship field, and six contests against squads that were ranked in the final NFCA poll of the season.
"Our eyes are set to compete for a UAA championship," said Head Coach Josie Henry. "We plan to bring our program back into the regional rankings and attend the NCAA Tournament."
Case Western Reserve will return seven players and add an additional eight newcomers to the lineup.
Senior Annie Wennerberg will once again look to lead the Spartans, after being selected to the All-University Athletic Association Softball Second Team last season. Wennerberg, who will also see considerable time on the mound in 2017, batted .313 with six home runs and 26 runs batted in.
"Annie will be a competitive driving force for us this year on the mound, in the outfield and with a strong bat in our lineup," said Henry. She has gained maturity and understanding of what is needed to win in the UAA and she is ready to lead this team to new heights."
Also returning to the outfield for the Spartans is junior Katie Wede. Last season, Wede led the Spartans in hits (47) and runs scored (36), and tied the school's single-season record with 22 stolen bases, the 73rd-most among NCAA Division III players and most in the UAA in 2016.
"Katie Wede is a passionate player that plays each play to the maximum," said Henry. Her energy is infectious. She has many tools and we will look to her to get things going in our offensive lineup. She sets the tone in the outfield and she will be there to lead the program toward its ultimate goal of NCAA regionals."
The Spartans return junior first baseman Grace Tritchler, who was also selected to the All-UAA Second Team last year. Tritchler started all 40 games for CWRU last season, leading the team with seven home runs, 13 doubles and 36 runs batted in, and ranking second among all Spartan players with a .357 batting average.
"Grace is a consistent offensive weapon," said Henry. "She has patience at the plate and has the ability to drive in runs for us. She has an exceptional understanding of the game and she is a vocal leader for our program out on the field. She continues to improve each year."
Also returning for the Spartans is junior infielder Maren Waldner and sophomore shortstop Nicole Doyle. Last season, Waldner batted .331 with 10 doubles and 20 RBI's, while Doyle tallied a .318 average with 16 RBI's and 11 extra-base hits during her inaugural campaign as a Spartan. Sophomore Sharilyn Sakamoto will look to make an impact in the infield during her second year.
In addition to her play offensively, Wennerberg will also be a major factor for the Spartans' in the rotation. She led all CWRU pitchers last season with a 14-10 record and a 3.21 earned run average, while striking out 129 batters, the 34th-most among all NCAA Division III pitchers.
Junior Katie Dzierwa also had a considerable amount of time on the mound last season. Dzierwa appeared in 26 games, recording a team-best 3.08 ERA and striking out 58 batters in 63.2 innings of work.
Freshman Anna Goff, Carty and Wang will also play key roles for the Spartans' rotation in 2017.
Henry will begin her seventh year with the program in 2017, during which she has compiled a 147-98 (.600) overall record in her six years. She guided the team to a UAA Championship in 2014, and earned her 100th win as the CWRU Head Coach during the 2015 UAA Tournament.
Henry will be assisted by first-year assistant coach Shannel Blackshear.
"Shannel has been a wonderful addition to our program," Henry said. "She is passionate about the game of softball and has a gift of teaching her knowledge of the game to others. Her high expectations have helped to build great softball players and also great leaders in our program."
Also joining the coaching staff for the Spartans is former player Ashley Parello.
"Ashley loves CWRU softball," Henry added. "She like many of our alumnae are so passionate about what they learned from the game throughout their softball careers. It is special to see her share it with our players. She has a connection with them and she holds an understanding of the level of work needed to become a successful player. We are privileged to have her as a member of our coaching staff."
CWRU is slated to open the season with four games in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with a doubleheader on Friday, March 3rd versus Western Conn. St. and at 19th-ranked Virginia Wesleyan College (12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.) followed by a second doubleheader on Saturday, March 4th versus Rutgers-Camden and Randolph-Macon (12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.)
From there, CWRU will head to Orlando, Florida from March 14th-17th, where they will play five games in three days. Case Western Reserve will return to Cleveland for its first home game of the season, welcoming Kenyon College to Mather Park for a doubleheader on Tuesday, March 21st.
Starting on Friday, March 24th, the Spartans will begin their newly formatted University Athletic Association schedule. Unlike previous seasons, where all six UAA teams played eight games each in Altamonte, Florida in March for the conference title, the conference championship will now be determined by a round robin, with four games against each of the UAA schools. The Spartans will begin conference play at home against ninth-ranked Emory University from March 24th through March 25th.
"This season will be unlike any season we have played before," Henry noted. "We are thrilled for the opportunity to compete against UAA opponents throughout the year and the 4-game series will be a physical and mental challenge for our players. We are looking forward to showing what we can do out on the diamond."
CWRU will begin conference play on the road when they travel to Waltham, Massachusetts to play Brandeis University for a four-game set from March 31st through April 1st. The Spartans will also have a four-game conference series at home against New York University (April 7th-8th), on the road at 23rd-ranked Washington University (April 14th-15th) and back at home against 25th-ranked Chicago (April 22nd-23rd).
The Spartans will wrap-up their regular season with a doubleheader at John Carroll University (April 26th) and a doubleheader at home against DePauw University (April 30th).