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, winning three of their last four games to secure its sixth-consecutive winning season. CWRU hit .362 as a team during the stretch and averaged 8.3 runs per game, while the pitching staff recorded a 2.25 earned run average.
The Spartans will be returning a number of pieces from a team that hit .289 and slugged 17 home runs, with the pitching staff notching a 3.28 team ERA. CWRU's success came despite playing a challenging schedule, which featured 12 games against teams that would go on to make the NCAA Division III Championship field, including a game against the subsequent NCAA Division III Softball Champions, Virginia Wesleyan College.
"We have our sights set to contend for a top spot in the UAA," said Head Coach Josie Henry. "We have been a contender for an NCAA bid, but ultimately our goal is to push past that 'contender' group and secure a bid. This senior class was part of the group that won a program record 32 wins but did not make the NCAA tournament. They have their sights set on getting there and have been putting in the work needed to make that happen. "
Case Western Reserve will return nine players and add an additional 13 newcomers to the lineup.
Senior Katie Wede will look to lead the Spartans in the outfield this season. Last season, Wede batted .289 (35-for-121) with 10 doubles, 10 runs batted in and one home run. She ranked second on the team with 27 runs scored and set the school's single season record with 23 stolen bases, the 64th-most among NCAA Division III players and the most in the UAA in 2017.
New to the outfield for the Spartans will be freshmen Sarah Miller, Gretchen Weiss, Hope Yashnik and Arisa Cleaveland, who will all have an immediate opportunity to make an impact on the Spartans lineup.
The Spartans return senior first baseman Grace Tritchler, who was selected to the All-UAA First Team last year, and junior shortstop Nicole Doyle, who was selected to the All-UAA First Team and the NFCA Division III All-Region Softball Third Team last season.
Tritchler started all 37 games for the Spartans last season, leading the team with six home runs and 29 runs batted in, and ranking third among all CWRU players with a .336 batting average. Tritchler led all Spartans with eight-multiple RBI-games during the year, and was third on the team with 11 multiple-hit games.
"I expect Grace to help led this team to wins," said Henry. "Grace is a force at the plate with excellent pitch selection. We will look to her to drive in runs for us with her power. Grace will be playing first base for us and she will be a leader in the infield."
Doyle had a career year after leading the team with a .391 batting average (45-for-115), three homers, 24 RBI's and 13 doubles. Doyle was also second on the team with 12 multiple-hit games.
"I expect Nicole Doyle to continue to improve as a player," said Henry. "She has grown defensively and offensively over the past two seasons and this year I see her really hitting her stride. She has speed on the base paths and I see her as a consistent hitter who also has power behind her. As our third-year starting shortstop, she will continue to be a game changer in her ability to make spectacular defensive plays."
Also returning for the Spartans is senior second baseman Maren Waldner. Last season, Waldner batted .339 with two home runs, six doubles and 23 RBI's. Sophomores Melissa Cuellar and Caitlin Smith will look to make an impact in the infield during their second year.
Senior Katie Dzierwa and sophomore Nicole Carty return after having a considerable amount of time on the mound last season. Dzierwa appeared in 21 games last season, recording a 2.96 ERA and striking out 31 batters in 82.2 innings of work. Carty saw action in eight games, recording a 1-0 record. In addition to her work on the mound, Carty tallied a .278 average with one home run, six doubles and 22 runs batted in during her inaugural campaign as a Spartan.
Sophomore Anna Goff will look to make an impact on the mound during her second year.
Henry will begin her eighth year with the program in 2018, during which she has compiled 167-115 (.592) overall record in her seven 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 Shannel Blackshear, Ashley Parello, Hannah Merle, Andrea Nagy, Annie Wennerberg and Katelyn Gibson.
"We have six assistant coaches which has been helpful as our team has grown and they are able to provide a wealth of knowledge and experience," said Henry. "We return Shannel Blackshear and Ashley Parello (2014 UAA MVP). New to the staff are Hannah Mehrle (2018 UAA MVP) who is in law school at CWRU, the return of Andrea Nagy who was part of the staff during the 2014 (UAA Coaching Staff of the Year) and 2015 seasons, Katelyn Gibson who played at the University of Dayton and is currently in the Masters of Medical Physiology program and Annie Wennerberg (2015 UAA MVP) who is a registered nurse at University Hospital. It is amazing to see the assistant coach's balance their careers and give time to our program. I know the team appreciates having such a strong group of women who can relate to their experience as a student-athlete in a strong competitive academic environment."
CWRU is slated to open the season with four games in Emory, Virginia with a doubleheader on Saturday, March 3rd versus Marietta College and versus Susquehanna University (9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.) followed by a second doubleheader on Sunday, March 4th at Emory & Henry College and Susquehanna (11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.).
From there, CWRU will head to Tucson, Arizona from March 12th-16th, where they will play eight games in five days. Case Western Reserve will return home and then have three-straight non-conference doubleheaders on road at Mount Union, Kenyon and Baldwin Wallace.
"We are excited to open next weekend at Emory & Henry," said Henry. "Two of our opponents made NCAAs last year so it will be nice to see strong competition to start the season. We are also excited for our trip the following week to Tucson where we will also see a few very strong competitors with UW-La Crosse to open up the week. These games will help prepare us for the strong UAA competitors."
Starting on Friday March 30th, the Spartans will begin their University Athletic Association schedule. Like last season, 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 on the road against Emory University from March 30th through March 31st.
CWRU will begin conference play at home when they welcome Brandeis University to Mather Park for a four-game set from April 6th through April 7th. The Spartans will also have a four-game conference series on the road against New York University (April 13th-14th) and back at home against 17th-ranked Washington University (April 20th-21st).
The Spartans will wrap-up their regular season with a doubleheader at home against John Carroll University (April 25th) and their final four-game conference series at the University of Chicago (April 28th-29th).
"We did not end where we wanted to last year with not getting all our UAA games in due to weather and we look to make improvements to our performance against UAA opponents in our second year of a UAA regular season schedule," said Henry. "Each four-game UAA weekend series proved to be thrilling in 2017, which was both mentally and physically exhausting for the players and we can't wait to do it again in 2018! This is what we train for and why we love to compete."