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 their last seven games to secure its eighth-consecutive winning season. CWRU hit .361 as a team during that stretch and averaged 7.9 runs per game, while the pitching staff recorded a 2.57 earned run average.
The Spartans will be returning a number of pieces from a team that hit .345 and slugged 35 home runs, with the pitching staff notching a 2.92 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, including a four-game series against the subsequent NCAA Division III Softball Runner-Up, Emory University.
"We have set out to win the UAA Championship and make the NCAA Tournament," said Head Coach Josie Henry.
Case Western Reserve will return 12 players and add an additional three newcomers to the lineup.
Junior Arisa Cleaveland, who was selected to the All-UAA First Team and the NFCA Division III All-Region Softball Second Team, will look to lead the Spartans in the outfield this season. Last season, Cleaveland ranked first on the squad with 35 runs scored and finished the regular season ranked second on the team with a .406 batting average (54-for-133). She led the team with nine stolen bases, while also tallying nine doubles, three home runs and 19 RBI's.
"Arisa has a great ability to get on base," said Henry. "I'm looking for her to score a lot of runs for us. On the defensive side, she will continue to be our anchor out in centerfield.
Also returning for the Spartans is junior Hope Yashnik. Last season, Yashnik tallied a .348 average (23-for-66) with two home runs, four doubles and 14 runs batted in. Senior Caitlin Smith will look to make an impact in the outfield during her fourth year.
New to the outfield for the Spartans will be first-year Carli Tucci, who will have an immediate opportunity to make an impact on the Spartans lineup.
The Spartans return senior first baseman Nicole Carty, who was selected to the All-UAA First Team and the NFCA DIII All-Region Second Team last year, and sophomore infielder/designated player Liv Thomas, who was named to the All-UAA Second Team and the NFCA DIII All-Region Second Team last season.
Carty finished her junior season ranked first among CWRU players with a .422 batting average (54-for-128). She led the team with seven home runs, while also collecting 14 doubles, two triples and driving in 27 runs. Carty earned UAA hitter of the week honors on March 25th, as she led the Spartans with a .682 batting average (15-for-22) and scored 10 runs, while also hitting two home runs and driving in six RBI's.
"Nicole will be a big part of our lineup," said Henry. "I'm looking for her to drive in runs for us and she also has excellent base running ability."
Thomas finished her freshman campaign ranked fourth among CWRU players with a .396 batting average. She finished second on the team with six home runs, while also collecting 11 doubles, 14 runs scored and 29 RBI's.
"Liv was a huge threat with the bat in her hands and we will look to her to drive in runners," said Henry. "She will be playing third base for us this season. Last year she was coming off a substantial injury in the fall and now that she is healthy, I am excited to see what she is capable of doing!"
Also returning for the Spartans is senior Melissa Cuellar, junior Sarah Miller and junior Sydney Wagner. Cuellar ranked third on the team with a .405 batting average (32-for-79) and hit five home runs and tallied 17 RBI's. Sophomore Grace Yeung will look to make an impact in the infield during her second year.
Junior Dusstyn Reynolds returns behind the plate for the Spartans, as she batted .298 (36-for-121) with five home runs, nine doubles and 28 RBI's. Cuellar will also be an option behind the plate for the Spartans in 2020.
Hamilton, a two-time All-UAA selection and an Academic All-America first team selection, finished tied for first in the conference with 13 wins and ranked second with 115 strikeouts in her second year as a Spartan. She went 13-6 overall on the mound, as she allowed 52 earned runs on 125 hits for a 3.00 ERA. Hamilton also totaled a team-high 13 complete games. In addition to her work on the mound, Hamilton batted .270 (20-for-74) with two home runs, five doubles, two triples, 11 RBI's and 21 runs scored.`
"Ilissa will be a force for us in the pitcher's circle," said Henry. "She has worked extremely hard and we will look to her to help us get strikeouts."
Brannam appeared in 19 games during her sophomore season, recording a team-best 2.47 ERA and striking out 59 batters in 99.0 innings of work. Brannam earned UAA pitcher of the week honors on March 18th, as she went 2-1 on the mound, allowing one earned run in 13.2 innings pitched, while striking out 12 batters during the team's spring break trip to Arizona.
Henry will begin her 10th year with the program in 2020, during which she has compiled a 230-140 (.622) overall record in her nine years. She guided the team to its most successful season in program history during the 2018 season, as they finished the campaign with a program-best 38-12 overall record and finished tied for fifth at the 2018 NCAA Division III Softball Championships.
Henry will be assisted by Julie Pratt, Ashley Parello, Hannah Mehrle and Nicole Doyle.
"Julie Pratt comes to CWRU with so much to share in terms of game knowledge and strategy," said Henry. I am most looking forward to the impact she will have with our team on base running and with our catchers. Her fun personality has been a great addition to the team dynamic this spring. It has been wonderful to have Nicole Doyle back now as a staff member. She has transitioned well into a coaching role and has helped a few of our players make the transition to middle infield. She relates well to the team and knows what it will take for us to win the big games."
CWRU is slated to open the season with four games in Marietta, Ohio with a doubleheader on Saturday, February 29th versus Marietta and Wittenberg College (1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.) followed by a second doubleheader on Sunday, March 1st against Wittenberg and Marietta (11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.).
From there, CWRU will head to Florida from March 8th-13th, where they will play 10 games in six days. Case Western Reserve will return home and host Kenyon College for a non-conference doubleheader on Saturday, March 21st.
"We play a strong schedule down in Florida to help prepare us for UAA play," said Henry.
Starting on Friday, March 27th, 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 27th through March 29th.
From there, they will welcome Washington University (Mo.) to Mather Park for a four-game set from April 3rd through April 5th. CWRU then hits the road for a four-game conference series at New York University (April 10th-12th).
The Spartans will wrap-up their regular season with a four-game set at home against Brandeis University (April 17th-19th) and their final four-game conference series at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh (April 24th-26th).
"The UAA 1-2-1 format will change things drastically from the pitching and strategy standpoint as the team and pitching staff will be more rested over the three-days rather than four games in just over 24 hours," said Henry. "The team has worked very hard and we have great leadership from such strong upperclassmen. I cannot wait to see where this energy, drive and talent will take us!"