UConn softball will be back in full swing this weekend as the team heads to Fort Myers, Fl. to take on Georgetown, LIU, University of Delaware, Boston College and Florida Gulf Coast in their first weekend series of the year. The Huskies had a surprising 2019, finishing with 21 wins — the team’s most since 2013 — and are heading into this season with momentum, having won five of their last seven. With UConn under new management in first-year head coach Laura Valentino, it will be interesting to see how much the team has grown over the off-season.
The season kicks off early Friday against Georgetown and LIU, neither of whom the Huskies played last year, but with only two seniors graduating and four freshmen incoming, the game plan won’t look too different compared to that of last seasons. It will be the trio of juniors — Briana Marcelino, Olivia Sappington and Reese Guevarra, all who hit over .300 on the season — leading the way offensively, while seniors Devon Casazza and Kiwi McDaniel lead on the defensive end. On the mound they’ve brought back big names like Marybeth Olson and Katie Koshes while also adding Emily Sappington and Meghan O’Neil to the rotation. The starting 11 have a couple seasons of chemistry under their belt, and with some new faces eager to make an impact, the Huskies are looking to take another step in the right direction, starting this weekend against the Hoosiers and Sharks.
Georgetown should offer an easier transition back into competitive play, as their 14-35 record ranked second worst in the Big East ahead of only Butler. They hit this low mark by ranking last in the conference in batting average, hits, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and ERA. They are led by Noelle Holiday and Savannah Jones at the plate, while Mae Forshey adds herself to that duo, helping lead the team on the field.
LIU will present more of a challenge, as they were chosen as the team to beat in the Northeast Conference after a strong 2019 campaign. The Sharks had four players bat over .340 last season, all of whom are returning, as well as their two aces Zoe Estoppy and Elena Valenzuela back for another season. Ranked as the top team in their conference in the preseason rankings, LIU will provide an early test to see how the Huskies stack up against one of the better teams in the sport.
The games will continue into Saturday, where UConn will take on the University of Delaware and Boston College, who both finished last in their respective conferences last season.
For the Blue Hens, they ranked below average on the offensive side in 2019, but where they really struggle is defensively. Their 1482 catches and 1003 putouts rank last and second-to-last in the Colonial American Conference respectively, while their 71 errors puts them in the top three. To make things worse for Delaware, they lost senior Anna Steinmetz, who led the team in batting average and hold the school record in career home runs. They did, however, bring back shortstop Karina Flores and All-Rookie selection Hanna Garber — who both hit over .300 — so they have a couple young options to fill the shoes Steinmetz left behind.
Saturday’s games will wrap up with a meeting against Boston College, another team that struggled mightily last season, going 18-35. As is often the case when teams rank towards the bottom of their conference, the Eagles are a poor offensive team, ranking in the bottom three in batting average, hits, RBIs and on-base percentage. With a team ERA of 5.22, their defense isn’t much better. This off-season they also lost their leading hitter, Lexi DiEmmanuele, so the next man up to watch will be two-time Second-Team All-ACC selection Emme Martinez who hit .321 with 50 hits and 24 RBIs in 2019.
The festivities will end on Sunday when UConn faces off against host-school Florida Gulf Coast University in what should be another competitive matchup.
After earning a No. 3 seed in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament last season, the Eagles were once again picked to finish third again this year, with two players being selected to the conference’s preseason team. FGCU did lose their two leading batters in Kelly Kate and Racquel Fournet, so they’ve taken a big hit offensively, but they remain a really strong team on the defensive end. Led by sophomore Marissa Mesiemore, the Eagles finished second in their conference with a team ERA of 1.73. She’ll need to take another leap in her game if she wants to keep her team competitive this year. That match is sure to be a defensive-minded one and should get the Huskies into gear as the season will be in full swing.
Though it is just the beginning of the 2020 season this weekend is a big one for UConn, as the games they have lined up look to be very winnable for a team coming into the season with a new head coach and some serious momentum. As was the case last season, a couple wins in a row can lead to some huge stretches for the Huskies team. So, why not start that streak as the new year begins?