(Neb.)- Youth Movement Afoot For CSC Softball In 2018
CHADRON, Neb. – The newest member of the Chadron State College athletics staff will hit the ground running this spring with enthusiasm. Head Softball Coach Kaley Scearcy has a young team, but she is very optimistic about what it can accomplish in 2018, as it heads into this weekend's season-opening tournament in Lubbock, Texas.
"The transition from assistant coach to head coach," said Scearcy, "went as smoothly as it possibly could, because of the help of the athletic department staff and especially because of former coach Rob Stack. Coach Stack built a strong foundation for success here, and now I just want to take it to the next level, build on everything he's done, and take the CSC softball program to places it's never been."
Scearcy returns 13 members of the 2017 squad which went 32-25 overall, winning the most games of any campaign in the program's 10 seasons. Those include five regular starters. She welcomes the addition of 10 newcomers.
Returning to lead a deep pitching squad is 2017 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Co-Freshman of the Year Jessica Jarecki, who won 17 games last season to set a program record. While the numbers in the bullpen are up this year, the staff are comprised of two freshmen, three sophomores, and two seniors.
Despite their youth, Scearcy thinks the pitching will be a strength of the team, due to the variety of options the team will have at their disposal, and that it should put the Eagles in position to win in every game.
In addition to Jarecki, the bullpen will regularly feature Megan Horn, Haylee McKeehan, and Dallas Magnusson. Each have their own distinct abilities.
Horn, a 5-9 pitcher from Colorado Springs led the team last year in strikeouts per seven innings, and finished second with a .280 opponent batting average. She is likely to provide a compliment to Jarecki as a starter, and could start the opener on Friday.
McKeehan has battled injury during her time at CSC, but looks to have returned healthy for her 2018 junior season. According to Scearcy, she has great ball movement, and will also compete for starts in the circle.
Magnusson, who set a single-season record for saves in 2017, will return in her reliever role. She had the team's second-lowest ERA, at 3.54, and was credited with a 3-3 record after 23 appearances and three starts.
The Eagles will have to break in new starting catcher, after the departure of Zoe Humphries to graduation last year. Looking to fill the role is Leilani Niccum, of Citrus Heights, California. The true freshman is a strong candidate to start behind the plate and shows quickness at the position, according to Scearcy.
Fortunately for Niccum, Humphries remained in Chadron after graduation as a coach at the local high school, and will step in as a coaching assistant at CSC. Humphries' role will be to train up a battery which is still very much under development, and to call pitches for the young Eagles in the circle.
Also joining the coaching staff for 2018 is Samantha Valadez, a three-time First Team All-GPAC infielder for Doane University, in Crete, Nebraska. A four-year starter for the Tigers, Valadez led her team batting .462 as a true freshman in 2013, and led in both slugging and on-base percentage for three out of four seasons. Valadez will coach infielders and runners at first base.
The Eagles' infield will be young, but will be led by Second Team All-RMAC junior Kayla Michel at first base. Michel held down the first base spot for 12 of the Eagles' final 13 games, including all five postseason contests, as the Eagles went 10-2 down the stretch. She batted .301 for the season, and developed into a reliable sacrifice bunter as well.
A trio of sophomores make up the remaining infielders, with Angelica Maples at second, Allie Mason at short, and Francine Boston at third. Scearcy noted that speedy junior Kendyl Moody will compete for starts at second as well.
In the outfield, the Eagles' lone senior, Aspen Eubanks, will be looked to for on-the-field leadership. Eubanks is a three-time All-RMAC honorable mention recipient whom Scearcy says is fully ready for a career season and to take her team further than it ever has been. She led the squad with nine home runs and 33 RBI as a junior, batting .308.
Sophomores Ellie Owens, a switch-hitter who led the team in slugging last season, and Alyssa Geist, who filled in primarily as a pinch-runner last season, will hold down the remaining two outfield positions.
Several newcomers to watch for as potential designated players in the hitting order include freshmen Bailynn Meek and Gabby Russell, as well as Jessica Kleine, a sophomore who played one season at Iowa Western College before arriving at Chadron State. Another sophomore, Katelyn Eldredge, could also crack the lineup at times.
The remaining true freshmen not previously mentioned, who will provide valuable depth, are outfielder Abby Anderson, catcher Julia Elbert, outfielder Lauren Renck, outfielder Camryn Sanchez, and third baseman and former track and field athlete Danielle Weyer. Another outfielder, Makayla McKeehan, will work to become eligible this semester.
Scearcy's challenge, along with her two assistant coaches, will be to prepare the young players to stand in the batter's box confidently against NCAA Division II competition.
"The biggest thing about hitting," said Scearcy, "is each hitter has to come into their own. There isn't always one 'right way' to hit. There are a few key fundamentals each hitter has to have, but more than that, we try to build off of what each hitter brings to the table. We make adjustments but we don't try to completely change a player's swing. We have some really strong hitters this year, but there's a lot of roles that need to be filled because of the players who graduated."
"The exciting thing about us is we're so young," she added. "Some may view that as a flaw, but we're so eager. We worked so hard all fall, and now the season's here. I'm excited."
Chadron State will be on the field at 10 a.m. MT, on Friday as they open up against the University of Texas-Permian Basin, before playing host Lubbock Christian University immediately after. The Eagles go against Midwestern State University and UTPB a second time, on Saturday, before ending their trip against Emporia State University on Sunday.
All are NCAA Division II opponents, who had varying levels of success in 2017. LCU was the Heartland Conference runner-up and tournament champion, earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Emporia came from the eighth seed to finish as the Mid-America Intercollegiate Tournament runner-up. Midwestern finished at 19-27 overall, 10-20 in the Lone Star standings, but defeated RMAC runner-up Colorado Mines. Finally, Permian Basin was 10-46 with five wins against Division II opponents.
Chadron State was picked to finish fifth this season in a poll of RMAC head coaches published earlier in the week. The Eagles were the fourth seed in the 2017 RMAC Tournament with a 25-14 conference mark, and they went 3-2 for their best-ever postseason performance, coming one win away from the title game.
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