The story for UB Softball in 2015 isn't much different from that of the baseball team. The Bulls lose a large and record-setting senior class after a year that had its fair share of doubters on this site and ultimately turned into a run to the MAC final. Much like a few other promising seasons for a certainly other UB program, the only team that could stop UB was Ohio, and of course we ran into the Bobcats.
Unlike baseball, softball's rise time at the top of the conference, and loss of talent has been steeper all-around. But, you have to wonder how much of that was due to now-second-year head coach Trena Peel and her leadership. Peel of course is still here, and has had another year to implement her system with the ladies still in Blue and White.
Just to really hammer home how big the departing senior class is: In the history of UB Softball only three players had been named All-MAC First Team. Last year UB added three to that total alone. Together along with fellow departees Heather Ryder and Tori Pettine, last year's senior class holds 12 single-season and career records.
I should also point out that Devon Rodriguez will no longer be playing with the Bulls despite one more year of eligibility. She is still affiliated with the program, so I'm pretty sure that move is due to injury.
Tori Speckman, Pitcher - Of those 12 record, Speckman holds eight. Consider this: She had two no-hitters last year in MAC play, and neither were her most impressive, as she carried the Bulls from the circle in the final three games of the MAC tournament, including two crushing losses to Ohio and their ace, Savannah Jo Dorsey. Speckman's 19 wins last year broke the previous single-season record by five, and she was named MAC East Pitcher of the Week five times.
Holly Luciano, Outfielder - Luciano was one of UB's most balanced offensive threats, hitting .350 with 32 RBI, seven doubles, four triples and four home runs. Even better, she played in every game, one of only two Bulls to do so. .
Sammi Gallardi, Infield - Simply put, Gallardo's 2014 was as good as anyone at UB has ever been. 15 home runs in a single year propelled her to the top of the career list, and she added a .336 average. In MAC play Gallardo hit .382 and and finished tied for the league lead with seven home runs in conference play. Not that she was bad in her first three years, but last year was an entirely different level
Karly Nevez, Senior Outfielder. I could call Nevez the top returning offensive threat for UB this season, or I could give that label to the next on the list. Last year Nevez led all underclassmen with 45 runs while also notching the second-highest batting average and third-highest OBP on the team. She won't get a ton of extra bases, but she gets on and she scores. In the field, she's a reliable ballhawk, committing just a single error.
Also, I made a Twitter promise, so I'm including this:
Hayley Barrow, Senior Infielder/Pitcher. I'll be honest, I have no clue who's going to pitch for UB this year. But Barrow brings the most experience and at least makes this list thanks to her offensive contributions. Barrow got on base more than any Bull last year, hit for more extra bases than any returning Bull and managed 20 walks to just 16 strikeouts.
Ashton Earnhardt, Sophomore Outfielder/Catcher. I could have picked a lot of names here for the third spot, but I'm going with Earnhardt, who did a little bit of everything well in a strong freshman season. In 51 games, Earnhardt was third on the team in doubles and walks while splitting time between the outfield and the backstop.
Like baseball fully nine freshman on not-fully-scholarshipped team, so I'm not 100% sure who the go-tos are.
The Locals: Charlotte Miller and Nicolette Jacobs. Like Charlie Sobieraski, Miller is the local newcomer to the diamond who starred in three sports in high school. At Ken West, she was First Team All-WNY as a senior from the circle. Jacobs comes to UB from Niagara Wheatfield and led the Falcons in most offensive categories.
From Out West: Leandra Jew, Makayla Kowaliuk, Danielle Lallos, Madison Vaught. Ranging from SoCal to Hawaii to British Columbia, these four traveled a long way to come to UB. Drew, Lallos and Vaught all earned First Team All-League honors, while Kowaliuk has been invited to play on the Canadian Junior National Team. Vaught is the first player in the history of Kamehameha High School to earn a D-1 scholarship.
Kelsey Johnson, Taylor Scott, Sarah Edwards. Edwards was named All-Suffolk County her senior year, Scott All-Harford County (MD), and Johnson All-County in Rochester.
Assistant Coaches Dobbins and Martin. Not much to say here, except they're both new. Worth noting that there was some turnover. Holly Luciano will stay with the team as a volunteer coach, and Devon Rodriguez is helping out while still a student, too.
UPDATE: Forgot about transfer Lauren Gambone, coming in from Lamar. Not sure the state of her eligibility, but if she can play now, she adds some power.
|6-8 February||Troy Chik-Fil-A Invite|
WKU, Alabama St.,
|13-15 February||Maverick Invitational|
Sam Houston, UT-A, Incarnate Word,
|27 February||Kennesaw St, Mercer (@VMI)|
|28 Feb - 1 Mar||Mercer Tournament|
|Mercer, Evansville, TBA|
|14-15 March||CSU-Northridge Tournament|
|Bryant, Co. St., Iona, CSUN|
|17 March||@ Cal St. Fullerton (2)|
|18 March||LMU Invite - LMU, Harvard|
|19 March||@ San Diego|
|20 March||@ Cal Poly (2)|
|25 March||@ Binghamton (2)|
|28-29 March||Kent State* (2)|
|3 April||at Miami* (2)|
|4-5 April||at Ball State* (2)|
|8 April||Detroit (2)|
|10 April||Ohio* (2)|
|11-12 April||Akron* (2)|
|15 April||Canisius (2)|
|17 April||@ EMU* (2)|
|18-19 May||@ CMU* (2)|
|24 May||@ Toledo* (2)|
|25-26 May||@ Bowling Green* (2)|
|1 May||Northern Illinois* (2)|
|2-3 May||Western Michigan* (2)|
TONS of travel for softball this year, certainly much more than baseball, with more tournaments. Quickly scanning through old schedules, it looks like this is generally true of most years, though UB has gone further and wides under Trena Peel than under Jen Teague.
UB will spend February in the South, touring tournaments in Alabama, Houston, and Georgia, before heading to California for much of March. Even during MAC play, UB has long home and road stretches that should help the team stay in rhythm.
What we're looking at here is a very similar situation to what we'll be saying with Women's Soccer come August. There's a lot of returning talent, many underclassmen who got significant playing time in 2014, but the holes they'll be filling are the biggest the program has ever had.
Last year came from so far out of the blue that you have to look at the departed senior class and expect a significant step back. Mitigating that concern to a degree is the Trena Peel effect; Jen Teague had all those players for three years herself and while they were good, the huge step forward is in some part owed to the new coach.
What we'll see this year is the baseline level of the program, now in Trena Peel's second year. UB has to find some reliable pitchers, and other than Alexis Curtiss will need to find some pop in the lineup with Gallardo and Luciano gone. But perhaps that comes quickly and the Bulls find a groove.
I'm shooting more blindly than usual here, but I think a reasonable expectation for the Bulls is to once again top .500 both overall and in conference.