Trena Peel's first season at UB showed that, regardless of anything else, she was an upgrade over Jen Teague. After her predecessor had failed to put together a winning record in any of her five seasons, Peel took a senior-laden lineup and turned it into bar-none the strongest offensive season in history.
Last year saw the Bulls fall back to earth and Peel get to work on building her program, but still graduate five seniors. In 2016 UB will have still fewer upperclassman and again lose a program record holder, but return on the whole a little more experience this year. In particular we'll be looking to see stronger pitching and defense - it's probably easier to identify the impact names for the former - and hope for a littler more chemistry this year after last year the team was really unable to practice outside in Buffalo until deep into the schedule.
The biggest name, without a doubt, is Alexis Curtiss, who fits more in line with the 2014 graduating class, a gangbusters offensive machine who leaves UB with multiple school records and First Team All-MAC, Academic All-MAC, and First Team All-Region honors. She's one of just two UB players ever to be twice named First Team All-MAC.
Also departing were Karly Nevez, Stephanie Beuther, Nora McGuire, and Hayley Barrow. Barrow, Nevez, and Beuther all played in upwards of 40 games on the year, but Barrow will likely be the biggest loss, as she was UB's most productive hitter after Curtiss. Nevez committed only two errors in the field all season, which is really a solid number given the team's defensive struggle.
The four seniors leave pretty substantial holes, but the Bulls were definitely a young team building chemistry last season. Look for power hitter Lauren Gambone and Freshman All-MAC honoree Leandra Jew to build on their strong seasons last year.
UB also returns their top two pitchers in Bobbi Langlois and Charlotte Miller, but ...
Peel's first full recruiting class brought in some exciting talent, and if the season's first box score (I don't usually have this luxury in these pieces) is any indication, we'll be seeing plenty of freshmen this year.
Lace Smith may be the headliner from the pitcher's circle after a standout career in Florida's largest classification. She got the start in her first collegiate game this afternoon.
On the offensive side, freshmen Catrell Robertson, Katie Weimer, and Courtney Gilbert all found places in the middle of the order today, and Brieanna Baker and transfer Essence Savinon also found their way into the game. Robertson appears to be the heir to Curtiss' spot behind the plate, while Gilbert of course got international experience with Team Canada this past summer. Weimer was a local star for Orchard Park.
Adriana Lis and Ally Power are the other new names this season.
This is still a very young team, but with a year under their belt and a large infusion of freshmen, there should be improvement over last year, especially on the defensive side. Offensively, UB simply won't replace Curtiss and Barrow, just as they couldn't replace Holly Luciano and Sammi Gallardo the year prior. It's apparent from Day One that the team's fate at bat will depend on the newcomers and how quickly they adjust to collegiate pitching. From the circle, Lace Smith seems an immediate upgrade over last season, but Peel does still have Langlois and Miller in the bullpen.