College softball has already started for the Kansas Lady Jayhawks, and it has started well. The Jayhawks are 5-0 on the young season with victories over LIU-Brooklyn, Georgia Tech, Arkansas, Florida Atlantic, and Penn State.
Let's take a closer look at this year's squad and get to know the 2015 softball team a little bit better.
The Jayhawks played well last season, finishing with a 34-23 (7-11) mark, good for fifth in the Big 12. (Note: The Big 12 only has seven members that field softball teams - no KState, TCU, or West Virginia.) Kansas qualified for the NCAA Tournament and was sent to the Columbia, MO Regional. KU won their first game of the tournament against #19 Nebraska, but fell to host Missouruh and then dropped the rematch with Nebraska in a closely contested 2-1 game. It was KU's first tournament appearance since 2006. The Jayhawks did not finish in the year-end Top 25 rankings.
Historically, Kansas holds an overall record of 1062-740 across 32 seasons of NCAA play. KU has never won a conference title in softball and has appeared in 11 NCAA regionals without making it to the College World Series. Since the formation of the Big 12, Kansas is 157-221.
Megan Smith is in her 9th season coaching and her 6th season at Kansas. While in Lawrence, Smith has compiled a record of 151-116. Kansas has posted four straight 30-win seasons under Smith and has knocked off at least one nationally-ranked opponent in each of her five seasons in Lawrence.
The Jayhawks will look to get production from their upperclassmen leaders. Senior 1B/C Maddie Stein is currently sixth in KU history with 109 career RBI. Stein hit .358 in 193 AB's in 2014. Meanwhile, Junior SS Chaley Brickey finished Second Team All-Big 12 in each of her first two seasons. Brickey drew a school-record 42 walks last year. Coach Smith calls her KU's "most prolific hitter" and for good reason; Brickey led KU with a .365 BA with 12 HR and 41 RBI in 2014. Senior 3B Chanin Naudin led KU with 15 doubles last year while hitting .258 in 155 AB's.
Together, Brickey and Naudin make KU's defense on the left side of the infield "one of the best in the country" according to Coach Smith.
KU will also be looking for big things from Ball State transfer Briana Evans, who will be starting in CF and leading off. Evans was an All-MAC first team selection last year after hitting for a .400 BA in 150 AB's and stealing 11 bases in 15 tries. (The NCAA does not require softball players to sit out a season after transferring.)
Senior SP Alicia Pille (12-7, 2.38, 130 K's in 129.2 IP) leads the Jayhawks into 2015. Pille was the Jayhawks No. 2 starter last year behind then-Sophomore Kelsey Kessler. Pille held her own while pitching about 34% of KU's total innings last year (compared to Kessler's 58%). Look for the Jayhawks to lean heavily on Pille in terms of innings pitched this spring as Kessler transferred to Arizona State in the off-season. Cal State Fullerton Junior transfer Monique Wesley looks to be KU's #2 starter.
The Big 12 had two teams ranked in USA Today's preseason Top 25: #4 Oklahoma and #10 Baylor, with Texas receiving votes. Last year both Oklahoma and Baylor made College World Series.
Looking at what the Jayhawks bring back with Brickey, Stein, Naudin, and Pille, they have a good chance of building on last year's success. Kansas was picked to finish fifth in the 2015 Big 12 Coaches Preseason Poll (again, in a seven-team conference) and probably would have been a spot or two higher had they not lost Kessler to ASU. Once again I'll not make a prediction, but let's hope that the Jayhawks are able to build on what they accomplished last year, finish in the top four of the conference, and make a run at another NCAA Tournament bid.
Follow the Jayhawks
Every game of the 2015 campaign will air on the radio, while four can be seen on the Jayhawk Television Network/ESPN3. KU's match ups against Drake (3/16), Texas (3/27), Wichita State (4/28) and Baylor (5/2) will be featured live on the Jayhawk Television Network. For the first time ever, all of KU softball's contests will be carried live, for free, at KUAthletics.com/radio or in the official Kansas Jayhawks mobile app, with selected dates being simulcast over the air on KJHK radio in Lawrence and the surrounding area. The live audio stream will be accessible via desktop computer, mobile phone or tablet.
Up next for Kansas is the Troy Cox Classic in Las Cruces, NM, February 13-15 where the Jayhawks will play five games in three days. After that KU will travel to Gainesville, FL, for the Aquafina Invitational, where Kansas is slated to face off twice against defending NCAA champion and preseason #1 Florida Gators.
The Jayhawks will play their first 25 games on the road before their home opener in the brand-new Arrocha Ballpark on March 13 vs Northern Colorado.