March 2, 2016
By: Ryan Schadewald, sports information assistant
BLUFFTON, Ohio - The Bluffton University softball team has some big shoes to fill in the coming season. New head coach Marissa McDaniel takes the reins of a program that went 26-16 and finished second in the Heartland Conference in the regular season with a team that consisted of six key seniors. The Beavers picked up three first place votes en route to a second place prediction behind defending champion Anderson in the HCAC Coaches Poll.
Bluffton has just one senior back entering 2016 as outfielder Ashley Knippen (Wapakoneta) brings out the cleats one more time. Coach McDaniel looks forward to having a senior that “a lot of our women look up to” heading into her first season at the helm. Knippen was outstanding on the field in 2015, hitting .357 with six home runs, 27 RBI and 30 runs scored during a fantastic junior season. Sophomore Makenzie Schmidt (Caledonia/River Valley) looks to build off of a freshman campaign in which she hit .377 for the season. Sophomores Molly Haberman (Port Clinton) and Mercedes Burns (Ashtabula/Edgewood) also look to battle for playing time in the outfield.
Moving to the infield, Brittany Huff (Clayton/Northmont) will continue to play a key role in the middle. A starter in all 41 games as a freshman, she batted .330 with eight homers and 25 RBI and scored 34 runs to go along with her superb defense. Freshman Kelsey Reeder (Galion/Northmor) has impressed Coach McDaniel and looks to make an impact as someone who can play anywhere, but especially as a middle infielder. Sophomore Josie McElroy (Mt. Orab/Western Brown) led the Beavers in batting average, hits, home runs, and RBI last season and she is ready to continue that momentum entering her second season at the hot corner. Chelsea Zoltowski (Sylvania/Southview) looks to get plenty of time at first base during her sophomore season, as well. Sophomore Kelsi Wilson (Pataskala/Licking Heights), who will also add depth in the circle, gives the Beavers options in the middle infield and the outfield.
Sophomores Carly Levindofske (Brunswick/Magnificat) and Abigail Blake (Lancaster/Fairfield Union) will both see action behind the plate during the 2016 season. Levindofske hit .352 with four dingers, 27 RBI and a team-best 19 walks as a freshman.
The Beavers will dig for pitching depth following the loss of last season’s game one starter, Chloe Shell, who finished her final campaign with a 13-6 mark a 2.74 ERA, and team-high 58 strikeouts. Returning to the rotation this season is sophomore Jessie Madzia (Massillon/Tuslaw), who went 8-6 with a team-leading 2.25 ERA in her 17 starts and 20 total appearances. Also looking to play a larger role this season is junior Emily Scupholm (Cuyahoga Falls/Out Lady of the Elms). Scupholm finished 2015 with a 2-3 mark in 11 relief appearances, but she looks to return to the form she displayed as a freshmen when Scupholm was 10-4 with a 2.60 ERA. Sophomore Nicole Thomas (Tontogany/Otsego) and freshman Sarah Przybylo (Chesterfield, MI/Utica) look to round out a stout rotation of young arms.
As a team with just two upperclassmen, Coach McDaniel believes it can be a strength to have such a young squad during her first year at the helm. “It’s easier for a young team to buy what I’m selling,” Coach McDaniel said of her young group. She also says it is a big adaptation for such a young group after losing such a large senior class, but that as long as her group continues to work hard, they should still be able to compete with the top teams in the Heartland Conference.
Despite the youthful roster, the Beavers still have goals for the upcoming season, including getting redemption following last season’s HCAC tournament finish by coming back and winning the title this season, as the group is ”incredibly hungry” after last year. Coach McDaniel stated, “We need to take one game at a time to temper the ups and downs of a long season.”
The Beavers will open up the 2016 campaign on Sunday, March 6, as they head to the Rebel Spring Games in Kissimmee, Fla. for a total of 10 games. The March 6 contests will be against the #21-ranked Central College Dutch at 9 a.m., followed by a game against the Bridgewater College Eagles at 1:30 p.m. After their 10 games down south, the Beavers make the short trip to Ada to take on the Ohio Northern Polar Bears for a 3:30 p.m. double-dipper on Tuesday, March 15. Friday, March 18 opens up the home slate for the Beavers with a pair of games against Alma College at 3:30 p.m. Bluffton will begin their run for an HCAC title on Saturday, Apr. 2 when they head to Kentucky to take on Transylvania University.