February 22, 2017
By: Colton Steiner, sports information assistant
BLUFFTON, Ohio - With winter coming to an end and spring ready to take center stage, it hints that softball season is right around the corner! The Bluffton University softball team is looking to build on Marissa (McDaniel) Rush’s first season as the head coach. As she enters year number two, expectations are high for the upcoming season. The Beavers added eight freshmen and have only one senior on the squad but will rely heavily on an experienced junior core.
“One of the biggest goals would be to start creating solid team chemistry and a new tradition,” Rush said. “We’re still making an adjustment with an expanded coaching staff, so getting everyone on the same page and having unified goals is a primary focus this year.”
Despite the team struggling in her first year as a head coach, Rush said she learned about the fight that her team has and their ability to turn lemons into lemonade.
“The team dynamic was definitely something that I learned from,” said Coach Rush. “Every school you’re at, things are different. Just because you feel you’re a strong team, you might not always play as a strong team. We have to learn to overcome those obstacles.”
“The biggest thing I learned last year was how much fight we had in our team,” she stated. “It didn’t always show in the final boxscore but we definitely have the insides to be sucessful. This is a team that isn’t going to give up.”
A key component in 2016 was defense as Bluffton went 12-7 when they limited their opponents to two or fewer runs. The Beavers also showed the ability to close out games, going 10-2 when they led after three innings.
Leading Bluffton at the plate was junior JOSIE McELROY (Mt. Orab/Western Brown) who raked at a .429 clip and drove home 27 RBI. McElroy also led the team in dingers (5) and doubles (14) en route to earning First Team All-Central Region by the NFCA in 2016. The Beavers also return junior JESSIE MADZIA (Massillon/Tuslaw) who smacked four homers and knocked in 24 RBI with a .296 batting average. Sophomore KELSEY REEDER (Galion/Northmor) had an outstanding rookie campaign, hitting .319 with 36 hits while showing off her considerable defensive skills at second base.
Returning to the mound for her senior year is EMILY SCUPHOLM (Cuyahoga Falls/Our Lady of the Elms) who had a 7-6 record for Bluffton while striking out 41 batters. Madzia also made her mark in the circle with a tidy 2.44 ERA and 41 punchouts of her own. Junior NICOLE THOMAS (Tontogany/Otsego) gives the Beavers three experienced hurlers after tossing 65 innings a season ago.
Bluffton will travel to Kissimmee, Fla. during spring break to face 10 teams from around the country. The top-notch competition will prepare Coach Rush and her squad for the challenges that await when the Heartland Conference portion of the schedule kicks into high gear.
“Florida is a big deal,” said Rush. “Last year we played a gauntlet of tough teams and it taught us not to get down. We started 0-3 and came back to Ohio with a 6-4 mark so it was key for us to show our resiliency.”
“We play some of our toughest competition when we’re down in Florida. We’re playing teams that are in the top 25 and they don’t beat themselves,” Rush added. “It allows us to forge an identity while building camaraderie on the field and off.”
The Beavers will kick off their season against Simpson on March 5 at 9 a.m. and then play later that day against Penn State Berks at 1:30 p.m. Bluffton’s first game once the Beavers head north will be at Capital on March 15 at 3:30 p.m.
“I’m excited to see all of us come together,” said Rush. “I think we’re on the same page this year, so I’m looking forward to seeing what this team is capable of. I’m eager to see them enjoy the fruits of their labor!”