USI Softball predicted to win GLVC in 2018


University of Southern Indiana Softball has been picked by league coaches to win the Great Lakes Valley Conference in 2018. The prediction was outlined in the GLVC Preseason Coaches’ Poll, which was released Wednesday by the conference office.

Additionally, the Screaming Eagles are ranked No. 6 in the National Fastpitch Coaches’ Association Preseason Top 25 Coaches’ Poll.

In the GLVC poll, USI received 193 points and 11 first-place votes to finish in front of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, which was picked second with 182 points and three first-place votes. Truman State University (166 points) and McKendree University (143 points) were respectively predicted to finish third and fourth, while Rockhurst University (141 points) garnered one first-place vote to round out the top five.

The University of Indianapolis (135 points) and the University of Illinois Springfield (117 points) were forecasted to finish sixth and seventh, respectively, while Bellarmine University (115 points), William Jewell College (96 points) and Lewis University (81 points) rounded out the top 10. Maryville University (57 points), Missouri University S&T (51 points), Quincy University (41 points), the University of Wisconsin-Parkside (31 points) and Drury University (26 points) completed the poll.

About the Eagles
USI returns 12 players, five position starters and its entire pitching staff from a team that was 46-14 overall, 19-7 in the GLVC, and won the NCAA II Midwest Region title a year ago. USI finished in a tie for first in the GLVC regular-season a year ago and slipped to No. 2 in the final Midwest Region rankings after a 0-2 performance at the GLVC Tournament.

The Eagles, however, hosted their first Midwest Region Tournament before earning the right to host the Midwest Super Regional, where they swept Wayne State University in the best-of-three series.

USI’s 2017 campaign came to a close at the NCAA II Softball Championship, where they lost to eventual national champion Minnesota State University-Mankato, 5-1, in the opener and to the University of West Florida, 4-3, in the elimination bracket.

Coaching Staff
The 2017 Midwest Region Coaching Staff of the Year is once again led by Head Coach Sue Kunkle, who returns to lead the Eagles for the 17th straight year. Kunkle, who earned GLVC Coach of the Year honors a year ago for the second time in her career, begins the 2018 season with a 472-338-1 (.583) overall record and a 228-170-1 (.573) mark in the GLVC. She has directed USI to the NCAA II Tournament in each of the last three years and four of the last five.

MacKenzi Dorsam ’15, a former GLVC Player of the Year at USI, begins her third year as an assistant coach for the Eagles, while Lexi Reese ’17 jumps into the coaching world after a stellar three-year playing career with the Eagles.

Top Returners in 2018
Senior first baseman Marleah Fossett (Brownsburg, Indiana) and sophomore pitcher Jennifer Leonhardt (Louisville, Kentucky) lead the Eagles into 2018 after earning All-America honors a year ago.

Fossett led the Eagles with a .412 batting average, .528 on-base percentage and a .998 fielding percentage in 2017. Her five home runs a year ago tied for third on the team, while her 32 RBIs were fourth.

Leonhardt was the GLVC Freshman of the Year as well as the Midwest Region Pitcher of the Year in 2017 after going 29-4 in the circle with a save, a 1.67 ERA and a .209 opponent batting average. Her GLVC-best 29 wins set a single-season program record and ranked sixth in the nation.

Position of strength
USI’s pitching staff figures to be one of the deepest in the region thanks to the emergence of juniors Caitlyn Bradley (Forest, Indiana) and Courtney Atkisson (Bringhurst, Indiana) in the circle a year ago. Bradley was 7-4 with a 1.87 ERA and three saves as a sophomore, while Atkisson was 10-6 with a 2.32 ERA despite playing much of the year with a nagging foot injury.

The return of red-shirt sophomore Haylee Smith (Florence, Kentucky) bolsters USI’s staff. Smith sat out last season, but was 11-8 with a 2.91 ERA and two saves as a freshman in 2016.

Offensive production
While Fossett figures to get a lot of the attention from opposing coaches, senior third baseman Mena Fulton (Bloomington, Indiana), senior outfielder Olivia Clark-Kittleson (Carbondale, Illinois) and junior second baseman Claire Johnson (Pittsboro, Indiana) all made big impacts on the Eagles’ lineup a year ago.

Fulton hit .337 with 12 doubles, a triple, three home runs and 21 RBIs a year ago, while Johnson racked up a .289 batting average, seven doubles, four triples, two home runs and 33 RBIs. Clark-Kittleson, a two-time All-GLVC honoree, recorded a career-high .376 batting average to go along with 28 runs scored and 11 RBIs in 2017.

USI also saw solid offensive production from Bradley and Leonhardt a year ago; and flashes of good things to come from sophomore outfielder Allison Schubert (Nicholasville, Kentucky). Bradley, who also played in the outfield, hit .284 with five doubles, five home runs and 27 RBIs; while Leonhardt hit .266 with four doubles, a home run and 14 RBIs last season.

Schubert had a .314 on-base percentage, two doubles, two home runs and nine RBIs during her freshman campaign.

Big shoes to fill
The loss of Haley Hodges, Lexi Reese and Grace Clark to graduation not only leaves a huge void in the offensive lineup, but it leaves some big question marks in the defensive alignment as well. Junior catcher/infielder Lindsey Barr (Whitesville, Kentucky) is a leading candidate to replace Hodges behind the plate, while sophomore infielder Taylor Ricketts (Georgetown, Kentucky) looks to fill the void left by Reese at shortstop. USI could use a number of different combinations to replace Clark in right field.

Off the bench
USI lost Alisha Ludwig (graduation) and Shelby Tate (left team to concentrate on academics), both of whom provided the Eagles solid base-running and were used in key situations in the offensive lineup last year. Senior Alex Logan (Carleton, Michigan) figures to be a go-to player in pinch-hit scenarios, provided she is not already in the lineup as a designated player. Logan hit .295 with three doubles, a home run and 11 RBIs in 61 at-bats as a junior.

New to the team
USI is infusing four freshmen into its squad this year, including infielder/outfielder Alicia Webb (Elberfeld, Indiana), outfielder/infielder Jessica Tucker (Georgetown, Kentucky), catcher/infielder Riley Regnier (Twin Lakes, Wisconsin) and first baseman/outfielder Haley Shouse (Borden, Indiana).

The 2018 schedule
The Eagles begin the 2018 campaign, February 9-11 when they travel to Huntsville, Alabama, for six games at the Charger Chillout. USI plays 2017 NCAA II South Regional Tournament participants in the University of Alabama-Huntsville and the University of North Alabama to open the weekend as well as NCAA II South Super-Regional finalist Lee University. North Alabama was the 2016 national champion.

USI hosts the 18-team Midwest Region Crossover February 23-25 at Deaconess Sports Park, where it will square off against 2017 NCAA II Midwest Region Tournament opponent Saginaw Valley State University.

Bouts with defending national champion Minnesota State-Mankato and 2017 NCAA II Midwest Region Tournament opponent Grand Valley State University highlight a 10-game swing for the Eagles at The Spring Games in Clermont, Florida, March 3-8. USI also plays against 2017 NCAA II Tournament participants Winona State University and Wilmington University at The Spring Games as well.

USI’s home and GLVC-opener is March 11 when it hosts Maryville in a doubleheader at the USI Softball Field. The Eagles conclude a four-game homestand March 17 against rival Bellarmine, while a doubleheader against NCAA II Tournament regular Indianapolis March 25 highlights the Eagles’ first conference road trip.

The Eagles host Illinois Springfield and Lewis March 30-31, while a twinbill against Midwest Region foe and 2017 NCAA II Tournament participant Kentucky Wesleyan College April 3 concludes a six-game homestand.

Home doubleheaders against Rockhurst and William Jewell April 14-15 split up a pair of four-game road trips, while a six-game home stretch, featuring doubleheaders against defending GLVC Tournament champion Missouri-St. Louis as well as McKendree, wraps up the regular-season for the Eagles.

The GLVC Tournament returns to the EastSide Centre in East Peoria, Illinois, May 3-5, while the NCAA II Midwest Regional is May 10-13. The NCAA II Midwest Super Regional is May 17-18, while the NCAA II Softball Championship is May 24-28 in Salem, Virginia.